Here’s a delicate subject. Perhaps the most delicate, misunderstood, loaded subject one can deal with when discussing self defence. The subject of sexual assaults and rapes. Frankly I doubt my own ability to cleanly delineate the issues involved; they are so many and varied and subtle that no self defence commentator has walked the fine line carefully enough to avoid accusations of victim-blaming on the one hand, or to avoid watering down the self defence advice too much on the other.
I for one know all too well that one can be accused of victim-blaming when discussing less emotive topics like wilderness survival or street-attack avoidance… So it’s very likely I’ll be accused of victim-blaming in this case regardless of how cautiously I proceed. With that in mind, let’s begin.
The issue (in brief)
A primer for those new to the subject: Rape’s a crime that is predominantly but not exclusively committed against women. Children are victims a great deal of the time, and lastly and least commonly, men are also rape victims. Rape therefore tends to be regarded as a “women’s issue”, though some very smart commentators take issue with this classification for various reasons. Suffice it to say, the issue of rape has been of very great concern to women, women’s activist groups and women’s self-defence instructors and commentators for some considerable time.
Here’s the delicate part of the issue: for most of human history, women were regarded as second-class citizens (if citizens at all) and also regarded by religious bods as unclean and generally sinful. When a woman was sexually assaulted, they were blamed for it! In other words, for the majority of human history, women were treated globally the same way that they’re treated now in the developing world (including in some of our state’s favourite client countries).
Now, you may think that we’re more civilized in the developed world these days, but in fact, we’re not much more civilized. Even though women aren’t stoned to death for being raped any more, they are often villified as “asking for it”, and dragged through some offensive questioning by police officers with offensive attitudes before they even get the chance to be interrogated in an aggressive manner in court. In other words, there is still a culture of victim-blaming in our society when it comes to rape.
Just as an aside, it’s interesting to note that this victim-blaming also comes into play when talking about the much ignored minority of adult men who are raped, but for different, yet equally neanderthal reasons. When a woman is raped she is often blamed by part of society for being a “slut” who was “asking for it”. But when a man is raped he is villified by society for “not being strong enough to stop it”. If the man happens to be gay, well, that’s even worse for the poor victim, because society still has an attitude that if you’re gay, you must enjoy having sex with other men, even if that sex is non-consensual. It’s the old “asking for it” mode, translated into a homophobic script.
I’m not sure why the issue of sexual assault specifically brings the cro-magnon out in many idiotic members of society, but it sure does.
The question of Self Defence
Here’s where it gets difficult. As someone who has studied the topic of self defence for a very, very long time (over twenty years, at this point) I have an ability to- and a moral responsibility to- tell people how they can better protect themselves from the dangers posed by other humans. So what about rape? How do I advise people about rape avoidance? After all, avoidance is the core of all good self defence systems. Avoidance is a hot potato when it comes to rape. Why? Well, let’s put it like this:
Women’s self defence groups for the past forty years or so have focussed on rape defence in these terms: A stranger runs out of the bushes/from behind a car/from a dark alleyway and tries to grab you. You kick him in the nuts, stamp on his feet, gouge his eyes, spray him with mace and/or shoot him (if you live in the US) and then run off.
Now that’s all well and good, and I’m not going to go into a fine analysis of whether such tactics are actually effective for the scenario described. Why? Because the scenario is a very rare scenario in the real world. The majority of rapes don’t involve complete strangers leaping out of the bushes and attacking women. The majority of rapes instead involve someone the woman knows or has met in a social situation.
The majority of rapes are committed either in a so-called date rape scenario, or by the woman’s boyfriend or spouse (either current spouse or ex-spouse).
Are there any self-defence classes on these issues? Hardly. Bloody. Any.
Let’s examine these under-discussed factoids.
The majority of “date-rapes” involve the rapist either plying the woman with alcohol (and sometimes also so-called date-rape drugs in said alcohol)
or following the woman after she’s already very inebriated, giving her a lift to her home (or even to the rapist’s home) and then raping her.
Why do rapists target drunk people? (either people who have gotten drunk themselves, or people whom the rapist has gotten drunk) Well why do pickpockets target drunk people? Why do muggers target drunk people? Why do people looking for a fight target drunk people?
Because drunk people are more vulnerable, less able to defend themselves and less likely to remember enough in the morning to lodge a legal complaint of any weight. A drunk person is easier to separate from their (usually drunk) friends. A drunk person is a dream victim for these people. And the same goes for rapists. Rapists, especially serial rapists, are looking for a method of committing their foul acts that works for them, and furthermore allows them to continue to commit foul acts in the future.
