My oldest daughter, Melanie, was raped at a party when she was 18. Her friend was the hostess. When Melanie told the friend what had happened, the response was, “Oh, he’d never do that!”
Melanie got in her car and drove for hours. If her friend wouldn’t believe her, who would? She didn’t tell me, she didn’t go to the hospital, she just drove. Then she supressed it. For 10 years. She put on a lot of weight, her reasoning being if she wasn’t attractive she wouldn’t be raped again. That weight has caused other health problems. Melanie has PCOS, suffers from recurrent peri-anal abscesses and recently had a very large dermoid cyst removed. She currently has lumps under her arm and is again being tested for diabetes.
At 28 Melanie crashed. She spent almost a year off work with agoraphobia. She lost all sense of time. She couldn’t be around any strange people. The supermarket was off-limits. If maintenance workers appeared in her workplace (when she was able to be there) she would freak out. Maybe one of them was a rapist.
Here is an article of Melanie’s, written years after the rape, about the horror triggered by some idiot making a joke about “sweating like a rapist”. This lead to me (later) entering a heated debate with Ben Pobjie about rape jokes in comedy shows, but that is a whole other story.
Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know the damn difference between blaming the victim and recommending women should be careful.
Yesterday was a day when women were reminded, yet again, that some men rape. Serena Williams was reported as saying some very insensitive things about the 16 year-old victim in Steubenville, Ohio (which she has since distanced herself from) and Bayley was sentenced for the rape and murder of Jill Meagher. It was a rough, raw day. Emotions were running high.
One man, Andrew Watson, made a comment about the case on Twitter. His comment ended with “Women, don’t walk alone at night!”
He was subsequently attacked from many sides and accused of blaming the victims. Along with a couple of other women, I stepped into the debate. I know Andrew well enough to know that is not what he meant. He was simply saying be proactive about protecting yourself from criminals.
Rape is a crime. Rapists are criminals. There is no knowing where or when they will strike. You or I or Andrew can’t go back in time and raise those men from babies and teach them not to rape. The ONLY defence any of us have is to minimise the chances of them raping us. To say, “I have the right to walk home alone without being raped” is fine in an ideal, crime-free world. We do not live in that world. I don’t leave my car parked in the street unlocked. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE CAR THIEVES OUT THERE, for fucks sake. Am I saying I should lock myself or my daughters up in the house? No, I am not. I don’t leave my car locked in the garage at home, do I? I DO take proactive precautions to minimise the risk of a car thief stealing my car by locking it because that is the world we live in. I do not ignore the realities of life.
To castigate Andrew and other men like him for expressing concern for our well-being is to push such men away and that is the last thing we should be doing. This is not a man versus women thing here: it is everyone versus criminals.
Personally, I had no quarrel with Andrew’s tweet. But as soon as I read it, I knew he was likely to cop some flak. I understand how other women feel about blaming the victim. Andrew might have been better to separate his comments into two Tweets, but given the day it was I am not sure that would have helped.
Andrew has a 29 year-old daughter who jogs. Does any reader not think when the Jill Meagher case broke he didn’t, like a lot of other fathers out there, die a little inside?
As much as we must stop blaming the victim, we must also stop blaming every man who shows genuine concern for our safety. If Andrew had Tweeted “Make sure you lock your car” the reactions would have been “Thanks for the reminder”.
Like many others, I was shocked to read Serena Williams’ purported words “your parents should teach you—don’t take drinks from other people”. I wasn’t shocked because she thought parents should teach – parents SHOULD teach! I was shocked because she wasn’t saying (or at least wasn’t reported as saying) “Where are the boys’ parents? Your parents should teach you not to rape and abuse girls and women.” As for the whole debate about “OMG the rapists lives were ruined”, which Serena was initially reported to have bought into, THE RAPISTS RUINED THEIR OWN LIVES. Don’t like the penalty? Don’t do the crime.
Check out Tracey Spicer’s article on The Hoopla for many victim blaming statements. Tracey writes a damn good article.
Yes, we should be able to be safe in our society. Yes, I should be able to walk home alone and I will tell you right now had I been in Jill Meagher’s situation a mere stone’s throw from home I would have walked home alone. I once lived in Percy Street. Check the map. I would have walked. Alone. Would I have expected to be able to do so safely? Yes, I would. Should I have been a little more cautious? The answer is a resounding YES. But hindsight is wonderful after the event, isn’t it?
What of my daughter, Melanie? She was at a party with people she knew and trusted. She wasn’t walking anywhere alone. Melanie should have been safe. She wasn’t.
It is NEVER the victim’s fault if a rapist attacks. Rapists are criminals. Why is it OK to take precautions against all other criminal activity but if we suggest precautions against rape we are accused of “victim blaming”? To me this makes absolutely NO SENSE. Crime is crime, criminals are criminals. Take precautions against crime. The aftermath can be horrific and the recovery long. I can fight for all the rights in the world for women, but in the meantime, please excuse me if I try as best I can to keep myself and my daughters SAFE.
We cry out for men to decry sexism, by saying they are our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons. They are still our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons when it comes to the danger of being attacked by a criminal.
Let them care about us.
I don’t want to see us being so proactive about preventing blaming of the victims that we actually end up with more victims because people are too scared to suggest precautionary behaviours in case we are misunderstood.
Footnote: Melanie and Andrew have read and approved publication of this article.
- Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming” (thepunch.com.au)
- Bayley was on parole when he raped and murdered Jill Meagher (irishtimes.com)
- This is a bloke’s issue (Ken Lay – thehoopla.com.au)
- Leanne Thompson death (theage.com.au) – I have included this as the man is “connected” to several deaths