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Victim blaming or proactive precautions – trigger warning

Melanie

Melanie

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!”

Andrew

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?

A father dies 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.

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25 comments on “Victim blaming or proactive precautions – trigger warning

  1. […] and where appropriate to empathise. Yes, I will debate any topic. I’ve argued on the topic of pro-active precautions versus victim blaming and the role of parents in raising men to respect women and women to expect respect. I recently […]

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  2. Rape is about power and also about other things that come into needing to use that power.

    Very glad Melanie is moving on, that is so good.

    Any sort of sexual abuse leaves terrible scars on your psyche. Especially if you have blocked it out. But you know your actions, when a man comes near you etc are not normal but hard to understand till one day it all falls into place…

    So sexual abuse can happen, in your own home when your parents are outside enjoying the day. And a man enters your room. Can happen anytime day or night but if we spent all the time thinking that we would not move…

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  3. […] has been much discussion about rape of late. Not everyone agreed with my article Victim blaming or proactive precautions – trigger warning and that is OK. I don’t write hoping everyone will agree with me, I write to give voice to […]

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  4. Hear! Hear!
    As mother to three sons and no daughters, recongnising consent is part of what I actively teach.

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  5. Just to clarify, I stated Lebanese who follow a Shiek that states women are responsible for being raped (Hilaly) not Lebonese in general. Rapists exist in every culture but there are cultural differences in the way that rape is approached. I personally believe those cultural differences are important to recognise. If a man defends the comment about women being deserved to be raped then I think it is fair that he is covered by the stigma associated with making the comment (women too for that matter). For that reason, if someone comes from a culture where women can be stoned to death for being raped, or disowned for being raped, and they do nothing to denounce that culture, then it is fair to taint them with the brush.

    I also think we need to recognise there is probably a biological predisposition to rape. Every rapist in Australia has heard the message that rape is wrong and I am sure many of them even regret raping but some kind of sexual desire overcame their morality.

    I personally don’t seem to have a desire to debase women or sexually dominate women but I’ll be honest, many women want to be sexually debased or dominated in forceful sex. I recognise it because I tend to be quite sensitive. So where do sexual fantasies come from? From porn? From society? Why are some people gay and some straight? Why do some have a shoe fetish? I think that this is especially important when given parole to a rapist. If you believe its learnt, then it should be cured with education, but if it is biological, then perhaps surgery may be required.

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    • Agree, agree! It IS important to take into account historical/cultural beliefs and this is one reason why I believe we should put FAR MORE effort into Cultural Intelligence education for migrants from countries that are very different culturally.

      Where I disagree with you is sexual desire oversoming morality. Rape is rarely about sex, it is about power. Most rapists are socially inadequate and that could be nature or nurture factors at work.

      I have NO idea where sexual fantasies come from. I have nothing against “normal” (what is normal) porn, but I DO have concerns about extreme porn, such as rape and snuff movies. People without adequate guidance in their growing years can believe this is “normal”.

      I read an article once about people becoming desensitised to normal sex because of the extreme sex depicted in porn. It is an issue requiring deeper consideration. Socially inadequate men may watch more porn, especially as it is now so readily available, even on their smartphones.

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  6. As a man I can see some downsides with educating women to be more cautious against rape. As it is now, we get stereotyped as rapists if we are out at night. For example, if a woman is walking in front, she will probably quicken her steps and cross the street to get away.

    I am married now, but it would have been a shame in my seduction era if I couldn’t have shared a drink with a lady, or convinced her to go for a moonlight walk because she was afraid I might rape her (just because I am a man.) It is unpleasant to be thought of that way.

    In my time, I’ve met a lot of women who have been raped and the circumstances have all been very different. Sometimes it was by boyfriends, sometimes by family members and sometimes by strangers. From what I can gather, I don’t think the women (or those who were raped as girls) could have avoided the rapes by being more cautious.

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    • This bit struck me: “…it would have been a shame in my seduction era if I couldn’t have shared a drink with a lady, or convinced her to go for a moonlight walk because she was afraid I might rape her (just because I am a man.) It is unpleasant to be thought of that way. ”

      I understand totally – and it is a VERY fine balance. My article wasn’t so much about teaching people to avoid rape, but rather to accept that people CARE without pushing them away.

      We are in the process of changing how we talk about rape, of using different language to ensure we do not blame the victim (for walking alone, for having one more drink, for kissing the wrong guy as had been done in the past).

      My concern is during this transition, we are focussing SO MUCH on ensuring we don’t blame the victim we risk making it sound as if women are safe in all places at all times and the reality is we are not. Plus men don’t word things in exactly the same way and we need to be careful not to alienate men when they try to show care and compassion simply because the phrasing was a little off.

