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Why Screaming about “Rape Culture” Makes Women Less Safe

Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 13:34 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

One of my Facebook friends posted today about the case of the Stanford University student who was convicted of rape and got a ridiculously short sentence. The rapist’s father complained he shouldn’t get anything because he was actually a great person, except for that little rape thing that only lasted for 20 minutes. To my friend, this case proves that “rape culture is real and it’s present and if you refuse to acknowledge it, you’re perpetuating it.”

Her view isn’t uncommon. But it’s actually dangerous to women.

When I was a kid, parents taught their children to take care of themselves by not putting themselves in unsafe situations. They weren’t telling us that it would be our fault if something happened to us, they were telling us that they didn’t want something to happen to us. Be careful on the monkey bars. Don’t talk to strangers. If you’re home alone and you get a phone call, tell the caller that your parents can’t come to the phone, not that they aren’t there. It was advice intended to keep us safe from bad people.

Today’s parents give similar advice for 21st century situations, such as not posting personal information on the internet that might help predators find you. Now as then, such instruction is given because we live in a world where people do things they shouldn’t. We can’t convince them all to stop, so we make it harder for them to do those things to us and those we love. People who are more careful are less likely to be hurt by bad people.

Now imagine for a minute that a group of parents got together and decided that they weren’t going to teach their kids how to stay safe. Instead, they were going to insist that kids should be able to go online and give unknown individuals their full names, addresses, phone numbers, and youth soccer game schedules. Oh, and if you try to tell those parents that they are putting their children at risk, they protest that you’re blaming the victim and their kids shouldn’t have to be careful and if you think they should, you’re part of the problem.

Most of us, I hope, would call them out for stupidity, if not negligence. Yet we accept such attitudes from people who invoke “rape culture” as a reason for why women shouldn’t be encouraged to avoid situations that make them vulnerable to being raped.

I posted this reply to my friend:

I disagree that “rape culture” exists. There are many more thefts in this country than rapes, yet it isn’t because of “theft culture.” There are lots of homicides, but it isn’t because of “murder culture.” Same with reckless driving, kidnapping, drug dealing, and child abuse. The very fact that we have laws against these things, and that people go to jail for them (even though the sentences are sometimes lighter than we think they should be) is proof that there is no “culture,” except among the criminals.

After my house was burglarized, I didn’t defiantly refuse to lock my doors and complain that we need to teach people not to steal. I installed better locks. I wasn’t blaming myself for becoming a victim, I just took some simple steps to minimize the chance that it would happen again. That made more sense to me than waiting for the coming of an imaginary utopia in which unicorns roam freely and nobody does anything wrong.

Do you lock your doors? Not leave your pocketbook lying open at a bar while you go to the rest room? Look both ways before you cross the street? That doesn’t mean you’re perpetuating “[insert crime here] culture.” It means you’re using common sense to protect yourself from thieves and dangerous drivers. Please, please, please, use the same common sense to protect yourself from rapists.

I can only hope she takes my advice.

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