Rape “Prevention” and Victim-Blaming

by Jenny

Say somebody loses their wallet, or even carelessly leaves it somewhere. We’re not talking about being robbed by a mugger; we’re not talking about being pickpocketed. We’re talking about a wallet left right there, out in the open.

The world is full of people who will pick up that wallet and keep it, sure, and we expect that. The world is also full of people who will open the wallet, take out the cash, and then turn it into lost and found or mail it back to the address on the driver’s license, and that doesn’t surprise us either. But halfway decent people who see a wallet sitting there out in the open don’t view the mere act of the wallet being left there as an invitation to its contents. Halfway decent people see the wallet and leave its contents intact. And good people see the wallet, pick it up, leave its contents intact, and try to get it safely back to its owner.

In the world we live in, it’s admittedly naïve not to protect your personal belongings, and most of us will "blame ourselves" if we leave our wallet someplace and all the cash gets taken out of it. But just because you left your wallet someplace doesn’t make it right that someone took your money. That’s still wrong.

In the world we live in, it’s admittedly naïve for women* not to do everything they can to protect themselves. And the world is full of arguments that will compare various behaviors by victims to the "lost wallet" scenario (or, still worse and my personal least-favorite, the "walking down a dark alley talking loudly about how much money you have in your pocket" scenario). But a wallet isn’t a person’s right to physical safety. And while "leaving a wallet out in the open" is a fairly cut-and-dried situation, standards of "acceptable" behavior or dress for women vary widely among cultures. "Dressed like you’re asking for it" means something different in Iran than it does in Brazil, it meant something different two hundred years ago than it does now, and it means different things in different communities in America. "Dressed like you’re asking for it," and all of its various cousins, will depend entirely on a victim’s culture. And the culture that these concepts depend on is a culture that ultimately believes perpetrators can’t control themselves and aren’t responsible for their sexual behavior when "tempted" by a victim’s actions or behavior. We do young men* a moral disservice every time we blame a victim for a rape because of how she was dressed, or ask her "what were you doing out alone at that hour?" We set the stage for "date"/"acquaintance" rape when we imply that when a woman’s body is "left out in the open" in some way — because of a short skirt, or too many drinks — it’s in any way acceptable to engage in any type of sexual contact without her explicit consent.

It makes as little sense, from a moral perspective, as raising children to believe that when a wallet is left on a park bench, the money they find inside is theirs for the taking.

We will probably, and unfortunately, never live in a world where we don’t need to take steps to protect our belongings, and where women don’t need to take steps to protect their bodies. But we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do now, and make every effort to be the kind of good people who return lost wallets and understand that nothing a woman does is ever, ever, ever an invitation to sexual assault.

*I use "women" and "men" here as general terms because, statistically, most sexual assaults are committed against women by men; I know this is not always the case but I used these terms for brevity, and I believe and hope that eradicating the culture of victim-blaming will protect all possible victims of sexual assault.