By Meera Rajasooriar and Eleanor Winter
Rape is one of those big scary words that people don’t dare to discuss – a taboo even. But by shying away from the issue we don’t confront it and deal with how we can define consent, and the idea of ‘prevention’. The myths surrounding rape culture are vast and numerous, but let’s get one thing straight: we need to teach people not to rape, rather than teach people how to not get raped.
For many women worldwide, thinking of how to prevent oneself from being raped is prevalent each and every day, whether it being “maybe I shouldn’t walk home alone tonight” to “does this outfit give out the wrong message?” But this is a problem. People shouldn’t have to think about rape prevention, but rather we should teach people not to rape in the first place. It seems like a simple enough solution, but this is a rhetoric that is subconsciously reinforced on a day-to-day basis.
To put these ideas into an everyday context, it is important to understand that not all women think all men are rapists. But for women, it has to be considered that every man – stranger or not – could, or has the potential, to be a rapist. And for men, talking to women in a way that says “I think you’re just a nice person and I want to get to know you and not rape you” can be tricky sometimes. Consider the statistic that one in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. With this statistic in mind, is rape now more of a threat you would consider in your daily life? For a woman, a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting as well, so he becomes a potentially dangerous person. Considerations about safety are ever present for women, which is evidently important.
Of course we are not saying that women should forget about safety altogether because rapists shouldn’t exist – don’t start walking down dark alleys all alone at 3am! You wouldn’t walk around with your iPhone out and shouting “I HAVE LOADS OF MONEY IN MY HANDBAG AND MY JEWELERRY IS ALSO WORTH LOADS.” because you would be asking to get mugged. The thing is, if you are female, and you are walking home at night in the dark, wearing revealing clothes, after you have had a few too many vodka and cokes; you are not giving your consent. No way. But you are increasing your chances of getting raped, and that shouldn’t be the case. For now, we have to acknowledge that rapists exist, just as we acknowledge muggers exist, and take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves. But in the future we need to change where the responsibility lies within the rapist/victim archetype.
Too often rapes go unnoticed, and people don’t speak up for fear of ‘making a scene’. No one should be objectified or made to feel like a slab of meat for someone else’s sexual gratification. The responsibility should not fall on the woman to prevent herself from getting raped – understanding of course that men can also be victims of rape, but the vast majority of reported rape victims are female. We need to shift the rhetoric of our culture to teach people not to rape.
If you like to get drunk and dance around in your shortest shorts, that is absolutely your decision and you dance the night away. You look pretty fine in those heels anyway. Rape need not be about telling women how to dress or how to act or what to do. It needs to be about educating EVERYONE about who is responsible for rape, and what consent looks and sounds like. It doesn’t look like a short dress. It doesn’t sound like “Could you help me get home, I think I’ve had one too many”.
We have taken this all in a bit of a light-hearted manner, but it is a serious issue. Rape happens, probably more frequently than you would think. So it is important to think about why it happens. There is obviously some confusion here about what consent is. How many times have you heard the phrase “She’s asking for it”? Or more recently in a recording from a British night club: “She’s going to get raped”. She is probably NOT asking for it. So from now on, rape prevention needs to look more like this: don’t rape. Don’t sexually assault, molest, restrain OR threaten any of these things. Don’t force yourself on anyone. It is not acceptable. It has never been acceptable, and the only way we can begin to change rape, is to change who is responsible… It is not the victim.