Sunday, 12 June 2011

Another Rape Myth: A Thought Experiment on SlutWalks

This is an expansion of this post.

There's a great deal of confusion surrounding the SlutWalks, what their goal is, and what they stand for.  As I've explained in the linked post, they began because a Canadian police officer advised women to avoid rape by not "dressing like sluts".

Some people think this advice is reasonable.  It is true that women will often gather more attention when provocatively dressed, and they believe that this makes women more likely to be raped.  That isn't the case.  Firstly, the men catcalling at you, and trying to persuade you to talk to them?  They're trying to persuade you.  They are unlikely to suddenly attack you against your will.  You have time to extricate yourself from this situation before it gets this far.  The people who will attack you against your will, who will carry on even after it is made blindingly, obviously clear that you are unhappy with the situation, are the people who do not care how drunk you are, or what you're wearing.

(We are not, of course, discussing drink here, but it often becomes entangled in the argument, presumably because people assume that drinking goes along with "dressing like sluts".  My thoughts on drink are; it clouds the judgement of both attackers and victims.  Let's teach our children about alcohol in the context of harming no one, including, but not limited to, themselves, huh?  How about that?).

Rapists do not rape you out of lust.  They do not rape you because you are too sexy for them to resist.  Rapists rape because they enjoy being in control, and hurting other people.  If they wanted sex, they could get it without rape; rape is not the same as consensual sex, and does not have the same origins.  Rapists prefer rape to sex because of the differences, the violence, pain, and violation, not the similarities.  If they wanted consensual sex, they could pay for it.  They could seduce someone.  They could masturbate.  They do not choose these options; they choose rape.  It is a violent crime, not a physical release.  It has nothing to do with what you're wearing, or how desirable you look.

Furthermore, nobody thinks they "dress like a slut".  Nobody looks in the mirror and thinks "I look so slutty, I'm going to get raped tonight".  So advising us not to do this is patronising, insulting, and unhelpful.

Let's try a thought experiment.  Let's pretend that this policeman was right, that women should avoid dressing "like sluts", and that this will prevent a significant number of rapes.

Firstly, statistics.  44% of rape victims are under eighteen, so, presumably, we can discount this group from the "too damn sexy" classification.  (These are US statistics from various points over the last fifteen years, but we can presume that there has been no great change in rape demographics since then).  If someone enjoys raping a child or teenager against their will that is an hebephile or paedophile, which is an entirely different problem, and, again, if someone isn't already this way inclined, seeing a "sluttily" dressed ten-year-old will not change their mind.  Besides which, 34.4% of these children were assaulted by family members, who did not need a specific occasion or opportunity, and were unlikely to have made the decision impulsively.  Even those children who were not attacked by family members were likely picked out beforehand, because of repeated opportunities for grooming, online or in person, not because of how they were dressed on one occasion.

From here.

The most likely person to rape me is Anthony.  For any of us heterosexual women, our most likely attacker is a partner or husband.  Again, I presume we can exclude this group from the "too damn sexy" demographic, since our attackers are unlikely to be raping us from a sudden onset of lust.  This is a scenario in which the attacker would have gained trust over time, rather than making an impulsive decision.

In short, the only rape experiences we can include in this "too damn sexy" group are those where the rape was committed impulsively, that is, by a stranger who was overcome by your clothing, or saw you as an easy target because of how you were dressed (and for that last thing?  Let's make being a kick-ass woman more important than being a thin one, huh?).  Only 8% of rapes are committed by strangers, and this includes situations where someone has broken into your home.  Again, these break-ins are unlikely to be impulsive attacks, and the rapes are equally unlikely to be impulsive.  Going from burglary to rape is a huge jump.

Let's be incredibly generous.  Let's say that 5% of rapes are impulsive, that is, they occur because the rapist saw a "slutty" woman and thought "I'll have some of that".  Even in these cases, the rapist must have lured the victim somewhere private.  He must also have chosen her because she is the most "sluttily" dressed of the women "available", in order for clothes to be a viable factor, as we are trying to prove in this thought experiment.  For this, we must make the following assumptions; that this person, the most "slutty", is equally unaware of her own safety, and willing to walk away with a stranger.  We must also presume that she is intoxicated, or otherwise easy to control.  We must also presume that the rapist did not previously intend to rape anyone - if he planned it beforehand, and was willing to rape any of the "available victims" then clothes were not a factor, as he would have made the decision before he saw any.  Okay?

