On the surface of it, this is a stupid question. And when you dig a little deeper, it’s also a stupid question – a rape is always the fault of the rapist. But there is one particular semantic argument that tends to cause confusion, and which I admit to having struggled with myself. And that is this: People tend to get upset when the suggestion is made that we should rather teach men not to rape, than to teach women to avoid being raped. The response is usually a variation of, “The world is a bad place and it is irresponsible not to teach people to look after themselves.”
In the first example, rape crisis activists and columnists criticise a nail varnish designed to detect date rape drugs on the basis that they propagate victim blaming. The second is merely a well written example of why it is more important to teach men not to rape than to teach women to be careful.
Neither specifically addresses the conflict between being careful and being free. But that is not a criticism of either article, since the conflict is a nuance that is possibly exceedingly obvious to some and not so much to others.
Four reasons there is no conflict
Here are four reasons why there is no conflict between being free and being careful as pertains to teaching society about rape:
-We can teach both lessons; it does not have to be mutually exclusive. “Raping people is bad.” And also, “Be careful out there, the world is filled with bad people.”
-We can realise that the way in which we teach the second lesson at the moment – as pertains to rape specifically – is unfair to the victim. For example, we might teach people – all people – to avoid a crime hotspot in the middle of the night, or to keep their wallets safe where pickpockets are known to operate. But the lesson to women to avoid rape is to ‘dress conservatively’ WHEREVER they go, or to dip their fingers in their drinks when they go to bars. In other words, behaviour that is rational for one person (a man) – taking a bus at night – is not rational for another (a woman).
-We can realise that most of us are not mugged by our friends, family, boyfriends/girlfriends, colleagues, mentors, coaches or people we can reasonable be expected to trust. Most of the perpetrators of rape are these people. If uncle Stan is mugging his nephews, that’s a problem.
-We can realise that when you teach a girl not to wear short skirts so that she will not be raped, you imply that it is not completely insane to rape a girl wearing a short skirt.
So if it really bothers you when somebody says “we need to stop teaching “don’t get raped”, and instead begin to teach “don’t rape””, then by all means add a short footnote about being careful, and then take note of how broken the system is.