When aversion to victim-blaming becomes a danger


Whatever solutions there may be to reduce sexual violence in society, as a general rule* they do not and should not involve persuading potential victims to change their behaviour.

There are two broad reasons why. The first is factual and criminological, that there is very little evidence that there is any significant relationship between how (usually) women dress, where they go, what they do, how they behave and the prevalence of sexual assault. If there is, it tends to be that the more socially and sexually confident and assertive women are as a gender, the more independent of mind and behaviour they become, the safer they are from sexual assault. The best statistics we have are from the US (and there is no reason to believe the picture in the UK is any different) and they show that over the past 40 years or so, as the social, economic and sexual liberation of women continued apace, rates of rape and sexual violence tumbled. While statistics are impossible to attain, no serious observer would doubt that in countries where women are actively oppressed to the point of being shrouded in burqas and imprisoned in the home, rape is endemic.

The second reason is political, or ideological. Throughout human history, society has used the risk and the fear of rape and sexual assault as a powerful mechanism to control women’s behaviour, to police their independence, sexuality and free expression, to demand that they remain dependent upon male protectors, male chaperones and male power. So one important front in the battle for women’s liberation over those same 40 years or so has been to step out from that shadow of fear, and that has required the development of alternative (and more effective) solutions to reducing the risk of sexual assault than persuading women to hide away.

Now, I know that many of my readers will look at the paragraphs above and snort in derision. Frankly I don’t care right now, I’m not interested in debating them today. They are there to (hopefully) explain in broad and simplistic terms why most feminists are strongly opposed to campaigns against sexual violence that focus on the behaviour of the victim rather than the attacker, and they also explain why, on this front, I think those feminists are right. You don’t have to agree, just accept that those are the arguments involved.

While I am broadly on board with the feminist consensus in this area, there is a limit to those principles, and I think it was badly breached in the column by Laura Bates in the Guardian today. Laura takes a handful of recent instances where the police have issued warnings to women, and asks: “Why do the police still tell women that they should avoid getting raped?”

The five examples she lists have something in common. Every instance referred to specific sexual offenders whose modus operandi was to attack strange women on their own in public places. Four of the five warnings were in the immediate aftermath of attacks. The fifth involved an exceptionally dangerous sadistic sex offender who had escaped from prison and was believed to be at large in Manchester (he has since been recaptured I am relieved to say.)

Sex offenders who attack strangers in public are actually exceptionally rare, as a proportion of all rapists and abusers. But they do exist. And when they are active, they will often attack several times in a short period of time in the same area using the same methods. It would be an appalling dereliction of duty were the police not to warn the public that such an offender were operating in a specific area, and that a specific section of the population (in this case lone women) were particularly at risk.

The types of warning issued in these circumstances are profoundly different to the more generalized “WOMEN! KNOW YOUR PLACE AND DON’T GET RAPED” type of posters and billboards which do, sadly still sometimes appear. However many police forces are moving on quickly. Greater Manchester Police, condemned by Laura Bates in the article for telling women to take care until Millman had been recaptured, do in fact run an exemplary awareness campaign on sexual violence, developed in conjunction with local campaigners and charities including Rape Crisis and our friends at Survivors Manchester. It concerns me that police may start to disengage from campaigners around sexual violence if they feel that they are being criticised and attacked just for doing their job of trying to keep the public safe.

It is patently obvious that a central core of Laura’s argument is simply untrue. She asks:  “How absurd would it seem if we were to apply similar logic to any other crime?”

The answer is, not remotely absurd. Here are some examples gleaned from literally two minutes on Google news search today:

Police urge public to consider some “simple steps” to combat burglaries in the darker nights. He advised that lights on timers are changed and that residents leave radios on while out for the evening. 

Police warn of risk of cyber crime 

Police warn public to avoid fake dating sites 

Thames Valley Police is urging residents to be vigilant of fake lottery scams and is warning people not to respond to any communications claiming they have won a lottery, sweepstake or prize draw.

A SPATE of garden burglaries has prompted police to warn people to be on their guard in Llanelli… Police officers have carried out a mass leaflet drop warning the public to take extra precautions. 

It is also the case that where there is a specific and heightened risk to other groups of people, the police will behave identically. Here’s a report of police teaming up with LGBT campaigners to warn men cruising on Clapham Common that they were at heightened risk.

Regular readers will know it is not like me to leap to the defence of the police. Just on this occasion, we need to give them a break. I entirely understand the need to avoid victim blaming and to ensure responsibility for rape remains squarely with rapists. That cannot involve obstructing the police from attempting to protect people from specific and immediate dangers.

————

* When I say sexual violence will not be reduced by persuading potential victims to change their behaviour, that is not necessarily entirely true. There is (albeit inconclusive) evidence that coaching people to be assertive and alert to risks through such initiatives as “resistance programmes” can reduce people’s susceptibility to assault. There is also some evidence to believe that sexual offenders deliberately target those who appear vulnerable and submissive. This evidence should not be considered heretical or dangerous, it needs to be debated and investigated further, in my opinion. But it is also far removed from the traditional behaviour policing of “don’t wear a short skirt, don’t get drunk, don’t be a flirt…” etc which normally permeates these debates.

Comments

  1. sonofrojblake says

    It concerns me that police may start to disengage from campaigners around sexual violence

    A real risk, perhaps, with individual police officers. For the organisation as a whole, however, I think it can be relied upon to disengage only from the obviously egregiously stupid ones like Laura Bates.

    It’s becoming a necessary skill for the modern feminist – tuning out the voices of stupid feminists without letting their stupidity stop you wanting most of the same things they do.

  2. StillGjenganger says

    @sonofrojblake 1
    Slightly off topic:

    If there are people who share your goals but are stupid or violent about it, it is not enough to tune them out. Unless you actively distance yourself from them, other people will – quite rightly – take your silence as tacit support. Think of the 1970’s radical left v. Baader Meinhof and the Red Brigades; Muslim activists v. Muslim terrorists; Antivivisectionists v. the ALF, or Men’s rights campaigners v. MRA’s.

  3. Lesbian Catnip says

    #2:

    I don’t see how it’s my problem if other people fall into the fallacy of assuming I share an opinion with someone because we share unregulated, meaningless labels. Feminism isn’t a political party with a written charter one has to sign to call oneself a feminist, and taking time to say Laura’s not a twue fermernerst is simply kowtowing to lazy groupthink.

    So no, I don’t “need” to disassociate Laura with feminism, partly because I can’t and partly because her opinion has sweet fuck all to do with mine.

  4. Ally Fogg says

    Yeah, I think there’s a big difference between dissociating yourself from someone who espouses hate speech, violence, bigotry or whatever – which is usually the right thing to do both politically and ethically – and feeling the need to dissociate yourself from someone just because you might have a slight disagreement about something.

    It is also pretty ridiculous and unfair to portray Laura Bates as either some kind of idiot or some kind of extremist. She is neither, whether or not you disagree with her on any one or indeed every position she takes.

  5. StillGjenganger says

    @Lesbian Catnip 3
    I do not know Laura Bates – and she does not sound much worse than most other feminists. But it is not a question of sharing a random label, but of sharing a political goal. The 1970’s left remains the perfect example. There were lots of groups who talked about the inhumanity of capitalism, the need for revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the oppressive state etc. Then you got the Red Brigades etc. in Italy, who said the same things, shared the same goals, but also maimed and killed for it. At that point, if you talk the same talk as the people with guns, you come across as supporting them. Even neutrality (‘Neither with the government nor with the Red Brigades!’) is, effectively, a qualified support for the gunmen. Eventually, the Italian left, like the PCI, had to bite the bullet and come out clearly against the kneecappers.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @StillGjenganger, 2:
    Your analogy is a poor one, because there’s a long distance between the merely stupid (e.g. anti-vivisectionists, religious activists, “It’s bad that the police warn people about relevant threats to their security”) and actively dangerous (SHAC, al Qaeda, um… can’t think off the top of my head of even one comparably actively, personally dangerous feminist).

    If there were such actively dangerous people, then yeah, merely tuning them out would not be enough. Can you name one?

  7. StillGjenganger says

    @ Sonofrojblake 6
    TERFs, maybe – and people do distance themselves quite clearly on that front. But more generally I think that anybody inside the tent will help form the image of the whole. Just a few racist nutters left inside UKIP would reflect on the whole movement, for example. You cannot really get away with ‘We want the same things and we are all part of the same sisterhood – but what she is saying has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with me.” But this is getting too far off topic. The last word is yours, but I shall not answer further.

  8. That Guy says

    #2 I’d say it’s unfair to ask people to disassociate themselves with every person who happens to share vaguely similar ideologies but whom you find repellent, for whatever reason.

    If this were required then we’d spend all day qualifying exactly where in the N dimensional venn diagram of humanity we sit.

    I can’t think of anything more tiresome.

    I skimmed the original article, and didn’t find myself deeply offended, mostly because I knew the gist (don’t victim blame) and the comments (endless analogies about burglaries and walking in dark alleyways with expensive watches) from the title alone.

    (potential derail)

    One thing I did read recently that I found a little sketchy was Susanne Moore’s recent contribution

    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/04/its-good-to-be-genderqueer-but-dont-forget-the-sexual-radicals-who-paved-the-way

    It reads like 50% “Back in my day….” Pythonesqe bragging and 50% veiled transphobic sneering.

    I’m not even really sure what the point is, other than to show support for words like “shemale” and “tranny”, provided you paint yourself with enough progressive credentials beforehand.

  9. Holms says

    #7
    You’re putting TERFs in the same category as SHAC / Al Qaeda in sonofrojblake’s analogy??

  10. StillGjenganger says

    @Holms 9

    We ought to stop, but I won’t duck a straight question.

    I personally have no problem with TERF opinions (their manners is another question). But they are a good example of a group that has been excommunicated because the rest of feminism could not accept that their opinions reflected on the rest of the sisterhood. I may have misunderstood Sonofrojblake. But I think the mechanism is the same whether we are talking about terrorist groups or simply non-violent people with opinions we find repellent. A lot of people seem to feel the need to distance themselves from MRAs, even though the MRM has never blown up anybody that I have heard of.

  11. Thil says

    rightly placed or not I don’t see what point putting everything on the rapists serves? if they’re self aware that they’re rapists there too immoral to be shamed into stopping, if there not self aware of what they are they won’t realize they’re being blamed.

  12. Marduk says

    I don’t think Laura Bates is an extremist but she is an ideologue who at least used to pose as some sort of researcher. Actually the methods she uses are the same as anyone who wants to radicalise any group of people, weight of anecdote and repetition (of course as per terrorist/freedom fight, your radicaliser may be someone else’s consciousness raiser). There are similar groups out there doing exactly what she does in the name of good causes and ones that should be utterly despised.

    However, if you read a lot of her columns you’ll start to see that the corpus she draws on is surprisingly small with several by now very old entries turning up again and again. Why this is I’m not sure as she claims to have a team of eight who work constantly on collating the latest ones. I suspect the “project” is moribund or she has lost interest in it.