      Maybe none of the rapes you mention could have been avoided – I am sure many cannot – if they could, there surely would be far fewer. I don’t see that as a reason to not treat rape the same as other crimes.

      This may sound weird, but I am getting the feeling we almost decriminalise rape by use of language lately and treat rape in this strange special category. I worry. I can’t put my finger on it.

      My article was an atempt to INCLUDE men, not exclude them.

      Have I clarified?

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      • I understood where you were coming from. Sometimes I have thought about education to take precautions myself. We teach little kids about stranger danger, why not women about the dangers of getting too drunk? Likewise, if you are a woman who meets a group of Lebanese men who are followers of a Shriek that proposes that women are responsible for being raped, I think the woman would be a bit silly to go to a toilet block with them. But having said that I think the lady was silly for going away with a pack of Lebonese men who blame women for being raped, I don’t think I would be justifying what happened to her.

        I don’t think there is a solution here. I personally don’t want women to walk around in fear and I don’t want to be stereotyped as a rapist just because I have a penis. If I had political beliefs that women deserved to be raped for being uncovered that might be different. From what I’ve seen, the aftermath is very different. Some move on with little distress while others suffer a life sentence. Obviously prevention is better than cure, but once it has occured, how do we minimize the damage? (I am guessing some people would be offended by this talk as well and I apologize for that, but it is true that have seen a diverse range of approaches by women to their rapes.)

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      • I agree with you. There are a wide range of responses and that is probably for a wide range of reasons – the support a woman received after a rape, for example. I am positive Melanie would have had a completely different prognosis had the girlfriend not reacted as she did at the time.

        Then there is the severity and the perpetrator. When I say severity I am thinking of that nurse many years ago who was mutilated as well as raped and crawled through barbed wire. Psychologically rape may be harder to recover from if the perpetrator was a trusted person. There are so many variables and no two crimes are the same.

        My first husband was Lebanese, just for the record. There are rapists in every culture.

        I believe we will find the correct balance if we talk about it.

        We also have to do a LOT more about educating males from their earliest years.

        I’m not sure what we do about “rape porn”, but I do worry it normalises and desensitises. 😦

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  7. My apogies for all the typos! I’m very tired, it’s very late and I’m on a phone! Xx

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  8. Hey there,

    Just to clarify that in the tweets above with replies to my name may read as if I were attacking Andy. I wasn’t – my role in the discussion was to calmly talk Andy through what “triggering” is and to enhance his understanding of why other tweeters were upset at his choice of words in the discussion. We actually had a wonderful conversation in DM. Andy is a very loving father who has been beside himself about Jill Meagher and has a very understandable urge to protect similar people from harm: I explained that the issue around well-meaning statements like “don’t walk alone!” can trigger trauma responses from those who are already rape survivors, provoking feelings of self-blame and self-hate that victims bear at least some responsibility in their attack – because they did walk home, or did stay at the party, or did have one more drink… What survivors and non-survivors need to always remember is that rapists find ways to rape that are merely opportunistic to them as individuals who are seeking to rape. Street attacks like Jill Meagher’s are comparatively rare: if we tell women to avoid dark streets, we should tell them to avoid being in cars, going to parties, enjoying the outdoors, attending weddings or sleeping in their own beds. Women get raped in all of these places, and many more.
    It is well established that rapists often compound the viciousness of their physical brutality towards victims with verbalised cruelty. Rapists are likely to tell victims that the victims “deserved” the violence, tell their victims that they “wanted it”, that the victims are the actual agents of the act, the rapist but their vehicle. The well-meaning warnings that provoke self-blame in victims plays into this paradigm of fallacious victim agency.
    This is why language is SO important in these discussions: one in three women have been raped, so it’s always sensible to proceed on the assumption that whoever you are talking to has been raped – as you have a one in three chance of it being so. Bear the above “triggers” in mind. Andy got this immediately, and with great and genuine sincerity apologised to the other participants in the discussion, who unreservedly accepted his apology. It was a hard conversation for any of us to have – who the hell really wants to talk about rape?! – but I think we were all ultimately better for having it.

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    • No, I understood you weren’t attacking Andy. I should have made that clear. I understand the dynamics at work Van and thank you for your meaningful and constructive contribution.

      The issue I see is we haven’t got the balance right yet. We have thankfully made the shift or more correctly we are making the shift away from using language that blames the victim however in so doing we are also sending a different message and that message is we should be able to do whatever we want AND THAT IS TRUE but we still need to be able to constructively discuss precautions as that is the only prevention methodology we have.

      We have to find a way to do both. I am thinking of young teenagers who hear older ones of us speak as we do in denouncing victim blaming who may very well be caught because they dropped precautionary behaviours.

