In a society that promotes ‘Don’t get raped,’ women live in fear
Posted on Oct 25, 2012 in Opinion
I hear footsteps behind me, following me. I glance behind and see a lone figure trailing me, his face eclipsed by shadows. The streets are empty. I walk faster, silently furious with myself for not having left earlier, for not bringing a friend, for not carrying pepper spray, for being small and helpless. I reach my car and lock the doors. I am safe. I look around to find my trailer. I see him walking into his house. Suddenly, I feel foolish and paranoid.
I have realized that not only am I afraid, but that I was taught to be fearful. Because I am a woman, I was taught that I am in danger and that to protect myself, I must be cautious– sometimes irrationally so. Yet, I am not alone. Most women, are taught that if they are not careful, they could become victims of sexual assault. They live with the knowledge that they are easy targets. They live with the knowledge that there are a number of people who would gladly harm and defile them if given the opportunity.
As a result, women in our society live in a perpetual state of fear. This fear is ingrained within us. It is something we all live with. The majority of the time, we forget we are afraid. Yet, whether we are planning how late to stay out or what to drink, we plan our lives around this fear
In the United States, we deal with rape by educating women on how not to become victims. Women are conditioned to accept certain attitudes, values, and behaviors about themselves. Society enforces an idea that if women behave a certain way they can avoid being sexually assaulted. Wearing the “right” clothes or avoiding certain situations teaches them that they can protect themselves from becoming targets. This conditioning begins at an early age and is on-going; repeatedly reinforced by the media, cultural attitudes, and education.
However, victim control does nothing to diminish the threat of rape. Nor does it address the real perpetrators: rapists. Rather, it puts the responsibility of rape on women and excuses the perpetrator. It suggests that sexual assault is avoidable if a woman acts in a socially acceptable manner. Thus, those who have been victimized are at fault because they did not take the necessary precautions.
This premise is not only false, but also misleading. In most cases, rape could not have been avoided no matter what precautions the rape survivor took beforehand. A short skirt, cleavage, or a flirty smile does not cause rape. Walking alone on an empty street does not cause rape. Rape is caused by perpetrators who are indifferent to the well-being of women.
In fact, while it is widely believed that rape is a crime of hate against women, this is not usually the case. According to Dr. Robert Prentky- a psychologist conducting a study on the characteristics of 30 rapists, only 32% of convicted rapists classify as “woman-haters” whose intend was clearly to “degrade and humiliate women.” In many cases, men who rape women do so not because they hate women, but because they are completely indifferent to the feelings and well being of their victims. They want something from these women-whether it is sex or the feeling of power over them- and they take it. They do not consider the feelings of their victims at all because they think they are socially inferior.
To fight against rape, we need to address the ideology that supports and justifies rape. There is a multitude of things we can do to fight against rape. By empowering women and educating men, we can build a coalition of anti-rape advocates. By speaking out against the myths of rape and being open to dialogues about sex and consent, we can create a more respectful society. Rape is not just a woman’s problem. It is society’s problem. It is time to stop being afraid.