    On the subject of “more harm than good”, she has been identified by many people as a bit of a leader in the campaign to make women feel as weak and vulnerable as possible. This is ironic because it is also the credo of the patriarch and something she is criticizing in the current piece. Next week she will be back to explaining that white women in West London in 2015 (the worst place in the world in the worst moment in history obviously) face far greater risks than we ever encountered at Ypres. Many of her conclusions based on anecdote are entirely contrary to professionally conducted studies and official statistics. Its not really an opinion kind of thing, she is just wrong to be doing this.

  13. Ally Fogg says

    Thil

    rightly placed or not I don’t see what point putting everything on the rapists serves? if they’re self aware that they’re rapists there too immoral to be shamed into stopping, if there not self aware of what they are they won’t realize they’re being blamed.

    I think there are several purposes to such campaigns.

    A really important one is in sending a message to victims that the police are on their side and will be supportive if they report a rape (whether or not the reality matches the rhetoric is a separate question, of course)

    Another is that even if a rapist is unlikely to be personally dissuaded by a poster, he may be given pause to think by the knowledge, again, that the police are on the side of victims and looking to convict.

    The other is a more generalised slow-burn cultural point, that even though a single poster may not dissuade someone, that type of campaigning over many years – particularly when combined with wider discussions about issues like consent (see yesterday’s thread) will cumulatively make a big difference over time.

  14. StillGjenganger says

    Sorry. My @15 ended up on the wrong thread. Could you delete it, Ally, and I will put it where it belongs?

    [done. AF]

  15. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    Seems reasonable. A specific warning about a specific and current problem is certainly different to a blanket statement about what you must always do if you ever want to be safe.
    As you say, the main reasons why victim blaming is such a problem is because for the majority of the time, it’s of no help and serves to control people’s behaviour to an unreasonable and limiting degree. If it’s about something specific that only lasts a short time, then it makes sense. It still sucks, obviously – we should live in a world where rape is a word you sometimes read in history books, get confused over, and have to look up in the dictionary, but we don’t yet, and maybe never fully will. If it’s occasionally the most responsible suggestion to make, then it’s hard to argue that point. Just don’t make it the advice for general life.

  16. says

    The problem with all this advice and the difference to “how to avoid lottery scams” is that it’s patently useless.
    I can actually protect my house from burglary and I can actually become aware of scams. In those cases information how to do so is the key. The whole “how not to get raped” information? More than useless. Anybody who thinks that when hearing “dangerous rapist on the loose” women need some extra reminder must think us to be children who must be told to look left and right before crossing the street every single time.
    Also, we’re simply left alone with that “advice”.
    A while ago a man tried to abduct a woman in my university’s car park. Apparently the same man had attack numerous women on and off campus with water in face “acid attacks” but nobody had given a fuck. But after the attempted abduction we got those warnings with all the trimmings: Don’t walk to the car park alone, always have a male chaperone, especially after dark (this was in December. Dark was all there was). What we didn’t get was increased security. No “if you need to walk to your car alone after 8 pm you can call this number and somebody will walk you there.” Or “there will be security patrolling on this way to the car park (a short walk through a park to a car park off campus) and in the car park”. For me, following their “security advice” would have meant dropping out of college, so thanks for nothing.
    Of course I was a “stupid woman who doesn’t follow proper security advice”, ignored their bullshit and finished my term. Thankfully the guy never tried anything again after the failed attempt. But I know that had I become a victim people would be blaming me, including you.
    Again, thanks for nothing.

  17. says

    OH, I see that Laura Bates actually made same point, which interestingly doesn’t get mentioned:

    The idea of advising women not to walk or travel alone in an area where there has been a sexual assault might seem straightforward at first glance, but not everybody has the luxury of a car. Many people are dependent on walking, whether for their whole journey or to the nearest bus stop. As simple as it might sound to suggest travelling with a friend or family member, the reality of women’s daily lives means that it would be near-impossible for most to arrange this and keep to their own busy schedules.

    The advice sounds easy and reasonable and simply ignores that many women actually don’t walk alone after dark for their pleasure but because of some necessity. Talk to women and you will hear that “walking alone at night” is the one thing they’re really trying to avoid. We’re actually following this “advice” already whenever we can. When we cannot, what is your solution?

  18. says

    I entirely understand the need to avoid victim blaming and to ensure responsibility for rape remains squarely with rapists. That cannot involve obstructing the police from attempting to protect people from specific and immediate dangers.

    I sympathize with you here, Ally, but the more I think about it the more I understand why feminists criticize this argument. The standard “don’t walk alone, etc.” works well enough for cases of stranger rape, but what about sexual assault from family members or acquaintances? It’s easy enough to avoid dark alleyways at night, but a lot harder to avoid someone you live with. I’d have to check the numbers, but I’m pretty sure those kinds of rapes, from relatives, family friends, etc. also represent a pretty hefty portion of the total. :/

  19. David S says

    @Ally

    The first is factual and criminological, that there is very little evidence that there is any significant relationship between how (usually) women dress, where they go, what they do, how they behave and the prevalence of sexual assault.

    There may be no evidence for a relationship between how women dress and whether they get assaulted, but there is very good evidence that the risk is related to where people go and what they do. CSEW data, for example, show that both women and men are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault if they regularly visit night clubs (risk increases by a factor of five for women, and a factor of sixteen for men, although I’m not sure about confidence limits). That does not mean, of course, that visiting night clubs makes you responsible for being assaulted, and it might not be direct cause and effect at all. Clubbing might be acting as a proxy for extraversion, or age, or lack of risk-aversion, or a whole number of things. However you are trying to claim that there is no relationship at all, which doesn’t withstand a minutes scrutiny, and may be a dangerous thing to say.

  20. Ice Swimmer says

    Has there been any research on the effect of clothing and footwear worn by the victim to the outcome of sexual assault? One would think that it is easier to escape in sneakers, yoga pants or leggings and a flimsy top than in high heels, narrow and long skirt and a loose leather or denim jacket.

    However, would it a make significant difference for the outcome for the victim in most cases if running and kicking is easier and the rapist cannot easily get a reliable grip on the victim’s clothes?

    Where does the boundary between victim-blaming and empowering information lie?

  21. Bugmaster says

    …there is very little evidence that there is any significant relationship between how (usually) women dress, where they go, what they do, how they behave and the prevalence of sexual assault. If there is, it tends to be that the more socially and sexually confident and assertive women are as a gender, the more independent of mind and behaviour they become, the safer they are from sexual assault.

    Wait, isn’t this a contradiction ? You seem to be saying that women who behave in a more “socially and sexually confident, assertive, and independent” manner are at a lower risk from sexual assault. Does it not then follow that training women to be more assertive etc. will lower their risk of being sexually assaulted ? Come to think of it, what does the evidence say about those anti-rapist self-defence classes — do they work ?

    Regarding disengaging from stupid / violent / etc. people who claim your chosen label:

    It’s easy to forget that not everyone belongs to the same club as you. For example, consider a devoted Christian who is really passionate about his religion. His particular denomination, Eastern American Reformed Presbylutheranism, emphasizes peace, loving one’s neighbour, plus a thousand minor points of arcane doctrine. The church down the street from them belongs to the Western branch of American Reformed Presbylutheranism, and believes in almost all of the same things, except they also think gay people are going to hell — which is why our Christian would never join them.

    But the problem is, there’s no way for an outsider to tell which of them is which. When the WARPs stage an anti-gay protest, they just call themselves “Christian”. An outsider has no way of knowing about all the little doctrinal differences between the churches; from his point of view, it just looks like yet another anti-gay protest that’s endorsed by Christians.

    Feminism is the same way. There are a thousand little schisms and denominations within it, and if you are a feminist who is steeped in the movement, you can navigate its currents as expertly as that Christian can navigate the currents of theology. But, from the outside, you’re just another guy who calls himself “feminist”, so when another person claims that label and says something stupid like “warning women about a violent rapist on the loose in their area is misogyny”, there’s no way for an outsider to tell the difference between you two. Unless, of course, you take some steps to educate him — which would involve disengaging from the stupid contingent within your movement.

  22. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Talk to women and you will hear that “walking alone at night” is the one thing they’re really trying to avoid. We’re actually following this “advice” already whenever we can. When we cannot, what is your solution?

    I would really, REALLY like an answer to this from all of the clever rape “preventionists” (by way of controlling women’s behaviour) here.

    There seems to be some perception that women are stubbornly and stupidly refusing to adhere to common safety precautions (that have, if I can just remind you, been drilled into them repeatedly, constantly and continuously from the time they can remember) because of some defiant rah-rah I am Womyn Hear Me Roar kind of mindset, which couldn’t be further from the truth and is, quite frankly, deeply misogynistic and completely ignorant of the realities of women’s lives.

    So, Ally? Any comment on what Giliell said?

  23. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Thirding Giliell, but also parachuting in to say:

    Police warn public to avoid fake dating sites

    B’whuh? But where will I go to fake-date if I’m not allowed on-site fake-dating?

    Seriously, Ally, I think your summary of their message might be a tad off.

  24. sonofrojblake says

    There seems to be some determination here to misunderstand what’s being talked about in order to rehearse the usual rants.
    Post 17 summed it up so well – “A specific warning about a specific and current problem is certainly different to a blanket statement about what you must always do if you ever want to be safe”.

    @Gilliel, 18:

    Anybody who thinks that when hearing “dangerous rapist on the loose” women need some extra reminder must think us to be children who must be told to look left and right before crossing the street every single time

    That would make some sense as an analogy if Youtube wasn’t packed to gunnels with sometimes humourous, sometimes horrifying video evidence of adults who apparently didn’t get the memo about looking left and right before crossing the street. I’m an engineer with some responsibility for workplace safety training, and I can tell you from depressing experience that even in a professional context, educated adults do in fact need telling not to do stupid things that could hurt or kill them. And even if they don’t, it’s morally better to annoy them by reminding them.

    @Gunlord, 20: “what about sexual assault from family members?”
    See post 17: “A specific warning about a specific and current problem is certainly different to a blanket statement about what you must always do if you ever want to be safe”.

    @Ice Swimmer, 22: “Where does the boundary between victim-blaming and empowering information lie?”
    I’d offer the following, perhaps obvious suggestion: A specific warning about a specific and current problem is empowering information. A blanket statement about what you must always do if you ever want to be safe is victim-blaming and an attempt to blanket control behaviour.

    @Bugmaster, 23: “Unless, of course, you take some steps to educate him” – this sentence is ambiguous. By “him” do you mean the idiot or the outsider? “Tuning out” need not involve anything more active that simply ignoring the crazier statements yourself and simply suggesting that anyone sensible do the same.