      Rape is as old as time, sadly. Blaming women is as old as time. It would be wonderful if we could stop both but we know that isn’t possible. Therefor we find ourselves treading a fine and somewhat new path.

      Bayley is an extreme example, perhaps, but he is hardly the only repeat offender. He was also violent to both men and women. As I said, I would have walked home. I still would today because I won’t be forced to live in a bubble. On the other hand we will keep picking up the kids for a while yet. Like Andy we will worry when we stop, but stop we will have to.

      I am also on my phone, Van, and it is very difficult, I agree. I will continue later. I ran this article past Melanie before publishing as I wanted a her perspective. I can’t feel what she feels.

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    • Van, as I was fixing those typos, I had another thought. You said at the end “who wants to talk about rape”. You then said you think we are better for talking about it. I agree totally. As you may have noticed I have been having a bit of a discussion with another reader who doesn’t want to be perceived as a potential rapist. I understand his position.

      Because of the history of rape, the verses in the Bible and other religious books (which shape cultural values) it has been historically easy to blame the woman. Virgins, it seems, were sacrosanct, as were women who “cried out”. I found this page (odd for an athiest) quite enlightening about the Biblical “laws” http://www.gotquestions.org/Deuteronomy-22-28-29-marry-rapist.html

      There is only one way we will ever change the reactions to rape. That is YOUR way – talk about it. The BEST people to talk about it are those who have been through the experience. They can lead understanding. However the basic prevention methodology has to be education from the cradle. Boys, you treat women with respect. At all times. No argument. Rape is a crime. If a teenage boy gets pissed (drunk for o/s readers) he does not expect to get physically violated. He expects “his mates” will look after him. Teenage girls should be able to have the same expectation. I love the Indian poster: “Don’t teach me what to wear, teach your sons not to rape”. Yet as I pointed out in other comments, it is documented most rapists are socially maladjusted and rape is about power, not sex. Can we teach in those situations?

      Where the hell the rape of children falls into that I have no idea – I am not a psychologist. Which reminds me, back to language, I was pissed off (angry for o/s readers – we use “pissed” in a lot of ways down under) when Risdale is reported as being charged with “carnal knowledge”. He is charged with the rape of children. “Sexual offences”, “carnal knowledge” are terms that I believe minimise the severity of the crime.

      Talking about rape raises awareness in the community. Raises awareness in parents who are raising children. Talk, talk, talk. Include fathers, sons, brothers etc in the conversation.

      You did a great thing and you understood where Andy was coming from.

      My aim is to broaden the conversation and yes, that is bloody tough for survivors to face. Sometimes the words will hurt. Those of us close to survivors can take up some of that burden, I believe.

      Nothing ever changed by hiding it under a bushell. Especially not a Biblical (or Tanakh or Qur’an) bushell. Society has done THAT for too long.

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  9. Wonderful words as always Robyn. Sorry about Melanie, I’m glad she finally was able to heal. It must be the worst experience ever for a woman! With Jill Meagher’s case, I find the State is grossly to blame for having allowed a repeat rapist to be out on bail. Sentences are not harsh enough in this country for these heinous crimes!!

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    • Thanks Sami. Melanie is working towards spreading her wings to help others, but she had to heal past the trigger phase first.

      Yes, our system should NEVER have let Bayley out. FFS, he was a walking disaster.

      I agree sentences are not harsh enough. In fact, I was thinking today i would like to see the sort of behaviours the ADF are investigating redefined. Circulating images such as they did should be classified as rape in my view. Consensual sex does NOT equal consenting to a sexual event being “shared” with all and sundry.

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  10. Good to hear that Mel is fine now and that she has a loving husband. I wish the happy couple all the best. 🙂
    It’s awful when people feel they cannot talk about their bad experiences and end up suppressing it for years on end.

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    • Thank you Uta. I didn’t speak to much about that above because it wasn’t the focus of the article. My focus was about not sending a message that leads to women not taking precautions. Crime doesn’t disappear just because we would like it to.

      Two sex offenders escaped incarceration today – luckily they were recaptured today. If they hadn’t been? It doesn’t matter whether I believe I should be safe or not: the FACT of the matter is we are not always safe and we need to be thankful people care about that.

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  11. Very brave writing, Robyn. Melanie looks beautiful in that photo. I hope she’ll be all right. After her experiences it’s no wonder she finds it hard to trust anybody.

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    • Mel is fine now, but it has taken a long time. She has THE most wonderful husband and they are a very loving couple.

      I saw a tweet yesterday from a woman who said she never told anyone about her experiences because she was afraid people wouldn’t like her anymore, or they would think less of her. What sort of a society do we live in where that is how society makes people feel? I was reminded of the awful situation in India, where many rapes are not reported and I understand why.

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