After they sober up, the victim may feel as though they brought the crime upon themselves. Due to the social stigma of sexual issues, rape victims routinely experience irrational feelings of guilt following their terrible experience. How much more likely is someone who was intoxicated at the time to feel guilty? The rapist relies on this feeling of guilt as an extra line of defence, and they know that the courts- middle-aged, over-priveliged and male as they predominantly are- are likely to make the victim feel guilty as well, if it ever comes to court that is. If the victim ever lodges legal charges, the rapist can claim that the sex was consensual, and that the victim merely feels differently now that they’re sober. And the courts may agree, even if they happen to be sympathetic to the victim… after all, in court, guilt has to be proved beyond a certain degree of doubt.
So as a self-defence blogger, what should my advice be to women? How should I advise them to best avoid situations in which they might be raped by acquaintances or people they’ve just met? Well, actually it’s the same advice I’d give to people on avoiding being pickpocketed or avoiding bar-fights.
Don’t drink more than one or two alcoholic drinks on a given night. Period. Ever. And watch your drink like a hawk to make sure nobody puts anything in it.
If you follow this advice, you will cut down your risk of being a victim of ALL crime, by a STAGGERING percentage.
At this point, some activists will be clamouring that I’m blaming the victim; that women have a right to go out and get drunk without being the victim of crime and that I should be focussing my blog post on telling men not to go out and rape people rather than lecturing women on their life-choices.
Let’s address those points right now.
1. I’m not blaming the victim of rape, any more than I’m blaming the victim of pickpocketing. It’s always the criminal’s “fault”. The criminal is always to blame for the crime, 100%.
2. Women have a right to do whatever they want. Women have a right to go skydiving, they have a right to drive racing cars, they have a right to cross the street and they have a right to get drunk, same as anyone else. But there are risks involved in all those things, and rather than being aware of those risks and moderating their behaviour to compensate, many people (not just women) drink to excess and *ignore* the risks, or somehow convince themselves that “it won’t happen to me, I can handle myself”.
This is analogous to people who smoke stating “yeah, I know there are risks, but my granddaddy smoked forty a day till he was ninety and never had a problem!!!”. The flaw in this reasoning should be obvious.
It’s not that you’ll get attacked every time you get drunk, any more than you’ll develop lung cancer every time you have a cigarette. It’s a question of odds. And if you’re drunk, the odds are NOT in your favour.
So yeah, you have a right to smoke. But if I’m advising people on health issues, I say “don’t smoke”. And yeah, you have a right to drink. But if I’m advising people on self defence issues, I say “don’t get drunk”. Seems uncontroversial to me.
3. What I’m about is helping people to avoid the crime, and foil the plans of the criminal. I can’t talk to the criminal and say “hey, don’t commit that crime”. That’s something for social engineers and large scale campaigns in schools. What I can do is offer advice to ordinary non-criminals about how criminals work, and how to make themselves safer.
Rapes by partners and ex partners are very common. How can one better defend oneself against such assaults? By avoidance. But how can one avoid abusive relationships? Well, society has kept women in a servile state for the majority of human history… is it any wonder that many women don’t have the ability to escape abusive relationships that beat them down emotionally and often physically every day?
Avoidance in these cases is mainly about support and education. The state has to improve its record of supporting victims of spousal abuse in order to make future victims feel comfortable in coming forward early on in the cycle of violence. Society must change in order to help women set personal boundaries and increase their sense of self-worth and their self-confidence.
The only advice that can be given to individuals is: To anyone who feels as though they’re at risk of violence from their partner, either current or ex-partner, whether the violence is sexual or physical… Get out of the relationship, get friends and family involved, inform the police, and do it earlier rather than later. Don’t speak to or deal with the person in question directly, no matter how apologetic they are or how much they claim they’re going to change. Cut them off totally, but do so in a way that you’ll be safe from physical reprisals… Remember the most dangerous time for abused women is when they’ve ended the abusive relationship. The ex-partner is most likely to be lethally violent at this time. Research across the board has suggested this (though it’s worth noting that the question can be nebulous).
Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence – US Department of Justice report
Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women – A synopsis of US Department of Justice research into the issue
Department of Justice figures on crime (National Crime Victimization Survey)
Wikipedia: Date Rape (with notes on alcohol as a medium for “date rape drugs”).