    @WMDKitty, 26: “what about women who are assaulted in their own homes?”
    Clutch those pearls just a *little* tighter, can’t you? One might reasonably ask in response – what about them? This isn’t about them. Ally’s post explicitly made the point, in the paragraph that begins: “Sex offenders who attack strangers in public are actually exceptionally rare”, and goes on to address, in full, your question, to the point that it makes me think you can only possibly have asked it because you either (a) haven’t actually read/understood the OP, or (b) are just trolling.

  25. says

    son ofrojblake
    Talk about not getting it: We aleady avoid that shit. We already try to either NOT walk alone at night OR have a chaperone.* But quite often we cannot avoid it because we have lives. Your advice, in that specific situation is still useless because it doesn’t help us shit. I gave you a very concrete example. Do you think I should have followed the advice given by my university administration which would have led to me having to drop out of college because I wouldn’t have been able to go to my classes and get enough credit points? Do you think women can tell their boss “sorry, can’t work the late shift ’cause then I’d have to be out after dark?” “Sorry, boss, can’t finish this project in time ’cause I need to be bolted inside my home after 6pm?” Or close their businesses early? Or tell parents the daycare will only operate from 10 to 14 because all workers need to get home early and can’t arrive earlier?
    I’m asking your solution: what are women to do who depend on being outside alone?

    *who then often feels entitled to a little pay off for his service.

  26. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    So many words, so much tut-tutting, and still no answer.

    Talk to women and you will hear that “walking alone at night” is the one thing they’re really trying to avoid. We’re actually following this “advice” already whenever we can. When we cannot, what is your solution?

  27. Ally Fogg says

    Wow, what a flurry of comments.

    I had a long exchange on Twitter yesterday with someone making similar points to Gillel & others.

    The point at which we agreed to differ (or perhaps more accurately the point where I gave up arguing) was that she agreed it is important and necessary for police to say (for example):

    “We would like to inform the public that there is a serial rapist targeting lone women in such-and-such an area of the city and we are doing everything within our power to stop them.”

    Whereas I said it is quite reasonable to say:

    “We would like to inform the public that there is a serial rapist targeting lone women in such-and-such an area of the city, we are doing everything within our power to stop them and in the meantime we’d advise women to take whatever steps they can to avoid walking alone in the area until he has been apprehended.”

    I’m guessing most of the recent comments are from people who would agree her position.

    It just strikes me as an entirely unreasonable imposition. On the one hand, it perhaps doesn’t make that much difference in that most women would react in the exact same way, most people would effectlively hear the same message.

    But some might hear the second one and decide to take a different route home to avoid the specific part. Employers who are sending employees (eg bar staff) home late at night might be more inclined to pay for a taxi for a woman who would otherwise be walking home alone at 2am. Little things, like my best friend in my own neighbourhood is a woman, we sometimes go to the pub together. Normally she says she is happy to walk home by herself (it isn’t far) but if we know there has been an incident in the area, I would be more likely to take a 10 minute detour and walk her home. Just llitle changes like those at the margins, they might just be the difference between someone being attacked and someone not being attacked.

    I think also to be fair to the police, if you had someone attacked by a serial offender in the area and afterwards someone (probably a journalist) turns round and says “Hang on, you knew three women had already been attacked in that park this month and you didn’t warn women to avoid it? What the hell were you thinking of? This woman here would not have been attacked if you’d told her to take a different route home. What were you thinking?”

    I totally get that there are harms and damaging consequences to telling women to change their behaviour to avoid rape. However that doesn’t change the fact that there are specific situations at certain times and places where those harms have to be balanced against the risks of not doing so.

    I find it quite disingenuous to just wish those risks away or pretend they are not real.

  28. That Guy says

    Apologies Ally! Will shift to open thread.

    @ Gillell 18 & 19

    These are good points! Particularly about not being able to afford a car or a taxi.

    As someone that relies on public transport I get pretty miffed by advice like “find alternative travel arrangements”.

    Like wanted to spend an hour a day in the piss-soaked purgatory that is trains to deprived areas.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about particular warnings wrt. particular incidents. I think that making the public aware of the threat is the bare minimum the police need to do- It’s deeply unethical to sit on information that could lead to more people being harmed.

    “Police would like to inform the public there is a hypothetical rapist targeting lone women after dark in the sketchytowne area” is IMO, fine. But where the advice comes into play, has the potential to be offensive, but should be okay if approached in the right way. so

    “Police advise that women travelling alone are tempting fate and deserve everything they get” is obviously cartoonishly abhorrent, but something like

    “Police are advising the public to be extra vigilant, and if possible, to avoid travelling in the sketchytowne area after dark” is probably better, as it keeps vigilance gender neutral (are you a man, and spotted something suspicious? then get in touch!) but also acknowledges that it’s not always possible or practical to follow such vague advice.

    And advice, no matter how vague, is always required for political (and usually practical!) reasons.

    (In the worst case scenario, the advice above should never be used as a stick to beat any victims with, and the fact that this still happens is IMO more a problem with society in general, and not the police for issuing specific warnings)

    Of course, in an ideal world with sufficient effective law enforcement, then there would be, as suggested, facilities to help those who for whatever reason are at significantly increased risk, hotlines, police escorts, increased police presence in effected areas, etc.

    BUT this is, apparently, not always possible, so warnings and advice are all that we get.

    tl:dr, It’s unethical for police to sit on information that could lead to people being harmed, but in delivering this information there is some potential to re-enforce unhelpful attitudes.

  29. That Guy says

    above edit- my comment about trains seems snooty in retrospect-

    What I meant to indicate is that train services between major cities (particularly london commuter trains) are miles above the train between my home in a post-industrial town to smallish city in terms of quality and maintenance. the people are broadly the same.

    Except for students on daddy’s money. Fuck those guys.

  30. Ally Fogg says

    ThatGuy [31]

    Yes, I think it is right and proper that there is an ongoing conversation about what kind of language police should use when issuing these kinds of warnings. It might well be that there are some turns of phrase which are more appropriate and useful, less damaging and victim-blaming than others.

    But I think it would be more helpful to say to police “when you issue warnings, please phrase it like this and don’t phrase it like that” as opposed to telling police that they should never issue warnings to women at all.

  31. That Guy says

    @Ally, didn’t see your comment @ 30- before posting- I think we’re generally on the same page.

  32. sonofrojblake says

    I went back to re-read Gilliel’s “concrete example”. And yes, the college’s advice was useless. However, they likely only even bothered giving it because they knew if they didn’t, and a second person was attacked, they’d have been condemned for saying nothing.

    I also re-read this: “I know that had I become a victim people would be blaming me, including you.”

    Nope. I’m not that caricature misogynist you’ve made up in your head, and neither are more than a tiny douche minority. I absolutely would not have blamed you on any level. And fuck you for suggesting I would, btw.

    This is a real damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation, as Ally pointed out (btw, I think when you said “It just strikes me as an entirely unreasonable imposition”, you mean “reasonable imposition”.).

  33. says

    Ally

    But some might hear the second one and decide to take a different route home to avoid the specific part. Employers who are sending employees (eg bar staff) home late at night might be more inclined to pay for a taxi for a woman who would otherwise be walking home alone at 2am. Little things, like my best friend in my own neighbourhood is a woman, we sometimes go to the pub together. Normally she says she is happy to walk home by herself (it isn’t far) but if we know there has been an incident in the area, I would be more likely to take a 10 minute detour and walk her home. Just llitle changes like those at the margins, they might just be the difference between someone being attacked and someone not being attacked.

    Sigh
    First of all, would you only be willing to make that detour if Police specifically advises women not to walk alone? I hope you’d have the decency to offer your friend to walk her home simply after the Police informed you that there was an incident.
    Second, yes, not being there will actually influence somebody’s chances of (not) being attacked. But it very likely doesn’t change whether there is an attack at all. We know that serial predators lie in wait. They plan. They are not walking down the street on their own when they suddenly have the idea to rape a woman. So in the end it merely passes down the shit bucket to the woman who simply cannot avoid being there. And then you get that whole big fat victim blaming because what was she doing there? The police had told her not to walk there alone! Really, she was asking for it!

    Really, look at what Sonofrojblake says:

    And yes, the college’s advice was useless. However, they likely only even bothered giving it because they knew if they didn’t, and a second person was attacked, they’d have been condemned for saying nothing.

    He even acknowledges that the advice is useless and in the end just serves to cover the responsible institution’s ass and shift the blame onto the woman who is attacked. I repeat: the advice does nothing to keep the female students safe and only helps the university to disavow themselves from the actual responsibility to keep the women safe.

    My question still stands: Since women are already trying to keep themselves safe to the best of their abilities and will double and tripple their efforts once they hear about an incident anyway, what good is that advice and what about those women who simply cannot avoid being there? What are we supposed to do?

    Oh, btw, the last stranger attack in my neck of the woods was on a cleaning woman at a daycare who was working there alone after the daycare had closed. Would you think it reasonable advice if the police told women “not to work alone inside buildings after dark”?

  34. StillGjenganger says

    @Giliell 36
    Sounds to me like it would be useful if the police told people to take precautions when they thought it was particularly warranted – and NOT when they did NOT think it was warranted. People might well take extra precautions whenever there was a prominent headline about rape – having police advice in there could concentrate that effort for the times where it really was indicated.
    As for ‘always trying to keep themselves safe to the best of their abilities’, well, I am not speaking from experience here. But surely you are making a trade-off between keeping yourself safe and the time and money you have to spend. If things were particularly dangerous for a week, you might temporarily spend extra on transport, or prevail on friends to accompany you, …
    Predators may well lie in wait, but I do not think they have a quota. Surely reducing their opportunities would reduce the predation, by a bit at least.

    None of this will remove the risk of rape, or the fear it generates. But if it helps a bit (and it surely does) why not do it? What is the downside?

  35. Marduk says

    #33

    Surely the key is that these should be information for the community, not “warning to women”. Several of the ones mentioned in the article were misreported by the newspapers cited and did take this route. What the police actually said in some cases (but I admit not all) was quite carefully worded to avoid what is being complained about.

    And this has utility as well, if you are aware that there is a situation, perhaps you’d be more likely to call the police about something you notice rather than leave it etc.

    If “warning women” is the politics of control and implies responsibility that isn’t there, perhaps the way to play it is in terms of the local community. This would seem a far more positive way to approach things and if it sends a message, it sends a message (vaguely) about unity and mutual concern etc.

  36. That Guy says

    @36 Giliell

    I imagine that it is true that in a lot of cases, the “take extra care” can only really be seen as ass covering- but unfortunately, I don’t think removing this footer will stop victim blaming- I’ve heard people saying shit like “what was she doing- why didn’t she get a taxi home?” etc- without reference to specifically listening to what the police say.

    So unfortunately I don’t think it’s totally a case of the police passing the buck- (at least, I hope not most of the time)- if the police said “there’s a predator- at X location- we’re doing everything we can to catch them” and someone falls victim- then IMO that victim is going to be blamed- “didn’t they know that there was a predator in the area? why did they go there etc”
    It’s a really really shitty situation- and unfortunately I don’t think it’s fixed by the police not saying “take extra care”

    What’s also shitty is that people who are basically obligated to go places at risk are more at risk than (usually the wealthier people) who can afford alternate transport or whatever- but I’m not sure what the solution there is. (Aside from the measures earlier mentioned- which would be stellar- but the resources are seemingly not always there).

