There seems to be an argument going around that efforts to help women avoid being raped somehow enable rape. For instance, I've seen this image-as-argument going around Facebook lately:
My first thought on seeing this is: Well, they probably didn't have a big presentation on 'Don't mug people' either, but it would hardly be offensive if they still had a presentation during Freshman orientation at a big university on areas to avoid, keeping valuables out of sight, going to one of the emergency phones and calling campus security if you feel threatened, etc. One would hope that we live in a sufficiently civilized society that "don't commit crimes" goes without saying.
However, while as a social conservative my initial word association when I hear "rape" is an attack like the Central Park Jogger case, in the bohemian environment of modern college campuses the complaint is not necessarily as crazy as it sounds. Given that sex, even with relative strangers, is considered socially acceptable and normal on many college campuses, and given that heavy drinking and drug use often are as well, a whole host of additional issues involving sexual consent crop up. A freshman presentation on avoiding rape given to university students is likely to contain advice such as "women should be careful when drinking around men" or "be careful about separating from the group and going off to a secluded place with a man". If this was all the rape prevention discussion in university orientation included it would obviously leave out the other side of the picture, which would be telling men "just because a woman is so drunk that she can't coherantly so 'no' does not mean that she wants to have sex with you" or "just because a woman goes to a secluded spot with you does not mean that she wants you to force her to have sex with you" or "when a woman says 'no' to you, treat that as meaning 'no' -- don't assume that she must be liking it even though she's saying 'no'."
I know that many colleges do push this second side of the coin, but I take it from the complaint that some only provide the "how to avoid being a victim" angle. Perhaps it's because both students and adminsitrators are more prone to feel embarassed talking about sex in a large group than they are talking about more generic "safety" and "prevention". Perhaps it's because in post sexual revolution American culture laying down any sort of clear rules about sex to young people is implicitly seen as prudish. One of the things that really struck me a while back when I was reading Regnerus and Uecker book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying was that many of the subjects in their study said it would be "too personal" to discuss various issues relating to relationship expectations, disease, pregnancy, etc. with the the people they were having sex with. The idea that talking is "too personal" while having sex is suitably distant seems deeply crazy to me, but it does seem to be a sentiment expressed with a certain frequency in our current society.
If a college is going to provide its female students with advice on how to avoid situations that could result in rape, the college is clearly not unwilling to provide students with guidance on behavior. At that point, it seems reasonable that they should also make clear that, yes, unconsenting sex is rape, and make explicit to students what kind of behavior is unacceptable for this reason. In this context the above picture-argument does, perhaps, have something of a point.
However, in at least some cases, the argument seems to be that recommending any modification of behavior on the part of women in order to reduce the likelihood of being raped is unreasonable. See the below:
Now, there's a distinction worth making even here: Just because someone violates some piece of good advice which might have helped them avoid becoming the victim of a crime doesn't mean that they "deserved" the crime. If you leave your cell phone sitting on the seat of your parked car, you don't deserve to have it broken into. If you walk alone through a bad neighborhood at night, you don't deserve to be mugged. The fault is always on the person who commits a crime, not on the person who could have done something else to prevent it. And yet, there's always the jerk out there who on hearing of some misfortune is willing to say, "Well, of course, if you were going to do X, what did you expect?" Let me be clear: that's the wrong reaction.
At the same time, it's silly to be resistant to good preventative advice simply because one shouldn't have to worry about being a victim of a crime. The fact is, certain behaviors make it much more likey that one will be victimized. Advising someone not to engage in certain behaviors that increase their chances of being raped does not mean "just maybe you won't rape someone" if they follow the rules. It is a recognition that even if you consider forcing sex on someone to be always evil and totally unacceptable, there are people out there who will do such a thing, and avoiding certain behaviors will decrease one's chances of being preyed on by them.
This may not be fair. There are situations I would advise my daughters to avoid when they're headed off to college that wouldn't worry me as much for my son. But life has a way of not being fair and I don't see that it makes sense to avoid taking precautions for one's own protection out of an outraged sense of justice. While there is a case of sorts for the first picture-as-argument, the second seems wholly off base.
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