'I don't deserve to be raped'
Last week, Brazil's Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) released research into community attitudes on sexual assault following a survey conducted with 3,810 participants. IPEA found that over 65% of respondents agreed that 'if dressed provocatively, women deserve to be attacked or raped' while over 58% agreed that 'if women knew how to behave, there would be less rape'. [Emphasis mine]
These are infuriating stats, particularly given how loaded the statements being presented to respondents are. But most upsetting? 66.5% of the participants were women, proving how widespread the toxic nature of rape culture is. Typically, women who promote victim blaming ideals do it out of the misplaced belief that if they enforce and follow the rules of rape prevention, they'll be able to ensure protection. It doesn't work because rape is about power and violence, not justifiable punishment.
A backlash against IPEA's findings was initiated by journalist Nana Quieroz, who posted a photo to social media depicting her standing bare breasted in a field with one arm crossed over her chest and the other pressed against her forehead. On her arms, she has written 'Nao Mereço Ser Estrupada', which in Portugese translates to 'I Don't Deserve To Be Raped'. Fellow Brazilian women (and male supporters) have joined forces to upload their own deliberately provocative selfies alongside hashtag captions which include #NoWomanDeservesToBeRaped, #IDontDeserveToBeRaped and #MyBodyBelongsToMe.
It's the kind of sentiment frequently offered with a caveat of 'but [insert false reasoning and more victim blaming]' tacked onto the end. The viral campaign is reminiscent of similar responses to victim blaming, including the heartbreaking Tumblr websites Project Unbreakable and Surviving In Numbers. More than 32,000 people joined Quieroz in her protest, and the number of submissions continues to grow. The message from both women and men is simple - that rape cannot be provoked and nobody ever deserves it.
No one ever deserves to be raped... but women need to take more care.
No one ever deserves to be raped... but women should know what to expect if they go home with someone.
No one ever deserves to be raped... but women shouldn't drink so much.
These sentiments do little more than offer deeply embedded support for the idea that rape has to be judged by the extenuating circumstances of the woman's behaviour.
If it's true that we're living in a post-feminist, post-equality world, why does debate still continue around a woman's so-called responsibility to prevent rape while ignoring the fact this narrative is informed both by myths and the complacency of a society deeply attached to the patriarchal status quo?
Rape culture insists that victims must be complicit in their attacks, because it's too troubling to accept the reality - that the majority of rapists are ordinary men leading ordinary lives, with family and friends who love them, colleagues who respect them and the possibility of having partners who sleep with them willingly.
It's easier for us to treat the women in our lives as potential victims than it is to educate the men we know as if they might be potential perpetrators. Prioritising the latter results in outraged accusations that 'all men are being painted as possible rapists' - even though insisting on the former basically operates on that assumption anyway. After all, we can't be sure which of these strange men found in public places are to be avoided. Rapists don't wear signs around their necks. And so if women are to accept that sexual assault is their responsibility to avoid, then they must be allowed and even encouraged to treat all men who cross her path as possible threats to her safety. Right?
But the beneficiaries of rape culture don't like that argument either, because it positions ordinary men as the 'victims' (ironically) of judgment and suspicion. Short of isolating themselves in their own homes (where they actually stand to be most at risk of sexual assault and violence), how are women supposed to respond to the directive that they moderate their own behaviour to prevent rape but only when it doesn't offend those men who join in the call for them to do so?
These are just some of the facts, not feelings, that make up the reality of sexual violence.Most sexual assaults are inflicted by people known to the victim (with roughly 40% of all reported sexual assaults taking place in the survivor's home). Just over 18% of American women are the survivors of sexual assault, and only a quarter of these are inflicted by strangers. Almost half of survivors were assaulted by a friend or acquaintance, with almost a fifth assaulted by an intimate partner. Almost one tenth of survivors were raped by a relative. Only a quarter of all reported rapes were perpetrated by a stranger.
What does this mean? It means that I have more to fear from seeking the protection of a male friend to walk home at night (as a victim blaming culture urges me to do) than I do from the stranger I'm taught to believe is lurking around the corner.
Yet the rhetoric persists around 'evil monsters' who hide in the dark waiting for unsuspecting, naive and improperly dressed women to walk by and become cautionary tales.
But as Quieroz has reminded us, the only tale we need tell is this one:
Nobody deserves to be raped.
And we just need to keep repeating that and repeating that until the message finally starts to sink in.
Watch Clementine Ford's Ted Talk on rape culture (warning: contains some strong language):
- Daily Life