    Honestly- I’m not sure what the best course of action is from the Police’s point of view (in the UK at least). Do you state the facts. and then say nothing else to avoid victim blaming? (then what do you say when a journalist asks “what steps can XYZ take to protect themselves?”) or do you give ‘advice’ with the warnings and potentially contribute to the overall culture?

    Unfortunately in both of the above, if someone is attacked I’d imagine that there’d be more or less equal amounts of victim blaming- as the distinction here is probably too subtle for most people who would take part in victim blaming.

    I’d like to think in both cases that the police will be equally as effective in catching the perpetrator- and it’s not a case that if they say “take care” that they disavow themselves from the problem.

  37. says

    I rephrase my two questions to all the people here again:
    1. Do you believe (I’m not even asking for evidence!) that telling women to be extra careful will actually lower the incidences of sexual violence against women?
    2. What is your solution for women who cannot make any “trade offs”?

  38. POSTER says

    Since women are already trying to keep themselves safe to the best of their abilities and will double and tripple their efforts once they hear about an incident anyway, what good is that advice[…]?

    If women will redouble their efforts when a crime is reported, then reporting it serves the same function as advice. Rape apologists can and will still say “she knew there have been rapes there, so it’s her fault for going there.” All you’ve done is provided less information for those women looking to redouble their efforts (e.g. is this a one off attack or one in a series? does the rapist have some particular area he operates in? etc.).

    […]what about those women who simply cannot avoid being there? What are we supposed to do?

    Advice can’t help those women. But it can help others, and we shouldn’t deny some people help because we can’t help everybody.

  39. says

    As for ‘always trying to keep themselves safe to the best of their abilities’, well, I am not speaking from experience here.

    You and pretty obviously everybody in this discussion who thinks that is a reasonable and good thing while everybody with a life’s worth of “protecting themselves from rape” are telling you it’s fucking bullshit.

  40. says

    POSTER

    Advice can’t help those women. But it can help others, and we shouldn’t deny some people help because we can’t help everybody.

    Oh, great, so we’re just fine that some woman will get raped eventually, which is exactly the same situation as we had before the warning, only that we now made sure that the woman who finally gets raped is the one with the least resources.

    If women will redouble their efforts when a crime is reported, then reporting it serves the same function as advice. Rape apologists can and will still say “she knew there have been rapes there, so it’s her fault for going there.”

    So you all basically agree that the additional “so be a good girl and don’t walk alone at night” doesn’t add any extra, but when women tell you it’s actually harmful you just don’t believe us.

    All you’ve done is provided less information for those women looking to redouble their efforts (e.g. is this a one off attack or one in a series? does the rapist have some particular area he operates in? etc.).

    Bullshit, since I have nowhere argued against telling people where and how a crime happened.

  41. POSTER says

    @Giliell

    Oh, great, so we’re just fine that some woman will get raped eventually, which is exactly the same situation as we had before the warning, only that we now made sure that the woman who finally gets raped is the one with the least resources.

    You could say literally the same about any strategy that seeks to decrease a rapist’s opportunities. If someone’s attacked in a dark office car park, I’m sure you wouldn’t be against putting up lights because all that will happen is that women from offices with dark car parks will be raped. And anyway given that we’re decreasing his opportunities to rape, fewer women might actually get raped.

    So you all basically agree that the additional “so be a good girl and don’t walk alone at night” doesn’t add any extra, but when women tell you it’s actually harmful you just don’t believe us.

    Have women told me or have you told me? I don’t think I’d have to go far to find women who actually would like to be warned about potential threats.

  42. says

    POSTER

    You could say literally the same about any strategy that seeks to decrease a rapist’s opportunities. If someone’s attacked in a dark office car park, I’m sure you wouldn’t be against putting up lights because all that will happen is that women from offices with dark car parks will be raped. And anyway given that we’re decreasing his opportunities to rape, fewer women might actually get raped.

    Wrong. I can and will say this about any strategy that seeks to decrease a rapist’s opportunities by putting the onus on the woman not to be there/do that. Because they don’t work. Installing lights, increasing security, reserving parking spaces for women so they can actually avoid the dark corners are good and sensible meassures.

    Have women told me or have you told me? I don’t think I’d have to go far to find women who actually would like to be warned about potential threats.

    Can I have that straw once you’ve bravely defeated your strawman? We keep rabbits.

  43. POSTER says

    @Giliell

    Wrong. I can and will say this about any strategy that seeks to decrease a rapist’s opportunities by putting the onus on the woman not to be there/do that. Because they don’t work. Installing lights, increasing security, reserving parking spaces for women so they can actually avoid the dark corners are good and sensible meassures.

    I’m not sure I get the difference between advising women to avoid an area where a rapist is known to act (and thus decreasing his opportunity to rape) and making one particular car park inhospitable to a rapist (and thus decreasing his opportunity to rape). It seem to me that both reduce the rapist’s opportunities to rape and so should result in fewer rapes. Why is it that you think the opposite?

  44. Ally Fogg says

    Giliell

    1. Do you believe (I’m not even asking for evidence!) that telling women to be extra careful will actually lower the incidences of sexual violence against women?

    Yes, Not often. Probably only very, very occasionally. But I ask myself “what would the serial rapist most want to happen here” and I am fairly confident that the answer to that question would be for nobody to change their usual behaviour in any way.

    Your point about the rapist simply moving on to a different victim is by no means clear cut. An offender who attacks in public places is not likely to be spoiled for choice for potential victims. He needs someone to be in a precise place at a precise time in order to attack.

    2. What is your solution for women who cannot make any “trade offs”?

    Perhaps there is no solution, at least in the immediate short term.

  45. That Guy says

    @ Gilliell

    1) Broadly speaking? No. In specific incidents? Provided the incidents are already reported? Probably not. I don’t know.
    2)I don’t know. What should be done for them?

    @44

    It cannot be simultaneously true that a warning does not help anyone (pt 1) and also that warnings leave only the most disadvantaged vulnerable to predators (pt 2).

    It can be true however, that it leaves the most disadvantaged vulnerable to being victim blamed- which I’m sure would happen wether the warning is issued or not- as victim blamers are unlikely to differentiate between (as appropriately phrased as possible) advice, and a simple statement of facts that there is a predator.

    Where I can sympathise with police is when they are asked “what can people do to keep themselves safe?”

    What is the correct response? “continue as normal?”

  46. HuckleAndLowly says

    Gilell (and friends):

    Are you really arguing that the police should not inform people when there is a serial rapist active in a given area? That seems a surprising stance to take (and is a stance that the rapist would be happy to support). Obviously the main efforts of the police should be to catch the scum and stop them, and work to make the area safer. If they weren’t doing that, and were instead only issuing warnings, that would really be a problem (and the problem wouldn’t be with issuing the warnings: it would be with the police not doing the other stuff they really need to do).

    Perhaps your problem is with the form the warnings take (saying there is a rapist active in this area _and_then_suggesting_ that_people_watch_out_)? Would you be happier if the police just issued the information (“there is a serial rapist active in this area”) but left out the warning that follows? Fair enough: although I doubt this would have any impact at all on how people feel, behave or respond.

  47. Michael M says

    Why would telling then that there’s a serial rapist about and what they chan do to avoid them have any impact?

  48. Rowan vet-tech says

    Would you be happier if the police just issued the information (“there is a serial rapist active in this area”) but left out the warning that follows? Fair enough: although I doubt this would have any impact at all on how people feel, behave or respond.

    You… doubt that it would have any impact on how I, a woman, would feel, behave, or respond? I, a woman, who has had 3 close calls with sexual assault and was only saved from the first one by the existence of two large and angry dogs in her house?

    Being told there's one in an area is enough. Spread the news around. Get it out there. But don't include absolutely asinine advice like "don't walk alone at night" that I've been told since I was a child with my age in single digits. Advice that nearly every woman has been told since she was a child. It's not like we've bloody forgotten it.

  49. Bugmaster says

    @Giliell:

    Do you believe (I’m not even asking for evidence!) that telling women to be extra careful will actually lower the incidences of sexual violence against women?

    Yes, but you should not listen to me. What you or I believe is worthless without evidence; if you’re not asking for evidence, then you’re basically asking people to spin you some fairytales. This can be entertaining, but hardly informative; and it’s certainly no way to make important decisions.

    That said, you cannot make an informed decision, such as “I need to change my walking route”, if you are missing some piece of information, such as “there’s a serial rapist who prowls my usual walking route, and he has not been caught yet”. I am puzzled regarding your reasons for suggesting that the police should just sit on this information… I guess, if they are setting up some sort of a sting operation, I could maybe justify it…

    What is your solution for women who cannot make any “trade offs”?

    In life, there are never any easy answers. Your entire existence is one big tradeoff, which is why it’s important to know what you are trading off for what.

    If you want to minimize your chances of getting raped (and you are not some sort of a millionaire) the only solution I can think of is to spend your entire life in your apartment, sleep with a gun under your pillow, and preemptively shoot any man who knocks on your front door (*). This lifestyle is maximally effective at preventing rape (along with murder, etc.), but I suspect that most people would not be happy with this tradeoff.

    Stepping out of your front door increases your chances of getting raped, but opens up a lot more opportunities for positive outcomes. Never being along with a man (*) dramatically decreases your chances of being raped, but removes some of these opportunities. Never drinking any alcohol reduces your chances of being raped, but may exclude you from many positive social situations… and so on.

    I could say the same about any risk; and in fact, some of the advice above applies to other risks: the risk of being run over by a car or being robbed, for example. The point here is neither “you must spend your life in a bunker” nor “if anything bad at all happens to you, it’s your fault”; but rather, “if you are informed about the risks, you can make better decisions about the tradeoffs”. By campaigning against programs and initiatives that make women better informed, you are actively hurting their ability to make decisions. I’d say the exact same thing about men, but you don’t seem to be as concerned with their welfare…

    (*) Women are ok, since obviously only men can be rapists.

  50. says

    Rowan vet-tech:

    Being told there’s one in an area is enough. Spread the news around. Get it out there. But don’t include absolutely asinine advice like “don’t walk alone at night” that I’ve been told since I was a child with my age in single digits. Advice that nearly every woman has been told since she was a child. It’s not like we’ve bloody forgotten it.

    As they say, there’s a sucker born every minute. Where does your suggestion leave women who are younger, less experienced, less aware of the risks, or less educated about the ways to mitigate them? Does the cost of momentary annoyance at hearing the same warnings again and again outweigh empowering those other women to make an educated choice about their lives and possibly avoid being assaulted?

  51. Lucy says

    Oh god, not another man who thinks women are like houses and don’t mind getting locked up at night.

