For as long as I remember knowing that rape existed, I remember being taught how to prevent rape by controlling my own behavior. I learned that if I don't want to be raped, I ought to behave properly. I learned that I should never go out alone, that I should never drink alcohol to excess, that I should never dress provocatively or be promiscuous. By and large, society has has come to believe that the solution to rape is policing women; how we act, how we dress, how we manage our sex lives.
This is complete and utter nonsense.
Is it important to teach girls and women basic safety skills? Of course it is, just as it important to teach boys and men basic safety skills. Is it acceptable to imply that women are somehow responsible for their own sexual victimization because they weren't behaving "properly"? No. Absolutely not. Not under any circumstances. But we continue to do so. We continue to re-victimize women by investigating their behavior leading up to their rape, to the degree that many rapes go unreported because women are afraid of the reaction that will be mistakenly directed at them rather than their attacker. The problem is not that women aren't good enough at protecting themselves from rape. The problem is that men rape women. Period. Full stop.
Now, before the "What about the women who rape men?" derailment that inevitably occurs in discussion like these, let's remember that the staggering majority of rapes happen to women and are perpetrated by men. This does not excuse those anomalous women who rape men or other women. They simply do not make up the majority of the problem, and thus, are not the focus of this particular discussion. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 90% of American rape victims in 2003 were women. 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape. (1 in 33 men have.) This is is not to say that the sexual victimization of men is not an issue, it's just not the issue at hand. Are we clear?
Yesterday, I came across a rape prevention campaign that was like a breath of fresh air. Why? Because rather than sending the message that women need to prevent being raped, it sends the message that men need to not rape.
|Click Photo to Enlarge|
Image Credit: mencanstoprape.org
This campaign does not suggest that every man is a potential rapist who needs to learn to control some sort of implicit need for power over women. Instead, it suggests that most men are capable of not only treating women with respect, but of helping their brothers to do the same. "Hey guys, don't rape!" is an important message, but no less important than "Hey guys, don't stand by while your friends disrespect women!".
To my daughter, it is my hope that you will grow up surrounded by men just like your father. Men who are gentle and kind, who celebrate and respect women, and who advocate for women's health and safety. It is my hope that you will never be one of the millions of women who are sexually victimized, most often by someone they know. It is my hope that ad campaigns like this one will be spread far and wide, and that the tide will turn from telling you that in order to avoid being raped, you must behave like a "good girl" and never step out of line, to telling men that it's not okay to harm women, and that it's not okay for good men to stand silently by while others harm women.
No matter what you do in this life, you will never deserve to be sexually victimized. No one deserves to be sexually victimized. Always remember that your body is your own, and that it is your right to have control over who touches it and how. It doesn't matter how you dress, how much you have to drink, or how many people you have sex witht, you always have the choice to say no, and the right to have that choice respected.