I’ve been thinking a lot about rape lately, primarily because of the recent UW *timely warning* email (Incidentally, I sat by a frat boy in Odegaard a few days ago who was apparently around that girl the night of the alleged assault, but that is for another post). Most recently, I just received an invitation from an acquaintance to a facebook group called “tips for all women… please join… and pass on.” This group is relevant to a few feminist issues, including rape prevention, and the pros and cons of self defense. To summarize its contents, this group consists of several tips for women on how to avoid murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery, etc. For example, “ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot,” and if this advice isn’t enough, and you are attacked, just remember this “tip from Tae Kwon Do : The elbow is the strongest point on your body.If you are close enough to use it, do!”
Before I go into why I find this group so problematic, I should start by acknowledging that this group is definitely not like…the worst thing ever. If this group successfuly lives up to its goal of preventing women from being raped, sweet.
But that last statement brings me to why this group annoys me: there is no mention anywhere of preventing attempts at rape, nor is there any mention of men being responsible for not raping people. Just like the recent email from UW, this group puts all the responsiblity of rape prevention on women’s shoulders. Furthermore, this group ignores the fact that the majority of sexual abuse occurs at the hands of people the rape survivors know. People reading this website would have no idea that they are much more likely to be raped by an acquaintance, friend, family member, partner, etc., than by a random creeper lurking in a deserted stairwell.
While this site may do some short term good, imagine how much bigger and more valuable an impact would be possible if parents, educators, and facebook-group-makers spent the 5-10 minutes it takes to read this site educating women about acquaintance rape and men about the value of using an enthusiastic “yes!” as the definition of consent rather than just the absence of a “no!”
Besides the fact that these tips are not relevant to most cases of rape because they fixate on stranger rape, another issue with these tips is that they encourage violence (the tae kwon do thing comes to mind). Self defense classes are still pretty controversial, judging by a recent live chat conversation on Feministing between Jaclyn Friedman and Miriam Perez (from 3:42-3:53), and for good reason. On the plus side, as Jaclyn points out, self defense classes can be empowering for women, and they can help prevent rape in some cases. On the other hand, though, self defense “uses violence,” and is too individualistic, according to Miriam, and it reinforces tired stereotypes of women as gatekeepers who have to constantly fight off men. At this point, someone could point out that we shouldn’t have to choose between funding/promoting self defense classes and working to dismantle the culture that permits rape, but because time and funding are limited, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to debate which rape prevention strategy is more valuable. I tend to agree with Miriam, but what do other people think? And what about this group and the UW warning email in general-should they be applauded at all for trying to prevent rape in their own way, or are they just doing more harm than good?