“You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with…a herring.”

A red one to be exact.

What red herring? What tree? What the hell am I on about?

Over on the Googles today, I re-posted an edited image with the comment “There will always be a reason ‘that rape’ wasn’t legitimate until we stop blaming the victim.” (Go ahead and click the link. I promise I’ll be here when you get back!) In the commentary on the post, someone asked, “Well how do we teach women how to minimize their chances of being raped, without blaming the victim?”

And that, dear friends, is the red herring we’re using to try to cut down the tree of rape. Educating women on how to minimize danger.

This is where we take a little digression. But I need you to hang with me here while I use a rhetorical device (analogy) without a) thinking that I think the analogy I’m making is me saying the two things I’m comparing are equal, or b) going and searching out the exception to the rule to “prove me wrong.”

So. The analogy. When was the last time you saw a major national campaign aimed at educating men (who are proportionally more likely to suffer interpersonal violence, statistically speaking) on how to minimize their risk of being murdered? I mean, we all agree that murder is really bad, right? Why are there no campaigns saying things like, “One in [X] reported murders took place when the victim was walking down a dark alley alone,” or similar?

We really want young men not to get murdered. We agree that’s a goal. But rather than put posters on every bus that shame men for making the choice to go to bars, where they might be murdered, we assume that the murderer has the responsibility not to murder. We advertise violence intervention programs (though IMHO, not nearly as often as we ought). We intervene legally and, at least if the victim is a middle-class or better white male, we blame the perpetrator of the murder.

There is not a single woman living who is old enough to think of herself as a sexual being who does not know that she is in danger of being raped. In fact, most women are more aware of that danger than the men they know. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t do “anti-rape calculus” in her head on a daily basis. We’ve been doing it since high school (if we’re lucky, and earlier if we’re not). We do it before first dates, and sometimes before twentieth dates. We do it before frat parties and baseball games. We do it before getting on the bus if we live in a sketchy neighborhood. Most of us had a very serious conversation with our mothers, our fathers, our older siblings, or our teachers about how rape happens.

National campaigns that say things like “1 in 3 rapes occur when the victim was drinking,” occur to shame women out of drinking. They exist to reinforce that if you were drinking, you were at least a little bit at fault for your rape. Can you imagine if we said that to the family of a murder victim? “He was walking alone past the Wawa at 2 am. He should have known he’d be shot. I mean, we have posters everywhere that say how dangerous it is to walk past Wawa late at night!”

Women are constantly told by these campaigns that if they just do the magic things, they won’t be raped. At the same time, society is casually reinforcing rape as a joke, as a tool of discipline, as something manly and masculine. We put out ads that tell women not to drink lest they be raped, and then we sell men Pick-up Artist courses that say, “Ply a woman with drinks and push her boundaries until she has sex with you.”

Culturally, how we reduce the risk a woman will be raped is by making rape unattractive and socially unacceptable. We start doing things like calling out people who make casual rape jokes like “don’t drop the soap.” We start by holding people accountable for doing sexually harassing and rapey things like preying on a woman who’s had too much to drink. We stop expecting the victim of a rape to have done all the magic things, and we stop pretending she’s less of a victim if she didn’t do them.

Women already know what behaviors put them at risk, but they also know that in the end, in most cases it’s the act of being a woman that puts them most at risk. We don’t need “saving,” we need support.

So asking how to educate women on reducing their risk is a red herring, because it’s asking women to take responsibility for not being raped onto themselves, and blaming women who, ultimately, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because once a rapist has decided he’s going to rape, it’s going to happen.

And instead, we start running ads like the We Can Stop It program, which puts the blame squarely where it belongs.

On rapists.


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