  52. Lucy says

    “The answer is, not remotely absurd. Here are some examples gleaned from literally two minutes on Google news search today:

    “Police urge public to consider some “simple steps” to combat burglaries in the darker nights. He advised that lights on timers are changed and that residents leave radios on while out for the evening. ”

    Men, leave your radios on while you are “out at night”
    Women, leave your radios on while you stay “in at night”
    One is a precaution, one is an attack on civil liberty.

    —–
    “Police warn of risk of cyber crime
    Police warn public to avoid fake dating sites ”

    Men, avoid fake dating sites.
    Women, avoid dating.
    One is a precaution, the other is an attack on civil liberties.

    —–
    “Thames Valley Police is urging residents to be vigilant of fake lottery scams and is warning people not to respond to any communications claiming they have won a lottery, sweepstake or prize draw.”

    Men, avoid fake people in one specific financial situation which you can easily avoid with no effect on your liberty or moral integrity.
    Women, avoid communications with everyone, all the time. Do not reveal your gender to strangers, be anonymous online, go x-directory, have call screening, don’t make eye contact, don’t flirt, for god sake don’t have sex.

    One is a precaution, the other is an attack on civil liberty.

    —-
    “A SPATE of garden burglaries has prompted police to warn people to be on their guard in Llanelli… Police officers have carried out a mass leaflet drop warning the public to take extra precautions.

    Men, lock up your possessions which don’t have civil liberties or human rights.
    Women, lock up yourselves.
    Men, lock up your women.

    Maybe a better analogy to female citizens than houses, gates, sheds, laptops, lottery tickets might be police issuing warnings to other kinds of PEOPLE to take precautions that diminish or eradicate their civil liberties because they and we can’t be arsed to deal with the discriminatory crime that targets them or make the hate speech that incites it illegal.

    In your three minutes of surfing did you find Surrey police issuing any warnings along the lines of “Jewish/Muslim/Homosexual/Black men, be careful where you walk on the public highways you pay taxes for, it’s a luxury you can’t afford. Always travel in an expensive (pre-booked) taxi with a driver with the totally unreliable criminal background check we provide. Never be alone, but don’t talk to strangers. Be careful how you dress, how much skin you show in case it “provokes” somebody. Don’t get drunk because you may be needed as a witness in your racist assault trial. Don’t flirt. If you must, then don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t do overtime as somebody might kill you on your way home, if you do, wear flat shoes so you can run from your attacker, and don’t use car parks or leave anything on your backseat that might identify your race. If you break down on a motorway, stay in your car, because passing juggernauts are less of a risk to you than passing racists. Don’t open your windows at night, answer your door, don’t flirt, for god’s sake don’t have sex with anyone. There are racists out there and mysteriously, a massive racist entertainment propaganda industry which is free speech.

    I mean I know sexism isn’t as important as the kinds of prejudice and discrimination that affect men n’ all, but if we’re going for police parity.

  53. Lucy says

    I always assume that there are at least ten serial rapists and/or wannabe misogynist killers within a 20 mile radius of me. Police issuing warnings of one more wouldn’t alter my behaviour. Avoiding sexist attack has been built in to every single decision I’ve made every day since primary school. Either by capitulating to it and letting the terrorists win, or occasionally contrarily not.

    And I’ve never met a single woman for whom it isn’t, although most are so habituated to this behaviour they don’t see it for what it is.

    The idea that women need any more advice in this area, especially from every amateur sleuth and rape advisor with five minutes to spare on the internet is frankly insulting and really really wearing. It would make a refreshing change if they dedicated even ten percent of that energy into giving advice to the people who cause it.

  54. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy #57:
    Woo hoo ! Lucy is back ! I’ve missed her… unique… perspective on things. As usual, she makes a good point in a subtle reverse-psychology kind of way.

    During my orientation week at college, a spokesman from the local police gave a lecture to the incoming freshman class about the local area. It went basically something like this: “For those of you who live off-campus, make sure to avoid areas X, Y, and Z on your way to campus, especially at night; people get murdered there 10x as often as in the surrounding areas. Avoid drinking out at bars late at night, because you will be at an extremely high risk of getting mugged on your way home. Don’t engage with the street preachers; some of them are ok, but others may stab you, and you can never know which one is which. Oh, and if you have a bike, it will get stolen; there’s nothing you, me, or anyone else can do about it, so plan accordingly”.

    Of all the orientation lectures, this one was, perhaps, the most useful. I think it’s very important for police to warn everybody about the very real dangers that surround them — and I mean everybody, not just the women. If I were a Muslim, and there was a serial killer on the loose who only targeted Muslim men, then I would definitely want to know this. If I were white, and there was a specific area of the city where white people are killed on sight, you bet I’d want to know that, too.

    By the way, Lucy does offer a mixture of good and bad advice, but IMO this is a good one:

    If you break down on a motorway, stay in your car

    Not because of any roaming racists or rapists, but because playing Frogger versus trucks traveling at 70 mph is just not a good idea.

  55. StillGjenganger says

    @Bugmaster.
    As I read it, Gilliell & Co. are perfectly happy with being informed about crimes (“We are informed that a rapist targeting lone women at night is believed to operate in the Manchester area” is good), but cannot accept any accompanying advice (“therefore the police advises women to avoid going out alone in Central Manchester at night” is a complete no-no). I do not really understand why they think so, but that is the point you have to argue against.

  56. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy #58:

    I always assume that there are at least ten serial rapists and/or wannabe misogynist killers within a 20 mile radius of me.

    Trigger warning: I know that you have previously, you have indicated that math was invented by men to oppress women, so you may want to skip the following.

    According to Wikipedia, there were 173,610 incidents of rape across the entire US in 2013. Let’s assume that all of these incidents were male-on-female rape. This means that, on any given day, there are about 476 active rapists in the US, on average. The US has the land area of about 3,806,000 square miles. Assuming that the rapists are evenly distributed, this means there were about 0.00125 rapists per square mile. A circle 20 miles in diameter has the surface area of about 1257 square miles; this gives us about 0.157 rapists per day inside the circle (unless I missed a decimal point somewhere). This is a lot less than 10; this means that, assuming Lucy is right, the Patriarchy is causing rapes to be under-reported by a factor of about 64.

    That said, the above calculation is just a very rough estimate, and obviously we’ve made a lot of unrealistic assumptions in there (all rape is male-on-female rape, rapists are evenly distributed, etc.). Plus, it’s possible I’ve made some miscalculation somewhere.

  57. Bugmaster says

    @StillGjenganger #60:
    Ah, my bad, in this case I withdraw the last part of my comment. But I can’t really argue against their point, as you have presented it, since I don’t fully understand it.

    Why is it wrong to give people advice on how to adjust their behavior in order to minimize potential threats ? Does doing so hurt people in some way ? Does useful advice only hurt women, but not men ?

    Some of the possible answers that I have seen so far include:
    * “Giving advice is the same as giving orders” — but this is obviously false, no one is automatically compelled to follow any advice that he/she/etc. is given; that’s why they call it “advice”.
    * “All women already know exactly what to do in any situation” — really, 100% of women ? Across the entire United States ? That seems unlikely. What if it’s only 99% of women, are you really willing to throw the remaining 1% under the bus ? What percentage of women are you willing to sacrifice ?
    * “All women are already at maximum threat of rape at all times” — this seems unlikely, especially since the incidence of rape has been dropping steadily over the past decade.

  58. says

    I fail to understand why it’s somehow my responsibility to keep a rapist from attacking me. Now, regardless of the circumstances of the rape, I’d say the onus is on the rapist to, you know, not rape. Failing that, I report to the police, and from there it’s their responsibility to catch the bastard.

    I shouldn’t have to adjust my whole life just to avoid a hypothetical. And if the worst did happen while I was out and about, it’s still not my fucking fault.

    And please, do tell me what the everloving fuck I was supposed to do when the rapist was my (ex-for-a-reason) fiancee? Staying home didn’t help…

    What about disabled women, raped by their caregivers? What should they have done differently to “protect” themselves?

    Fuck this “common sense advice” — not only does it not work, it’s fucking offensive.

  59. That Guy says

    @ Bugmaster 62

    I think the main objection is it encourages people to ‘blame the victim’ for their assault as they didn’t do what the police said, but this is a) not always possible, or b) not always practical.

    Out culture has a general obsession with telling women how to behave in general cases to avoid sexual assault- which is unfair- in an ideal world- everyone should be able to live their lives free of the threat of violence of any sort. Failing that- if someone is a victim, they should be offered support, and the entirety of the blame should fall on the perpetrator- and not the vic for ‘not doing as told’.

    @ 63- WMD Kitty- Survivor

    You have my total and absolute sympathy- victim blaming is always wrong- and ‘advice’ like this given as a panacea is ineffective and oppressive. you are correct.

    Obviously I (and many others here) are ill equipped to sensitively attack the issue- in the UK at least, the reporting to the public of a series of crimes like this or a perpetrator on the loose is in a public forum- (I think you agree that in specific incidents like this, it is important the public is made aware of these events) and there is invariably a question from a journalist or a member of the public – “how can we reduce the risk to ourselves?” or “what can we do?”

    What should be the response of law enforcement? I honestly don’t know- an I’m having doubts that anything ‘I’ would say in that position would be helpful or useful.

  60. Ally Fogg says

    In response to Lucy and others who have picked up on the differences between rape and – for example – shed burglaries or cyber fraud.

    Those examples were brought out specifically to answer the question posed in Laura Bates’s article “How absurd would it seem if we were to apply similar logic to any other crime?”

    But I would be really interested to know what you all think about other example in the OP – the warnings to gay men cruising on Clapham Common, in response to a rise in hate crimes and robberies.

    It seems to me that there is a very close analogy there. Do you think the police (and their LGBT org partners) are wrong to issue specific warnings in those circumstances?

    If not, what is the difference?

  61. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Well, Ally, one difference is that gay people are not told from before the time they can write or read their own names that if something happens to them it’ll be all their fault for not being safe enough. They are not taught “safety precautions” to the point of nausea from before the time they’re old enough for a training bra. They do not spend most of their energy when planning a night out on how to avoid homophobes who want to hurt them. They do not get blamed when they do get attacked for being at the wrong time at the wrong place because they should have had better sense than to be at the wrong time at the wrong place. They do not *already* do just about everything they can do while still living a life that’s worth living to avoid being attacked by homophobes, and there may just be something in their behaviour that can be altered by a warning like that.

    How’s that for “the difference”?

  62. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    It is clear to me from this discussion that the participants here, mostly male, have *no fucking clue* how much of women’s lives are ALREADY ruled by trying to “be safe” and avoid getting attacked. How much time and energy we ALREADY put into trying to “stay safe”. How much worry and anxiety we’re ALREADY going through every freaking day to dot all possible i’s and cross all possible t’s, because the consequences of not doing that is NOT JUST that you get fucking attacked, it’s that you get told you deserve to be attacked for being so stupid as to be in a position to be attacked.

