Jul 192011

Trigger warning.

I’m working on the sexual assault bystander program, so this is on my mind:

For the record – because there appears to be some controversy on this point – there is nothing, nothing, nothing anyone can do that is so bad that it is punishable by rape.

Getting drunk is not a crime that earns the punishment of rape.

Walking home alone at night is not an act so heinous that a person (or, let’s face it, a woman) who does so deserves to be raped.

Trusting someone enough to go into their room is not such a terrible thing to do that rape is just what you get if you do it.

Having sex with someone doesn’t mean they’re subsequently allowed to rape you.

Trusting your uncle, grandfather, sibling, or teacher is not an irresponsible thing to do, so that when that person abuses your trust, well, that’s what you get.

Think to yourself: what could my daughter, my sister, my mother, my son, my brother, my father, my husband, my wife do that would cause me to say, “Well, that’s what you get.”

And also for the record: there is no difference between “Well, that’s what you get for doing xyz” and “I’m not saying that’s what they deserve, but they really should know better and protect themselves!” No difference. None.

It’s not your job to “know better.” I want everyone to be safe, but if they make a choice that potentially puts them in harm’s way, it’s not their fault that harm was there.

Whose fault is it that harm was there? Well.

Andrew sent me this excellent link. Safety tips to prevent sexual assault.

Emily Nagoski

  12 Responses to “nothing you can do”

Comments (12)
  1. There are many things for which I disagree with you on, this post is defintely not one of them.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. I adore the post you link to.

  3. http://bit.ly/qQ61a6 Would you mind particularly if I put up this link here? Ms. Magazine recently started a petition to the FBI to make the definition of rape that they use encompass more circumstances. From the description on the page:

    “This excludes rapes involving forced anal sex and/or oral sex, vaginal or anal fisting, rape with an object (even if serious injuries result), rapes of men and transgender people and other injurious and degrading sexual assaults.”
    This contributes to an inaccurately low number of reported rapes (the link claims it could be as high as 24x the official numbers) which further affects how seriously as a large-scale social issue the matter is taken.

    I suppose it’s not completely related to the post itself — which I quite like, and think it bears repeating — but I thought it significant and related enough to be worth posting.

  4. I think it’s good to preach that victims aren’t at fault because it’s true. I think it is more useful to motivate autonomous people to take responsibility. Sometimes I have to talk about this subject in the context of martial arts. I usually approach the subject like this:

    It is a person’s responsibility not to attack other people and if that person fails in this responsibility he or she is at fault, not the person who is attacked. Given that someone who commits an attack must have had a predilection to commit that fault, they should not have been given the responsibility to refrain from attack. Therefore we must take that responsibility from them preemptively by making good choices and educating ourselves not only in the proper responses to an attack but especially in avoidance strategies. This is unfair; it shouldn’t, after all, be our responsibility not to get attacked.

    But we can make those choices. We can sculpt ourselves into hard targets; not only hard as in the difference between easy and difficult but hard as in you better bring a big stick hard. Hard like if you want this it’s gunna’ cost you hard.

    This litany won’t stop people from clinging to the just-world fallacy. I don’t actually think you can do that. There will always be ignorant parties who judge victims deserving of the crimes perpetrated against them. I believe it is possible to reduce the number of people who becomes victims, though, and I think this is best done by encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and each other.

    In other words there is a distinction between fault and responsibility. Fault means you broke the glass, responsibility means you picked up the pieces. And yes, people capable of taking responsibility REALLY SHOULD PROTECT THEMSELVES. I can’t imagine willfully choosing not to take responsibility for myself. If the attacker could be trusted to protect the victim he wouldn’t be an attacker.

  5. ///For the record – because there appears to be some controversy on this point – there is nothing, nothing, nothing anyone can do that is so bad that it is punishable by rape.

    Wait, so there are people, who actually say that “Doing X SHOULD get you raped” ?
    Or there are people, who say “Factors X,Y and Z increase you probability of being raped in location A, and/or while being part of a group, dominated by a demographic B” and make a conclusion of “Removing factors X, Y and Z reduces your probability of being raped in…” yadda-yadda

    Because first is outright unethical and second is just statistical analysis and making real-life deductions from it.

