Trauma, abuse and bereavement / Category / Emile Du Toit / October 5th 2014
This 7th blog in the series of 10 on how to prevent being raped discusses fighting back to avoid completed rape. We begin by looking at why fighting back against a rapist is so important, and critically consider the arguments as to why telling women to fight back might be problematic. We acknowledge the reality that women are often blamed for being raped, and then unpack a useful metaphor that should help to alter these inaccurate and prejudiced beliefs. Lastly, we consider some of the costs of not fighting back.
At times in this article I will use the term ‘completed rape’, in order to differentiate it from attempted rape. Attempted rape describes any situation where someone is able to extricate themselves from a situation that is becoming sexually coercive, including where the potential rapist has actually begun to threaten or force themselves on the potential victim. Completed rape occurs when they are unable to do so.
Police traditionally warned women not to fight back if attacked by a rapist. They were instead told to play along or try to talk their way out of rapes. 11. These strategies are ineffective. 7. 13. Victims are still disbelieved, stigmatized, and held responsible for their attacks. 15. These negative reactions are harmful to women’s psychological functioning and may lead to or reinforce their own self-blame for being raped. 18.
Fight back! Yes, stand up to your attacker!
Now I can already see the objections to this statement, and will attempt to filter them largely in to two categories:
There are many opinion-based articles floating around on the web telling women not to resist as they will get hurt. While this may seem intuitively sensible the reality is that this is not in fact borne out by research at all.9. 14. 17. Studies show that the likelihood and degree of physical harm suffered if you take on your rapist is at the very worst the same. Please bear in mind that these are average statistics. There will always be individual cases that defy the rule.
This argument asserts that there is a risk of reinforcing the many rape myths out there. It echoes the debate around the risks of describing high-risk situational factors for rape. Basically, certain feminist groups have asserted that if we tell women to fight back and they don’t then this could reinforce the bigoted and misinformed beliefs of certain elements of society.
So the same bigoted elements of society that assume that women are ‘looking for trouble’ if they wear mini-skirts or dare to actually go out for a drink, will also believe that if a woman don’t put up a fight against her rapist she ‘clearly wanted it’.
Sadly, this feminist assertion that fighting back could reinforce these prejudiced and invalid beliefs does in fact have some merit to it.
This is a truly a tragic indictment of the level of sexist beliefs that are still fixedly held on to in today’s society.
What is vital in this struggle to reduce bigoted beliefs about women, is that correct and useful metaphors are used to explain the situation of placing oneself at higher risk or rape or indeed not fighting back against ones rapist. People need a context within which to understand so that they can begin to see these behaviours differently:
Every time I choose to get in my car I am placing my life and health at risk. Every time I get behind the wheel I am radically increasing the chance that I – and any passengers – will be injured or killed. Yet we drive to work, go for joy rides, and often ferry our kids around too! Furthermore, we are hardly ever driving on ‘red alert’, whatever speed we are going at. Our assumption, our denial in fact, is that everything will be fine!
Does this mean that I should give up all the freedom that goes with owning a car? Does choosing to drive on the road make me responsible if I am taken out by some drunk arsehole in an overladen truck? Of course not! And street signs pointing out high-accident zones provide me with valuable information at least allow me to slow down and be particularly vigilant on these sections of road. Does it really make sense to say that there shouldn’t be street signs as if I drive on this higher-risk section and have an accident both society and myself might see me as ‘more responsible’. I might choose to avoid the section of road altogether, but that is my choice. If I avoid too many obstacles on the road then I have no freedom – I basically have to condemn my car to my garage.
Car safety devices like seat belts, bumpers and air bags allow me the opportunity of protecting myself, but none of them have any bearing on whose fault it is if I am driven off the road, or indeed on whether I ‘wanted’ to be written off. I also have the opportunity to do specialised courses in defensive or advanced driving. They are offered – but many of you will point out that they have not had the time or money to attend them.
And what if I drive home at night, or am a student and cannot afford a new car with air bags? What if I don’t have 20 years of experience on the roads yet, and haven’t acquired that instinctive peripheral vision that comes with experience? Obviously this doesn’t mean that I am any more responsible if I am driven off the road. It doesn’t give the trucker any more right to crash in to me!
Lastly, in the actual split second of the accident itself we all tend to react differently. It is a seriously traumatic event and we experience intense emotional and physiological reactions. We tend to engage with a primitive response of fight, flight or freeze. Some people stay amazingly calm and can bring all their skills to bear – to the point that their Houdini-like antics save their car and their lives. Some people freeze or make poor decisions that actually exacerbate the situation. Others muddle along somewhere in between. For some of those who have been in a terrible accident before, there is a degree of reliving of the trauma that further compromises their ability to react. However, none of these responses mean that we wanted to, or indeed deserved to be written off the road!
Understanding what situations place you at higher risk of being raped does not make you any more responsible if you are raped in a high risk situation. Knowing how to protect yourself from a rapist does not mean that you carry any responsibility whatsoever for your actions before and during being raped.
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