Every Two Minutes: The Problem of Risk Reduction
My first post considered the fact that “every two minutes” another sexual assault takes place. This reveals that sexual violence surrounds us in our everyday lives. Today’s post turns to sexual violence specifically against women and considers how it affects the lives of women in general.
Feminist philosopher Ann Cahill asserts, “The threat of rape in contemporary U.S. society constitutes a persistent and pervasive element in women’s lives. So constant is this threat that it becomes assumed as a basic consideration in the daily choices women face.”
The threat of sexual violence profoundly impacts women on a daily basis, structuring how they inhabit their bodies, relate to others, and live their lives. While the threat of rape is certainly not exclusive to women, they do face a heightened possibility of rape. Even if a woman has not been the victim of rape, the very threat of rape seems to call for a cautious vigilance that impacts how women structure their lives in a multitude of ways.
The prevalence of risk reduction strategies is a prime example of how this threat impacts women on a daily basis. Google the phrase “rape risk reduction strategies,” you will find about 2 million results! Many women practice risk reduction strategies, such as staying in a group and remaining alert of one’s surroundings at night, and even must watching to make sure that no one tampers with their drinks.
One of the critical issue concerning risk reduction strategies is that they can place the burden of responsibility on the victim rather than on the perpetrator. This is known as the practice of victim blaming, which occurs when someone says “she was asking for it,” or, as a guest on Fox News said when discussing the Maryville rape case, “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but….”
The practice of victim blaming erroneously shames and blames the victim for not taking adequate risk reduction measures rather than placing the burden of responsibility on the perpetrator. When someone says, “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but…” the insinuation is that not enough risk reduction measures were taken, which shifts the burden of responsibility away from the rapist.
With this mind, let’s take a moment to unpack the word “but” in this quote. “But” intercedes, blaming and shaming the victim in a non-specific and yet weighty manner. The mantra of risk reduction and victim blaming are “don’t get raped.” But this diverts from the far more effective and appropriate message: “don’t rape.” In this case, “but” detracts from the fact that the victim is never responsible for sexual assault.
When emphasis is placed on risk reduction we must be wary of the tendency to engage in the practice of victim blaming, which underhandedly normalizes and condones sexual violence against women. This is a symptom of a rape permissive culture that considers sexual violence against women as normal and inevitable. Rather than view rape culture itself as a problem to change, many people simply accept it as the way things are. We must encourage educational efforts directed at primary prevention and bystander intervention that work to prevent sexual violence before it takes place and address rape culture itself as a problem to change.