    • As honestly and sincerely as I can convey, I think you’ve missed Emily’s point almost entirely.
      Let’s say that you live in a part of the world where war coexists with day-to-day goings-on; that there are minefields 100 yards from the main road into your town.
      It is perfectly okay to warn children, new comers, senile old folks, and whomever else to not stray from the main road. You can even attempt to explain why.
      But inevitably/eventually, someone is going to set off a mine. And when this happens, would you comment to your friends that just lost their child to a mine “he should have known better”? No. Would you even comment to a friend about someone else’s excited child that ran out into the minefield while playing tag, “he should have known better”? No. It is not the child’s fault that s/he died.
      You should be angry at the people that put the mines there. You should be angry for your gov’t for not paying to have the mines removed. The attitude “he should have known better” perpetuates the culture that it is acceptable for war to be on your doorstep. At let’s be clear: it’s not.
      So, to return to the original topic: it is not acceptable to say after the fact, “well, that person wouldn’t have been raped if s/he had been smarter about it.” That perpetuates the belief that rape is a part of our world that we just have to accept. And rape is not acceptable.

  6. The context here is Emily’s sexual assault bystander program. Pretty much everyone is a potential bystander. A sexual assault is in progress in my presence. What do I do? And why?

    If my first thought is something like “She looks drunk, slutty, in the wrong part of town, out too late at night etc” this may inhibit an appropriate response, which is some kind of action which I assume Emily discusses according to the variety of circumstances possible.

    This is a different situation from, say, talking to one’s teenage daughter about inappropriate risk taking, where discussing being aware of one’s surroundings is entirely appropriate.

  7. No, I understand what Dr. Nagoski is saying.

    “Rape is never the victim’s fault.”

    I think maybe you don’t understand what I’m saying.

    Dr. Nagoski writes, “It’s not your job to ‘know better.’ I want everyone to be safe, but if they make a choice that potentially puts them in harm’s way, it’s not their fault that harm was there.” I assert that the second premise is unrelated to the first, the first premise is false, and the implication that results from their linking enervates us.

    Yehuda Bauer, a professor and student of The Holocaust once said, “we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shall not be a perpetrator; thou shall not be a victim; and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.” It is imperative not only to refrain from doing wrong, but also to not tolerate having wrong done to you or those around you. I am saying you should go out there and make it your job to know better because it reduces the odds of you being the victim. I am saying it is your job to know better and by doing this job you can be a stronger person.

    Your example of the war-torn third world is a compelling piece of rhetoric but it doesn’t relate to this subject. The people in the circumstances you describe can’t make choices to prevent their misfortune. Youth and ignorance preclude responsibility. It seems to me proponents of the viewpoint you espouse, the viewpoint born of the fallacy I am writing about, would have us think ourselves ignorant children incapable of taking responsibility for our own well-being.

  8. I love that poster so much that I want to marry it. Let’s always put the blame where it belongs, with the person doing the assaulting, not the assaulted.

  9. I love this post. You’re a great writer!

  10. First, I would like to say that I do agree that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. However, I honestly don’t see the harm in providing education about what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you are targeted by a rapist. It is undoubtedly true that the onus falls squarely and completely on the perpetrator of the action, but to claim that we (as potential victims) shouldn’t educate ourselves on common-sense methods of self-defense seems irresponsible. No, it shouldn’t be our job to “know better,” and no, rape isn’t in any way acceptable, but neither is focusing all your attentions on potential rapists when teaching young women how to defend themselves is equally important.
    As a note, I’m not talking about “defending ourselves” in terms of not wearing revealing outfits/not getting drunk/not walking alone at night – I’m talking about defending ourselves in terms of knowing what to do if an attacker does target us, and being able to fight back or escape as appropriate. This kind of preparation doesn’t put blame on the victim, but does allow for the fact that rapists do exist, and likely will (albeit perhaps in smaller numbers) despite the kind of “safety tips” on the poster Emily links to.

  11. Why is it that discussions on rape always have people saying ‘but shouldn’t (women) take responsibility for reducing their chance of being raped?’ This is not the main issue. The main issue is that people who are raped are often denied justice, because the blame for getting raped is placed on them by law enforcement and by other members of society. This is what most urgently needs to be challenged.

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