We would never justify an assault because a guy wore tight pants, invited an older man to his house, or happened to be wasted at a frat party. So why do people so often point the finger at female victims?
Warning: Depictions of rape may upset some readers.
“Do I deserve to have my bike stolen if I leave it unlocked on the quad? We have to encourage people not to take on undue risk.” Chris Herries, a 22-year-old senior at Stanford, cited the less-than-new theft analogy when interviewed by Bloomberg about rampant sexual assault on college campuses.
Everybody loves this Stolen Bike analogy, but it has two fatal flaws. First, a bike is property theft, not a bodily assault. A better (but equally imperfect) analogy would be getting beat up and robbed while intoxicated; do you deserve that treatment because you were physically unable to prevent it from happening?
But even the mugging analogy has a serious limitation; sexual assault is a crime that disproportionately happens to women (though I can’t stress enough that it doesn’t only happen to women) and across the board we treat women’s bodies, women’s safety, and women’s privacy differently.
Want proof? Watch what happens when we review high profile sexual assault cases with one tiny change; all of the pronouns for the victim will be changed from “she” to “he.” To truly think through what it might feel like to be the victim of assault, you need to imagine being assaulted by someone you don’t want to have sex with. For many straight men, it’s too easy to write off being raped by a woman as ludicrous or impossible (though it’s not) so we’ll use male-on-male assault to truly find an empathetic comparison.
Exhibit A: A blackout drunk 16-year-old guy is assaulted by two male classmates at a party. His picture is passed around the school with objects inserted in his anus. Do we still think it’s his fault for drinking too much and putting himself in a “risky” situation? Were his attackers just boys being boys?
Exhibit B: An 11-year-old boy in Cleveland, Texas, is anally and orally raped by a dozen teenage and adult men. His assault is also filmed and shared. Does the prosecutor call the boy a “spider” who “lured” these men into behaving this way?
Exhibit C: An 18-year-old freshman is at a frat party at Hobart and William Smith College. He is so intoxicated that he can’t fend off an older student, who rapes him over a pool table while other students laugh and cheer, until a friend helps him stumble away.
Exhibit D: A 54-year-old teacher rapes a 14-year-old male student. Does the judge let him off with 30 days in jail because the boy “seemed older than his chronological age?”
Does it scare you that I could get to Exhibit Z without googling a goddamn thing? Because it scares the hell out of me.
We would never say these things about victims of sexual violence if the victims were straight men and boys. We would never justify an assault because a guy wore tight pants, invited an older man to his house, or happened to be wasted at a frat party. We would say he doesn’t deserve to be raped just because he was having a good time. We would say his attackers are criminals for raping him. We would say he deserves justice for his trauma.
But we don’t say these things about women and girls because we are already accustomed to seeing them as sex objects. Literally, objects with which one has sex.
If you see women as objects, then the bicycle analogy Chad Herries posited holds up just fine—we are taught to protect our objects with padlocks and passwords (although we still acknowledge that a stolen bike, even an unchained stolen bike, is a crime.)
But if we finally acknowledge the full humanity of women as human beings, then we must confront the fact that they will engage in all of the most human “risky” behaviors. Flirting. Drinking. Unwise teenage texting. If we wouldn’t blame our sons or brothers for being raped while intoxicated, we can’t blame our daughters and sisters.
Here’s my Exhibit Z, before we cycle like hurricane names back to the top of the alphabet: The “Princeton Mom,” Susan Patton, writes this in her new book, “If you are too drunk to speak, then you may be incapable of saying no or warding off unwanted advances. And then it’s all on you.” If one of her two Princeton-attending sons was too drunk to speak at a Princeton party and was raped by a male classmate, does that logic stand? Is it “all on him”?
If we only hold women and girls to that standard, it’s no standard at all. It’s not helpful advice. It’s not “safety tips.” It’s not preventable. It’s some straight up sexist bullshit.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.