October 21, 2013

Why victim blaming is not the same thing as teaching our girls to take precautions. My response to the haters.

Warning: This article deals with rape and sexual assault and may be confronting for some readers.

A few days ago, Mia Freedman wrote a piece about what she described as 'the associated risks between binge drinking and rape', and then just like that, Twitter exploded into a feminist hate fest.

Freedman was arguing that she would feel obligated to educate her daughter about the one thing could reduce the risk of sexual assault, and as a result she was bombarded with abuse and accusations of victim blaming.

Since the piece was published, Freedman's detractors have twisted her words and tried to scare us with a bunch of dazzling facts, like 'only rapists are responsible for rape'. This fact came as a huge surprise I hadn't previously made that leap myself.

I mean come on people!

We already know that the only person responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator of that sexual assault. The victim never is. And we should never blame the victim for the harm they have suffered. Nobody in this debate is arguing that incredibly obvious point and you'd be better off directing these basic arguments at the people who actually think that way.

We also know that more women are raped by men they know and trust. And that rape cannot be prevented by staying sober. But when you choose to highlight some statistics and ignore others, such as the statistic that alcohol and sexual assault are significantly linked, then you are not being fair or honest.

Here are some statistics nobody has bothered to mention:
  • alcohol-related assaults most commonly occur between 9 pm and 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights (Briscoe & Donnelly 2001a)
  • a significant proportion of offenders and victims of sexual assault have consumed alcohol and alcohol consumption increases the risk of sexual assault, as victims become less able to detect dangerous situations (Corbin et al 2001; Testa, Vanzile-Tamsen & Livingston 2001)
  • there is a relationship between seasonal changes, calendar events and major sporting events and the rate of reported incidents of violence, which can in part be explained by the increased level of alcohol consumed on these days (Marcus & Braaf 2007).

I'm sorry but how on earth have we reached a point where starting a discussion about keeping our daughters safe has become so offensive as to infuriate and divide feminists?

I mean sure, I'd love to live in a world where girls / women were not at risk of being raped; a world where we could walk safely down the street alone at night without any increased risk of harm, but I'd also like to marry Ryan Gosling and own a unicorn called Misty.

What I want and what we are dealing with are two entirely different things. And as a result, I am going to base my parental choices and the conversations with my children on the reality and not the utopia.

I am going to tell my daughter the truth when she is old enough to hear it, and the truth is that her ability to make sensible choices will be diminished if she is severely intoxicated. I am going to tell her that being drunk will impair her judgment and her ability to assess risk and respond to harm.  

I will also tell her that it isn't fair, and it isn't right and that she should feel outraged and angry that we are even having this conversation and that it is her job to make as much noise about this injustice as she possibly can. 

But I will not pretend for a moment that this isn't the world she has inherited.

Clementine Ford is right about one thing, teaching our daughters to be scared isn't going to protect them from shit. However, educating my daughter and scaring the shit out of her is not the same thing. 

I do not want my daughter to be afraid and I do not want her to stop living life and having fun. 

BUT it is my duty as her mother to educate her about what she is up against, just as it was my duty to teach her about road safety, stranger safety, appropriate and non appropriate touching, and not to shove marbles in her mouth.

Once my daughter has this information, then she can make her own informed choices and if that reduces the risk of her being degraded or hurt by another human being by as little as 1% then I will gladly shout it from the motherfucking rooftops so help me god, hallelujah. 

Nobody is actually saying that the onus is on the woman to avoid being raped. Nobody is saying that taking precautions will systematically stop rapes from occurring. But whether we like it or not, women take precautions all the time, when they decide where to park, who to talk to and how to get safely home etc etc... and most women learnt that information from their mothers.  

There is nothing remotely wrong with teaching our daughters to take similar precautions. Arguing about what constitutes as victim blaming on social media seems entirely misguided and beside the point, particularly when we have a court system slapping male perpetrators of sexual assault on the wrist while shaming and blaming the female victims of these devastating crimes.
As parents, it is our role to educate our children, male and female, about the dangers that could potentially confront them. But by using the victim blaming label to define the conversations that take place specifically with our daughters, you are basically asking us to leave them out of the conversation. 

The truth is the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults will happen to women regardless of whether they are drunk or sober. 

Being sober will not stop you from being raped, but being wasted will prevent a whole range of cognitive and physical responses from functioning properly, and when those responses are inhibited or impaired, our ability to detect and defend ourselves from danger is greatly reduced.  

Thinking this way and wanting the best for my daughter does not make me a bad feminist. It just makes me a realistic parent and I'm okay with that, even if you are not. 

You can read the full article by Mia Freedman here:


mike raine said...

Nicely put together, and a cohesive response. I might suggest that the article could have finished with 'halleluyah'. It struck me from that point on you were restating what you had so cogenty stated before.

Janine said...

Well said, and love that you included stats.

Anonymous said...

After being sexually assaulted for years as a child, I was determined that my daughter would know how to recognise danger signs and keep herself safe. Yes, we had moments when I was way over-protective, but overall, my daughter came to understand how easy it is for some seemingly innocent action to become an extremely dangerous situation. People often cannot understand why I, as a victim of child sexual assault, would ever 'criticise' victims, but I do feel that there are many instances where a little more education on how to minimise the chance of danger would have led to a whole different outcome.