    Seriously, you guys have no fucking clue, that’s all this damn thread has taught me.

  63. sonofrojblake says

    @Gilliel:

    He even acknowledges that the advice is useless

    Yes, you’re right, I did, because it was, functionally.

    and in the end just serves to cover the responsible institution’s ass

    Well, yes, that’s a very, very common reason for announcement of any kind by any organisation. You would be the first to be shrilly leaping on them if they knew there was a rapist about and they didn’t tell anyone, and they know that. We are all of us, in our current litigious society, to blame for the reflex action of organisations to cover themselves even against the most ludicrous possible accusations (see also packets of peanuts with “Contains Nuts” on them, and cups of coffee labelled “Contents are hot”.)

    and shift the blame onto the woman who is attacked.

    That is only happening in your head you monumental arsewit. There are, everywhere, examples of warnings given to members of the public to attempt to keep them safe, where, if they ignore the warnings, they are not held responsible for the consequences.

    I work in the chemical industry. Everywhere I look, there are warning signs. Despite this, on a reasonably regular basis, there are “accidents”, of varying degrees of severity (scare quotes because we don’t call them accidents any more but that’s what the public would call them). Quite often, the immediate cause of the accident is that the victim did something they shouldn’t. In your wibbly-wobbly world the accident investigation would say “well, we warned them, it’s their fault.” Meanwhile, in the real world, even if the victim was provably negligent, in the event of harm there is invariably an investigation and a change to whatever system hurt them, on the basis that if someone was hurt it was management’s fault for not keeping them safe: i.e. in the real world victims are not blamed even if they’re provably at fault. It’s an interesting process. You go from a situation with, perhaps, no warning signs at all (relying on common sense not to open the acid valve so it sprays in your face), to a warning sign saying “Don’t open this it will spray acid in your face” (relying on them reading the sign and obeying), to requiring all operators to wear face masks at all times (assuming they sometimes miss it or ignore it), to locking the valve closed (assuming they won’t go and get the key or simply cut the lock off (yes, this happens)), to automating the valve and requiring a password to operate it (assuming the supervisor has more sense), to walling off the valve and preventing humans from approaching it. Each step is more expensive and inconvenient than the last, and the usual final step is to make it completely safe by closing the factory and sending everyone home. Trade-off, see – every time, and every time you assume the fault is somewhere other than the victim’s actions.

    Now yes, there’s a douche minority who will say “why was she there” if a woman is attacked. But we’re getting rapidly much better at blaming the criminal for the crime. The very fact we’re even talking about this is proof.

    @WMDKitty, 63:

    I fail to understand why it’s somehow my responsibility to keep a rapist from attacking me.

    It isn’t. There, does that make it easier to understand?

    do tell me what […] I was supposed to do when the rapist was my […]fiancee? Staying home didn’t help…

    In the context of this conversation – do please tell me what you think the police were supposed to do? This conversation is about the efficacy and political impact of police announcements of imminent risks outside the home. You appear determined to try to derail the subject of the conversation away from that and onto the entirely different and irrelevant specifics of your story. If you were discussing your experience on your own post and I kept trying to say “well yes, but what about when I was sexually assaulted by a drunk woman in a nightclub? What was I supposed to do then?”, you’d rightly lambast me for practicing irrelevant and insulting whataboutery. And if you find the advice offensive, you are of course free to ignore it. Or complain loudly about it, whatever. But the latter has consequences for how much notice people will take of you in the future. But you know that – it’s common sense…

  64. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ Rowan

    Would you be happier if the police just issued the information (“there is a serial rapist active in this area”) but left out the warning that follows? Fair enough: although I doubt this would have any impact at all on how people feel, behave or respond.

    You… doubt that it would have any impact on how I, a woman, would feel, behave, or respond? I, a woman, who has had 3 close calls with sexual assault and was only saved from the first one by the existence of two large and angry dogs in her house?

    My mistake: I didn’t express myself clearly. What I was trying to say was that people’s response to information that there was a rapist active in the area wouldn’t be impacted by whether or not the information was followed by a warning. Obviously people are going to be affected, and change their behaviour, if they hear there is a rapist active in the area; the point I was trying to make that an additional warning, after that information, is pretty much irrelevant.

    I’m sure that coming close to being sexually assaulted gives you an insight to what its like. I also have some insight into what it is like. I’m a man and I’ve been sexually assaulted 3 times, two times by men and once by a woman. One was a street attack on a dark lane through a park; one was a violent stalker; the first was a priest, when I was 11 and in hospital for an operation.

  65. Ally Fogg says

    [66]

    one difference is that gay people are not told from before the time they can write or read their own names that if something happens to them it’ll be all their fault for not being safe enough. They are not taught “safety precautions” to the point of nausea from before the time they’re old enough for a training bra. They do not spend most of their energy when planning a night out on how to avoid homophobes who want to hurt them. They do not get blamed when they do get attacked for being at the wrong time at the wrong place because they should have had better sense than to be at the wrong time at the wrong place. They do not *already* do just about everything they can do while still living a life that’s worth living to avoid being attacked by homophobes

    I really don’t want to get into a game of oppression Olympics, but suffice to say I’m certain you are almost entirely 100% wrong about just about all of that.

    Like, spectacularly wrong.

  66. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Uh, yeah, Ally, I really don’t think I am. Gay people plan to avoid homophobes, but not to the extent that women plan to avoid attackers. Mainly because the chance of being attacked for being a woman is much, much higher than for being gay in most places of the world, including South Africa which is, as far as I’ve been able to tell, the Corrective Rape capital of the world. And it’s not playing Oppression Olympics to acknowledge that, not when YOU specifically asked what the difference is. It just makes it clear that lesbian women have a double load to bear, and that’s not even going into what trans women have to bear. And my point still stands: women are ALREADY doing what we can to avoid “getting ourselves raped”, contorting our lives to avoid attackers in ways that men, even gay men, have no concept of. And once again, that is not oppression olympics to acknowledge.

  67. Marduk says

    “Mainly because the chance of being attacked for being a woman is much, much higher than for being gay in most places of the world,”

    We’re not talking about “most places in the world”, we’re talking about the UK where the risk for a woman being attacked is much, much lower than for a man or a gay man. Of course men get blamed for being assaulted, it so ingrained that most of the time its not even considered to be a crime when it happens; you were in the wrong place (your choice), you couldn’t defend yourself (the police tend to find this comical). This goes double for gay men of course. You have no concept of this either.

    Instead of sneakily changing your argument, why don’t we talk about this more constructively instead?

  68. says

    Somebody who didn’t read the thread:

    Are you really arguing that the police should not inform people when there is a serial rapist active in a given area?

    +++

    Ally
    I’m asking you to do one more thing:
    Take a piece of paper and two different colour pencils.
    Write “pro warning” on one side and “Against warning” on the other.
    Assign one colour to “people I believe to be male” and one to “people I believe to be female”. Count the people on this list. Look at the colours and ask yourself “Is it that women are simply too stupid to understand these matters and need us men to tell them or is it maybe that those women know better about those things than we do?”
    Because seriously, if I ever need an example of “mansplaining”, I’ll link to this discussion.

    P.S.
    Some bastard has been shooting at cars with an air gun in my area. Interstingly, the police did not advice people not to drive…

  69. Marduk says

    #68

    You make a very good point there. The difference is that the men who die at work aren’t of much interest to anyone and hence their deaths aren’t politicized.

    #73

    Odd, the police were always telling people where not to drive in Northern Ireland for that very reason. Daily, for decades on end. You should complain.

    Exactly what is it you think you know about this that others don’t? I’ve just read a load of non-revelations and non-surprises and “you don’t understand”. I have a list of people I believe to be 13 years old and have confused us for their poor parents, I have no idea what their gender is though. The only shocking thing about them is that they show the authors have apparently never met a man in their lives if they think any of this is news or even especially specific to women.

    Tell you what though. I will promise to have no interest in this topic if that is what it will take. I will make sure I vote for whoever directs the least attention and least resources to it from now on. Will you be happy then? What is it that you actually want? Just say the word and we’ll stay in our lane and you can get on with talking to yourselves about problems you have no hope of fixing on your own and we’ll just stick to the football.

    This, children, is why we can’t have nice things.

  70. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    So… quick admission, before writing my earlier comment (#17) I actually didn’t check the article to which Ally was responding.
    I was commenting under the belief that specific and helpful warnings and advice had been given (thinking about it now, I have no idea why that would seem likely to me) but that doesn’t actually seem to have been the case. Specific events, sure, but the advice seems to be the same old thing which, as has been mentioned a few times since then, is actually already followed a lot of the time anyway.
    I’d say I’ll try to make sure to remember this so I don’t make the mistake of commenting unskeptically again in the future, but I suspect being positively quoted by sorj will have burned it into my brain permanently.

    So, yeah, actually checking the details seems to have reversed my stance on this. I’m all for specific and useful advice from law enforcement, but “don’t walk alone” doesn’t cut it when that’s already a given.

  71. MihangelapYrs says

    Bate’s column really annoyed me with her naive attitude, effectively saying it wasn’t fair to have to recognise that certain situations are dangerous.

    I am speaking as a gay man (am I allowed on a heteronormal site?) – through most of my life I was aware of “walking while gay”. I’ve been queerbashed twice – once in a very public place – and I still modify my behaviour to avoid problems. There are certain parts of Cardiff where I would avoid going (a bit like parts of London), my husband and I walk as though “just friends” while around us MF couples are holding hands etc.

    IT MAKES SENSE – you don’t knowingly put yourself at risk when you can avoid it by being aware. Bates is right – she shouldn’t have to, but not to is do so is self-indulgent

  72. MihangelapYrs says

    @Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    and you know how ALL gay men live their HOW? I became aware at about 13 that I had to keep my head down. As I grew older and started out I knew that it was always better to leave pubs and clubs in a group, and not to call attention to myself. It didn’t stop 2 queer bashings by gangs of men (and in one case women) for walking while being gay. So don’t project your prejudices onto the reality of a relatively open gay lifestyle

  73. David S says

    @Bugmaster (61)

    obviously we’ve made a lot of unrealistic assumptions in there (all rape is male-on-female rape, rapists are evenly distributed, etc.)

    The last one is an extremely unrealistic assumption.The average person does not live in an area of average density. In the UK the average population density of a built-up area is around 5,000 people per square kilometer which is orders of magnitude greater than the average population density. Of course built-up areas only occupy a small percentage of the land area, but they house a large proportion of the population. As a rough guess, I’d say that the average person would be situated so that there are around 100,000 other people within a 20 mile radius. I’d guess there would be a reasonable chance of there being ten serial rapists out of every 100,000 people.

    Also you shifted the goalposts by trying to estimate how many rapists were committing crimes on a particular day, which wasn’t what Lucy was talking about.

  74. johngreg says

    Don’t teach people to use Oxford commas; teach Oxford commas to not go missing in the first place!