Let me explain that last paragraph further.  For clothes to make a difference, the most "slutty" woman must be "slutty" by an objective standard.  To make this clear, let's see what happens if she is the most "slutty" comparatively.  Let's give these imaginary women a "slut rating" of 1 to 10.  Now, we can state, within the confines of this thought experiment, that the most "slutty" woman in the room is the most likely to be raped.  In this case, if there is a group of 8s, and one 10, that 10 will become the victim.  But what if it's a group of 2s, with one 3?  Or a group of 1s, with one 2?  Where is the line drawn?  It becomes apparent here that we cannot simply say the "most slutty" is the victim.  If we do, we end up with a scenario where, if a group of women go out covered from head to toe, and one shows a flash of ankle, she is therefore being "slutty" and provoking an attacker.  I would hope that we all know this is ridiculous.

So let's say that all women who are above an 8 on the objective "slut scale" are more likely than any women lower than an 8 to be attacked.  Let's accept that presumption as accurate within the scales of this thought experiment.  We must now decide what an 8 is on the "slut scale".  What does it look like?

Women are not capable of judging this by themselves, then.  As I said above, no one leaves the house thinking they look "slutty" enough to be raped.  Clearly, if we are to accept that women are more likely to be raped if they look like sluts, then at least some percentage of women are not capable of judging this for themselves, since they are leaving the house in this state.  So we must arbitrarily define "slutty" and send out guidelines for women to dress appropriately.

Okay, so in our imaginary world, this has been done.  No woman now appears in public dressed above an 8 on the slut scale.

We haven't changed anything else.  The rapists are exactly the same.  Do they now go home disappointed, since they don't see a victim who looks slutty enough?  Does rape never cross their mind?  Or will they simply choose a target from the women available?

I suspect that the later will occur.  After all, women were raped in Victorian times, when the fashion was to have as much skin covered as possible.  Women are raped while wearing burkas.  Women are raped in their pyjamas, in workout clothes.  If we accept the clothing argument as true, that objectively "slutty" women are more likely to be raped, then nudist colonies should be a hotbed of sexual violence.  There are no statistics available for rape and sexual violence in nudist colonies, but I imagine there'd be a far greater uproar at their existence if there were.

Even if we assume that "impulsive rapists" firstly, exist, and, secondly, only rape women above a certain number on the "slut scale", then is telling every single women in the world how to dress to stay below that level really an effective and reasonable method of policing it?  Bearing in mind that, even with an incredibly generous estimate, and with all those assumptions, it would only prevent 5% of rapes?  You'd prevent a whole lot more by keeping children away from all adults, including those they are related to.  You'd prevent more by outlawing marriage and living together, or, for a less extreme option, offering better education on abuse and violence within relationships, to both genders.  People generally learn about relationships from their parents, mimicking the roles of attacker and victim.  You would prevent more rapes by offering sources of information on healthy relationships and romances than you would by policing everything women wear.

Then there is the harm that paying lip-service to this idea offers.  Law officials are already confused as to the causes of rape, and what it looks like.  The pervasiveness of this false and ridiculous idea, that women can prevent a significant amount of rapes by dressing differently is what leads to victim-blaming, and slut-shaming, both abhorrent behaviours that have no place in a civilised society.  Nobody deserves to be raped because of what they were wearing.  They did not cause it.  They did not provoke it.  That rapist was already inclined to hurt someone, and could have chosen anyone.  That or they were specifically obsessed with one person, and did not care what they were wearing.  If someone is going to attempt to rape you, it will not be because of your clothing.  How many times, before that sinks in, and we stop punishing the victims?

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand why many police officials & commissioners are still victim blaming. This very way of thinking created a nearly statewide ban on thongs & g-strings in the state of Florida in the early 90's that is still very much in effect today. I am starting to feel that if we don't create a large enough special interest group then victims will keep getting blamed for their rapes & eventually the crime will no longer be a crime. This is 100% a freedom issue as men & women should both be allowed to dress or not dress how they want without being jailed or attacked. Rape is pretty non-existant in nudist beaches & colonies.


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