By the time women get to college, they’ve already absorbed years of directives to “avoid” getting raped: Don’t drink, don’t flirt, don’t walk there, don’t attract attention.
I know women who followed them all. They passed up opportunities to travel, socialize, explore the world and themselves, trusting that if they just kept their legs closed and stayed home, they’d be safe.
I was one of them. I was raped my sophomore year of college, sober, in my dormitory and, like most campus victims, by someone I knew and trusted. He had tried to lure me with alcohol and, when that didn’t work, he raped me anyway.
A lifetime of warnings doesn’t keep women from getting raped. It just keeps us from lives worth living.
Of course, in a world where sexual violence is rampant, many are understandably desperate to protect the women they love. While it’s comforting to think that more talk about less alcohol will reduce the violence, it’s neither illuminating nor true: Women already know the “safety tips.” And we suffer violence regardless of whether we follow them — whether we’re drunk or sober, in mini-skirts or sweat pants, 18 years old, or 8, or 80.
As a friend of mine once wisely observed, “If you’re pushing a woman to change her behavior to ‘prevent’ rape, rather than telling a perpetrator to change his, you’re really saying ‘make sure he rapes the other girl.'”
There will always be a more intoxicated girl at the party.
Rape is a powerful tool of social control, used to keep us in our place. Like rape itself, the endless chorus of “don’ts” keeps us quiet and submissive. But it neither reduces violence nor comes without cost: It keeps us out of public space, afraid to take risks. It does violence’s work for it.
To reduce rape, we can challenge the conditions of inequality that allow gender violence to flourish. Begin consent education in elementary schools, teach boys not to rape, and hold perpetrators accountable in our colleges, churches and families.
The alternative — to deny women the opportunity to move freely and live full lives — reaffirms the very effects of violence it seeks to mitigate.