I’ve really been getting on a feminist trip recently, reading many, many articles written on feminist blogs, such as The F Word, Geek Feminist, etc.
One subject that comes up time and time again is rape, and more specifically the culture of victim-blaming. While reading all these articles, I found myself not getting entirely on board with what was being said, and I think (and hope) I’ve finally figured out what I mean. Although this has changed while I have been typing this out!
First of all, let me be clear that I do not believe anyone who is raped is in any way to blame. The act of rape is entirely in the hands of the person who chooses to do the raping.
Calls from police and safety groups that urge women not to go out alone at night might mean well, but seem to forget that men get raped too, and that there is not necessarily safety in numbers: rapists might think the same way and group together! I understand the idea behind sensible drinking campaigns that urge you not to be a victim, but again, missing the point. These also ignore the fact that you can be raped in your own home.
Now to my issue. Again, I must be clear: I have not been the victim of rape, and to my knowledge, I do not know anyone who has been. I do not pretend to know what it must be like. The only thing I can equate it to is when I was mugged by two boys of about 16 when I was in university in Leeds in 2003.
I was walking home alone after a few drinks in the pub with a friend, and these two boys took advantage of the fact that we were alone on the street. One grabbed me from behind, holding my arms down, while the other grabbed my bag from my hand. I was thrown to the ground while they ran off down a side street. I was almost ready to run after them, but a car pulled up and those people drove me home while calling the police.
The police arrived very quickly and were excellent. They were very sympathetic and drove me to where it happened and where the boys ran off towards, in case anyone was still around, or if any of my belongings had been dropped. I should note that I was quite useless in this whole process: the muggers wore jeans and hoodies, I didn’t see them from the front and couldn’t tell you anything more than their height and build. I also could not tell where exactly it happened (bloody terraced housing all looking the same!). Nevertheless, the police were patient with me.
I do not blame myself for being mugged. That was entirely the decision of those boys who I remember laughing as they ran off. But that doesn’t change all the shoulda woulda couldas I told myself over the next few days/weeks/months. If I didn’t have so many drinks, I would’ve been more aware of my surroundings; or I wouldn’t have walked so quickly and overtaken lots of other people, leaving myself alone. I knew mugging was a possibility, so I should’ve taken better precautions. Etc.
There was also an occasion when I got so drunk that I left a bar without my bag and ended up walking into a part of the city I didn’t know, completely unaware until I seemingly ‘woke up’ a while later, and spent several hours trying to figure out how to get home. I got home completely safe and thankfully my friend (who I left in the bar) had my bag. While my friends thought I was a legend for this drunken behaviour, I still kick myself: it could’ve ended quite differently.
This is the part where I second guess myself. I started by wanting to say…
Let me reiterate again that I do not know what it is like to be raped, and nor do I blame the victims. But looking at the only experience I can equate it to (one of exploitation, control, etc.), I hate how much I tell myself that I should’ve done something differently. Mainly because as a victim I felt I was quite useless, and thus I blame myself for the lack of justice.
I wish I had taken more regard for my safety not because I deserved to be attacked or was ‘asking for it’ or anything else that someone else might tell me. I wish I had taken more regard for my safety because of how much I beat myself up following these incidents.
But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I agree with my own opinion! What if I hadn’t been drunk, took a taxi and got raped: what would I tell myself that I should’ve done differently then? And I haven’t changed my behaviour. I walked home along similar roads and in similar conditions (although less drink) the following weekend and many other times afterwards. I returned to university (Northumbria) last year and, upon deciding that that area of Newcastle seemed safe enough, walked around alone at all times. Even after warnings from the university that women had been attacked. I also walk around the countryside and woods at home at all times, more afraid of Blair Witch than anything else! This was the case before all reading all the feminist blog articles, and after reading, I become more and more angry with my own opinion above, and the world at large.
I’ll finish by saying that I think we all (men and women) have to take a certain amount of responsibility for safety in a world where you can be raped, mugged, or attacked in any way. I do not think this amounts to curfews or having to find men to escort us from A to B (do men have to find bigger men?!). I do think self defence is a good idea.
But most importantly we need to wholeheartedly agree that it is just plain wrong to attack anyone (men or women) in whatever situation they may put themselves in. Everyone should be able to feel safe at any time of day or night, anywhere, without being attacked. And this comes back to chipping away at the culture of victim-blaming.
So in a very long post, I’ve gone from not entirely agreeing, to being totally on board!
And for those still not agreement:
Only 11% of serious sexual assaults are committed by strangers.
Finny, A. (2006) The cost of domestic violence, Women and Equality Unit; quoted in VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Why an Integrated Strategy in Wales?