  75. Rowan vet-tech says

    @HuckleAndLowly #69.
    Ah, yes. Basically saying the same thing as myself and most of the other women then. Thank you very much for that clarification.
    I’m very aware of how ridiculously fucking lucky I was with those close calls. First guy was a stalker (the guy who registered me to vote the first time, actually) and I’m pretty sure that if he’d managed to break in that he would have also killed me. The cops did nothing when I called, because it took me 3 hours to get up the courage to come out of the closet where I was hiding with my dad’s bow and his hunting arrows. Therefore, they dismissed me as lying about the whole thing. The second was a college classmate. Third was “guy following me late at night as I was walking alone towards campus” and the only thing that kept him off was him deciding that maybe I might know how to use the 11inch dagger I was sporting (I don’t, actually) and aiming at him. These 3 experiences, in a 2 year span, have made me highly distrustful of men that I have not known for a long time.
    I would like to express my sorrow over what you’ve had to experience. There are no words for the level of horror.

  76. says

    Well, I’m coming to the conclusion that those warnings actually serve a purpose: They make men feel all smug and superior now that they’ve done something to “prevent rape”. If it doesn’t work it’s hardly their fault, right?

  77. Bugmaster says

    @Giliell and others:
    Ok, so let’s say that you are a modern, empowered woman. You were born knowing everything there is to know about minimizing your chances of being assaulted — no one had to teach you, obviously — and you are conscious of all the tradeoffs. Thus, hearing really basic advice like “don’t walk home alone at night, especially when drunk” is extremely offensive for you. Let’s assume that most women are just like you.

    The thing is, humans are a diverse species, and so most characteristics we have follow the Normal Distribution. On the left side, you’ve got naive teenagers who think that following strangers into dark alleys is a capital idea. Next to them are people who can recite all the good advice by heart, but who haven’t quite internalized it, thinking “yes but it can’t happen to me”. You and other women like you are in the middle, of course. To the right of you are police officers who carry actual guns; to the right of them are Krav Maga champions who prowl the streets at night hunting down rapists, Batman-style.

    Persistent exposure to rape prevention techniques will prevent some of the women on the lower end of the distribution from being raped. Not all of them, obviously, but some. That same exposure makes you incredibly offended. How much offence are you willing to tolerate in exchange for a reduced number of rapes ?

    This isn’t a trick question; neither “zero !” nor “infinity !” are sensible answers. My purpose is not to catch you in some sort of a rhetorical trap, but rather to understand what value you are placing on the tradeoffs involved.

  78. Rowan vet-tech says

    Your thought process there, Bugmaster, immediately breaks down at the “no one had to teach you”.

    We have been telling you that the vast majority of women ARE taught these things, from the time they are very little. These are things shown, told, and reinforced on TV and in movies, from family, friends and relatives. From strangers on the street. From teachers and classmates. There are probably phenomenally few women who have not heard these ‘techniques’ hundreds of times. And what we’re trying to tell you is that they don’t even work, really, (all those women that can’t avoid situations) and that hearing them yet one more time changes *nothing*. And even better is that when we try to follow all this advice in a logical way, many of us are then accused of being mean to men (just look at the tears shed over the idea of Schroedinger’s Rapist), or chastised for becoming unfeminine.

    The thing is that these are not rape *prevention* techniques. They don’t stop rapes from occurring (most rapes aren’t stranger-rapes after all). The only causal factor in a rape is the proximity to a rapist who has decided to rape.

    The police could have said. “There’s a serial rapist in this area. Please be vigilant.” That bit of advice is for everyone, not just women and pretty much covers all bases in a simple 3 word phrase. Instead, the onus is put on *women* to avoid situations and you’d better believe that we DO get blamed if we are unable to avoid said situation. In fact, in some ways it’s even worse. “But she was *told* not to!”

    Naive teenagers aren’t going to suddenly ‘get it’ by hearing advice for the umpteenth time. The people who haven’t internalized it (most people go about life in denial about things, it’s a coping method to not be paralyzed by fear) aren’t going to by hearing advice for the umpteenth time. Also, even for people who think “It won’t happen to me”, the actions we take to ‘avoid rape’ are so ingrained as to be instinctive. If I’m meeting someone I don’t know somewhere, I automatically tell my mother and my boyfriend and leave the address. I’m not thinking “Gotta do this so I don’t get raped!”. It’s pure habit. Same with guarding my drink, avoiding being alone with a man I don’t know or don’t know extremely well, not going in an elevator where I’ll be alone with a guy, walking in lit areas, parking under street lights at night, looking under my car at night, etc. These are things my guy friends simply don’t do. WTF do cops with guns have anything to do with how people react to ‘rape prevention’ advice, same with vigilantes?

    Rape prevention techniques do not prevent rape. They might help a particular individual *avoid* (not prevent) rape, but they do not stop even stranger rapes. If a rapist wants to rape, they’re going to rape *someone*. No number of rapes get reduced.

  79. Marduk says

    #83

    You are confusing rape prevention with risk minimisation.
    The criminology and feminist literature is very clear on the difference.

    “The police could have said. “There’s a serial rapist in this area. Please be vigilant.”

    The police did in the majority of cases. Laura Bates quoted newspapers, not police forces.

  80. Rowan vet-tech says

    Marduk, I was commenting in response to Bugmaster… who was using the phrase rape prevention. I continued their convention.

    Laura Bates quoted newspapers… who quoted police.

    “A spokesman for Lincolnshire Police said: “Whilst we do not know what motivated the man to behave in this way his actions are of concern. Until he is identified women living and travelling in and around the area should be aware of the situation and take some common sense precautions. These include, where possible, not walking or travelling alone, particularly during the hours of darkness and using well-lit streets and avoiding shortcuts via alleyways and passages.”

    “Detective Sergeant Gordon Barclay, who is leading the investigation, said: ‘We have had a good response following previous appeals. ‘We would still like to advise women to remain vigilant when travelling at night and would also ask that anybody who may have any information regarding these offences to make contact with police.'”

    And while not as explicit…

    “Chief Superintendent Zoe Sheard of Greater Manchester Police urged: “In the past Malcolm Millman has committed violent attacks on young girls and women and for this reason we believe he may pose a serious risk to the public…We are going into Halloween weekend and I know there will be a lot of people out taking part in the festivities but I want to urge everybody to remain vigilant and I advise you not walk the streets alone and always make sure people know where you are.” With that last bit being common advice doled out to girls and women, and nowhere near as often to boys and men.

    That’s direct quotes from 3 of the 5 articles she listed. A fourth had a woman saying that police officers warned her to not walk alone.

    So… no. The police said the “Please be vigilant” and then tacked on a bunch of stuff aimed at women. Stuff that we generally already do.

  81. Bugmaster says

    @Rowan vet-tech #83:

    We have been telling you that the vast majority of women ARE taught these things, from the time they are very little.

    By whom ? You mention several sources:

    These are things shown, told, and reinforced on TV and in movies, from family, friends and relatives. From strangers on the street. From teachers and classmates.

    Firstly, if you are living your life according to the wisdom of TV, movies, strangers on the street, and classmates, then you probably have a bigger problem than the one we’re discussing. Friends and family are a little better, but — how do they know what they know ? Perhaps they were taught by their friends and family, in a sort of oral tradition that dates back thousands of years. That is poetic, but not incredibly reliable (and, after all, deconstructing oral tradition is what the Social Justice movement is all about). The one item left on the list is “teachers”, but, as far as I can tell, this is exactly the option you find offensive and thus wish to eliminate (in addition to preventing “public officials” from being added to the list).

    The thing is that these are not rape *prevention* techniques. They don’t stop rapes from occurring (most rapes aren’t stranger-rapes after all). The only causal factor in a rape is the proximity to a rapist who has decided to rape.

    Rape *prevention* techniques do not exist. Neither do murder prevention techniques, or even food poisoning prevention techniques. All you can do is minimize your chances of getting raped, murdered, or food poisoned. Keeping away from potential rapists is one solid way to do that, but if you classify all men (i.e. 50% of the population) as potential rapists, then the cost may be too high. Other techniques offer fewer benefits for smaller tradeoffs.

    Instead, the onus is put on *women* to avoid situations and you’d better believe that we DO get blamed if we are unable to avoid said situation

    If you believe that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be raped then men, then it does make sense to focus your messaging on women, specifically. And there’s a huge difference here between “messaging” and “blame”. Women are warned to perform regular inspections for breast cancer, too; does it mean that when a woman gets cancer, she will get blamed, and thus we should stop telling women to perform these inspections ? Once again, this is a tradeoff — how much offence are you willing to endure in exchange for saving someone’s life ? However, you may be on to something:

    Naive teenagers aren’t going to suddenly ‘get it’ by hearing advice for the umpteenth time. The people who haven’t internalized it (most people go about life in denial about things, it’s a coping method to not be paralyzed by fear) aren’t going to by hearing advice for the umpteenth time.

    Does this mean that all public awareness campaigns basically do not work, or only the campaigns targeted at women, or what ? If it’s the latter, then what is it that makes women immune to such campaigns ? If it’s the former, then “teaching men not to rape” is presumably a waste of time, as well, as are most activist campaigns (even the ones against food poisoning).

    At the end of the day, though, my question remains unanswered: how do you decide what level of personal offence you are willing to tolerate in exchange for saving someone from being raped ?

  82. Rowan vet-tech says

    I’m not sure how coherent this will be, as your rather obvious willful obtuseness has me laughing hysterically.

    First point: Society in general teaches women and girls the same general things: Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t go down dark alleys. Don’t park your car in an empty lot. Don’t go into elevators alone with strange men. Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail, it provides a handle for an attacker (yeah, this one is mostly ignored because ANY hair can be grabbed, but it shows the sorts of absurdities we’re taught). Watch your drink. Go to the bathroom in a group. Don’t get into the car of a guy you don’t know. etc etc. You see the consequences of failing to heed these things in popular media. You get told anecdotes from friends and family. And by teachers I meant that literally. As in, teachers in school. Police are not teachers.

    Point 2: The majority of men ARE potential rapists from my point of view. I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of the men around me. Oddly enough, I’m not psychic.

    Also, these things *might* have a chance of minimizing stranger-rape (18% of rapes), but they don’t help people who can’t help but be in those situations.

    Point 3: When women get cancer, they aren’t asked what they were wearing, and if they were drinking. They aren’t asked if they were leading it on or flirting with it. They aren’t asked what they were doing alone with that… er… tumor? They aren’t grilled about their previous experiences with tumors, as if having a prior tumor makes the current tumor not an actual tumor. When a woman makes a doctor’s appointment, and shows the doctor a lump, the doctor isn’t going to say that the woman waited too long to come in, and how do they know she isn’t lying about the existence of a lump, therefore they’re not going to do any diagnostics. She isn’t going to be told “We warned you about self checking to prevent getting a lump, why did you ignore that? See, you got a lump because you ignored our advice on one particular day!” They aren’t told that remission rates are ‘so low’ and therefore the docs aren’t willing to try treatment at all.

