There has been a message “Through a Rapist’s Eyes” circulating tumblr lately. Claiming to expose research findings about what rapists “look for in a potential victim,” the piece seems to come from a place of care to warn women of all the ways they can prevent sexual assault. However, despite this intention, the tips do more to contribute to the myth of stranger rape and victim-blaming (that you are most likely to get raped by a stranger, that a woman can protect herself from rape and that if she fails to do so, it is her fault).
The message sensationalizes rape and plants a seed of fear while ignoring facts such as how stranger rape accounts for 10-20% of all rapes, and how 70-80% of victims know their assailants.¹ The email is actually a hoax that came out in 2001.² But people are still buying into these myths about rape:
1. The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun! , braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.
I might as well shave off my hair so there’s nothing to grab onto.
2. The second thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around to cut clothing.
Yes, I will wear multiple layers of clothes and put a lock on my pants. Oh wait, but many of them carry scissors around, anyway. So it doesn’t matter what I wear. Wear chain mail, maybe?
3. They also look for women using their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered.
Because as a 5’3” petite woman, I am only easily overpowered if I’m not on guard? Rapists don’t have to wait for me to be “off guard” if I already know them. Which, again, will most likely be the case.
4. The number one place women are abducted from / attacked at is grocery store parking lots. Number two is office parking lots/garages. Number three is public restrooms.
So now these public places are places of fear. But I can’t stop myself from using public restrooms, and parking my car in parking lots, can I? Or do I not have a right to use parking lots without fear of being raped? If I choose to live my life according to my right to live it, and not according to fear of rape, does that mean I “asked for it?”
5. The thing about these men is that they are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to a second location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught.
Or he brings a drunk woman into his room and locks the door. Or he continuously feeds a woman alcohol with a room reserved somewhere. But this doesn’t count because she was asking for it, right? And the guy looked like he was her friend. Right? Did I mention that stranger rape accounts for 10-20% of all rapes?
6. If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn’t worth it because it will be time-consuming.
Yes, indeed. Because victims of rape never put up any kind of fight at all. And because those who do, don’t get raped. So why are women still getting sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S.?³ Not that the confusion, shame, and shock of being forcibly physically and psychologically degraded by someone I know and trust, not that all of that might impair my ability to “fight.” Of course not.
7. Keys are not a deterrent because you have to get really close to the attacker to use them as a weapon. So, the idea is to convince these guys you’re not worth it.
So it’s up to me to make myself unattractive and not worth a rapist’s time, because rapists can’t help themselves and are lurking behind bushes with crazy eyes looking for the next woman with long hair and loose clothes. Yup, rape doesn’t happen in dorm rooms with friends I go to parties with and are close to me, places and situations where I might want to look and feel attractive. And because, of course, only attractive women get raped (being “worth it,” does that imply that rape is some sort of reward for being valuable?).
These are just some of the 25 safety tips that the article lists. The fact is, most rapists are people we know. They are people in our classrooms, in our dorms and in our families. These acts of rape are premeditated and targeted. Even a stranger looking for women with ponytails and loose clothes sounds like some intentional targeting. They are not out of control, psychotic, and rare aberrations of society who can plead insanity.
People on this campus think about the type of alcoholic drinks to have at parties, how strong they should be, and whether their guests have the right to know what’s in these mixed drinks. They think about giving beer to men and shots to women. They make sure certain people never have an empty cup, and make sure there are empty rooms nearby. They take the absence of a no to mean a yes. The fact that we don’t find these behaviors dangerous or at least questionable speaks to how our society thinks the best way to prevent rape is to give advice to potential victims instead of to potential violators.
If you’re really that concerned about the prevalence of rape (as you should be), then you would be signing up for bystander intervention training to take some concrete action instead of spreading harmful myths or thinking of more ways woman can protect themselves.
And if you’re scared of false accusations (which everyone seems to be afraid of for some reason), here’s something:
“Statistical studies indicate false reports make up 2% or less of the reported cases of sexual assault. This figure is approximately the same for other types of crimes. Only 1 out of 10 rapes are actually reported. Rapes by someone the victim knows are the least likely to be reported.”
People, we need to step it up.