    This is probably one of the worst analogies I’ve ever read. Please be proud of this.

    Point 4: Awareness campaigns work to raise awareness… about things many people aren’t aware of. Having the cops tell me to not walk alone at night is about on par with the cops telling me that South America exists. I’ve been taught about South America’s existence since I was a child. You hear about it in shows and movies and on the news. I’ve seen photos of parts of it. People have told me stories of their trips. And then a cop comes along and says “Now remember, South America exists! It’s really important that you make sure that you remember that South America exists, or something bad might happen!”

    This might be news to a young child, but teenagers are going to look at them funny and adults are probably going to be exasperated.

    Teaching men not to rape, as in, teaching men about consent and respecting the first ‘no’, or actually getting a real ‘yes’ in the first place, is vitally important because MOST MEN AREN’T TAUGHT THIS. Whereas most women ARE taught the whole ‘not walk alone at night’ thing along with the other things stated. Considering that a fair number of men think having sex with an unconscious woman is not rape, and that using coercive force to have sex is not rape, it seems pretty damn obvious that such awareness campaigns are depressingly necessary.

    A cop telling us something we’ve heard since we were 6 or 7 isn’t going to change anything. Very little of this is about offense (other than the whole putting the onus on women thing and the tendency to get blamed if we can’t avoid the situation). It’s more about effectiveness and actual action versus bloody platitudes.

    If there’s a serial rapist in the area… why doesn’t the city hire a few shuttles specifically for women who live in that area/are going to be in that area? Might take one longer to get home, but then one isn’t walking alone at night. This a concrete thing that would help.

  83. sonofrojblake says

    When women get cancer, they aren’t asked what they were wearing, and if they were drinking. …They aren’t told that remission rates are ‘so low’ and therefore the docs aren’t willing to try treatment at all.

    In my experience, when women (or men) get cancer, their prior lifestyle absolutely is one of the first things that is commented upon. “Well, she smoked like a chimney”/”Really? But he’s a teetotal vegetarian! That sucks”. So your objection to this analogy falls down. I’m surprised your experience of the world is so narrow that you’ve never encountered this.

    Also in my experience (or rather that of my immediate family), being told your cancer is inoperable and therefore “not worth” treating absolutely is a thing that happens. I am glad for you that your experience of the world is so narrow you’ve never encountered this.

  84. sonofrojblake says

    In answer to another point:

    why doesn’t the city hire a few shuttles specifically for women who live in that area

    Some possible answers:
    – “the city” means politicians who depend on election for their jobs, and spending scarce money on such a service wouldn’t be popular
    – how do you define “that area” and how do you decide on what routes will be served? You can’t lay on taxis funded by taxes, and buses don’t go door-to-door so you’re not eliminating the problem.
    – the aforementioned politicians wouldn’t need much imagination to picture this: man tries to use shuttle service, is refused on grounds of gender, walks home, gets stabbed. Fill in from your own imagination what follows, and use lots of zeroes on the end of the compensation claim and big type on the tabloid headlines.

    “Don’t walk down dark alleys” is dumb, useless advice, but it’s the work of people feel they can’t positively do anything but are terrified of looking like they’re doing nothing.

  85. nevilleneville says

    One of Fogg’s better articles. If only he opened his mind to the idea that changing one’s behaviour is a human trait when potential harm can occur.

  86. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ Rowan vet-tech 87, sonofrojblake 88

    When I started reading this thread, I tended to agree with Allys position. Now I’m starting to change my mind, thanks to Rowans cancer analogy and sonofrojblake’s reponse. I orignally thought that 1) police have to give specific warning information, such as “there is a serial rapist active in the X area”; and 2) it is right to give general advice after that warning, such as ” …we advise women not to go down dark alleyways alone”.
    I still think 1 is correct. I originally thought 2 was correct because I didn’t see how such general advice could hurt, and thought that it might help some people (the small number who maybe didn’t have the nous to figure out the advice for themselves).

    Part of the argument up-thread was that this general advice could in fact hurt: a number of posters argued that, after giving that advice, the police (and people in general) might blame women who got raped, saying “but we advised them not to go down dark alleyways alone! It’s their fault they got raped”. I had originally thought that people wouldn’t blame victims in that way. The fact that, as sonofrojblake points out, people do assign blame like this when people have cancer (“Well, she was warned that smoking caused cancer, and yet she smoked like a chimney”), makes me think that people will assign similar blame to rape victims after general advice had been given.

    So I now think that the police should give as much specific information as possible (“there is a rapist active in the area; attacks have occurred on streets X and Y, between the hours of A and B”) but should leave out the generalised advice.

  87. StllGjenganger says

    @Hucle 92

    I didn’t see how such general advice could hurt, and thought that it might help some people (the small number who maybe didn’t have the nous to figure out the advice for themselves).

    I still think so. And for my money Sonofrojblake got the arguments pretty much right, except that he unfortunately lost his cool while doing it.

    It is interesting to see how your advice generalises, though. How about smoking, or obesity? Should we no longer tell people that they should stop smoking and eat more healthy food – because after all they know it all anyway, and people might (indeed, do) blame them for their lung cancer or diabetes afterwards? Or, if not, what is the difference?

  88. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ StllGjenganger 93
    Thinking through the “anti-smoking” warnings that I’ve seen (on packs of fags), I think they tend to just give specific information, but not generalised advice. If I’m remembering correctly, they say things like “Smoking kills”, “Smoking causes lung cancer”, “X number of smokers die per year” and so on. But they don’t actually say “…we advise you not to smoke”.

  89. That Guy says

    @95 true, also there hasn’t been centuries of power exerted over smokers telling them how to behave.

  90. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    First time I’ve really, properly read this thread… it’s kind of amazing how much not listening there is in it. Obviously there are always going to be miscommunications, just because communication is messy, but how do people read that we shouldn’t be repeating useless and redundant advise and think they’re being told that we shouldn’t be informing people of present dangers?
    How do you read that women are given all that generalized advice about not being alone or going out after dark, and compare it to freshers, who’re almost all going to be new to the area, being given specific advice about which areas are dangerous? That’s just so weird.

  91. ADailyDoseOfComments says

    Threadhop after reading through most of the material:
    Is there any part of a sexual assault prevention training(self-defense, threat assessment, verbal assertivity) that cannot be framed in a gender-neutral manner, and thus can be promoted without the polarizing angle while remaining the same in content(even though there’s the dilemma of women feeling uncomfortable if they have to do this together with men)? Bystander Intervention Training could be integrated into it, and Lisak’s research has shown that those also make a bit of a difference in rape prevention(this thus also will make sure the dudes step up to the plate to prevent dangerous situations in a proportional manner).

    And are the women who come to these blog posts to discuss it precisely the ones who don’t need the advice because they already take all the steps these trainings would teach due to being victimized, and thus find it inherently patronizing, while women who are new to the knowledge might benefit?

  92. StlSin says

    When police warn the public about pickpockets in the area, and remind us to secure and be mindful of our possessions, that’s victim blaming.

    Signs in parking lots that mention break-ins and remind us to lock our vehicles and remove our valuables or store them out of sight, that’s victim blaming.

    Deer crossing signs on the highway are victim blaming.

  93. StillGjenganger says

    @ADailyDose 98
    Maybe things could be framed in a gender-neutral (and more abstract) way, but how well would they work if they had to appeal to widely different groups at the same time? What kind of rape prevention advice could you make that was equally relevant to an average woman, and a 6′ male whom no one would want to have sex with anyway?

    Remember the early AIDS campaigns? There was some talk that it was discriminatory to target campaigns specificlaly at homosexuals (or prostitutes), but it was done anyway – with the reason that tthese groups needed advice that was frank, graphic, and specifically targetd to their paritcular sutiation.

  94. sonofrojblake says

    There was some talk that it was discriminatory to target campaigns specificlaly at homosexuals (or prostitutes), but it was done anyway

    One of the very, very rare examples of a leader fearlessly leading somewhere against what they might have been expected to do, and one of the very, very rare examples of an unarguably Good Thing attributable to Thatcher. The Daily Mail and the average Tory voter would have left AIDS victims “swirling around in a human cesspool of their own making” (to quote Chief Constable James Anderton). Thatcher took scientific advice and handed out free clean needles to heroin addicts. The Tories did a lot of dreadful things in the 80s, but the response to AIDS was, with hindsight, better than anyone could have expected.

  95. Bugmaster says

    @ADailyDoseOfComments #98:
    I don’t know about verbal assertiveness, but self-defence should not be taught in a gender-neutral manner, because men and women are physically different.

    If you are trying to incapacitate your attacker, you should target the area of his/her body that would be the most vulnerable, and these differ by biological sex (gender follows sex most of the time). In addition, men and women have different muscle distribution, center of mass, etc.; and thus they have to fight slightly differently from each other. Of course, there are lots of basic fighting concepts that are common to both sexes; but not all of them are.

    Threat assessment also should not be taught in a gender-neutral manner. If we assume that most (or, possibly, all) rapists are men; and that male rapists mostly target women, then your assessment of any person’s threat definitely depends on that person’s gender as well as your own.

  96. Bugmaster says

    @Rowan #87:
    You keep saying things like, “women already know X”, and “society teaches Y”, but this is just a form of magical thinking. How do women know these things ? They probably weren’t born with the knowledge, so someone must have taught them. That someone cannot be “society”, because “society” is just shorthand for “all the people”. Thus, saying “society teaches women all they need to know, so we must prohibit individual people from teaching these things” is nonsensical.

    Ultimately, I think the difference between you and me is that you see the world in binary terms: safe/unsafe, ignorant/knowledgeable, good/bad, offended/not offended. This is why you are unable to answer my question: “how do you decide what level of personal offence is acceptable in exchange for reducing the probability of women getting raped ?” In a binary worldview, women are either raped or they aren’t, and thus any solution that doesn’t eliminate all rape is a non-issue.

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  98. Dhananjay says

    Saw this late(only today). Interesting read this has been. What I’d like to say is the people who do not support support gender-neutral warnings are indirectly supporting victim blaming(I told you no!).. Abstract warnings are a must. One person asks “Why does it hurt so much to alter your behaviour in response to threats”.. What a pitiable question.. this can be answered only by a person who has to live in fear all the time. If you had to change yourself and run away all the time, when will you be yourself??(Within four walls plus when u r alone??)..
    As someone points out… Lets take a simple case. A girl advised to be top-secretive in the internet while a boy could do practically anything. What message do you intend to pass as a man(father/friend/anyone) .. Whatever your intention is, victim bashing is the bottomline.
    Even a misogynist could have the excuse of having a woman confined in her home and force her wear dress from head to toe in order to ‘protect’ her from strangers. Oppression in the name of protection is OPRESSION itself. Victim blaming is OPPRESSION.. What u should do is to enable people to walk without fear in the night. Not asking people to run away. Give confidence.Don’t scare them. Don’t oppress.

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