A few of the people who know about my rape have offered after-the-fact advice, as well as questions of “why did you…?” and “why didn’t you…?” I’ve combined their “wisdom” (after all, they sounded so sure of themselves, they must know these things!) and some of the common advice floating around out there and used all this to put together some rape prevention guidelines that – according to the unsolicited advice I’ve been given – would have prevented my rape. You see, apparently I lacked the wisdom and common sense that would have “kept me from getting raped”. (Or, even worse, maybe I was asking to be raped without realizing it!) Instead of throwing caution to the wind in reckless abandon, instead of enticing men to rape me, I should have been following these ten simple, foolproof rules:
How to prevent rape
Don’t let a man test or cross your boundaries – EVER. That seemingly kind, older man who expresses concerns about your tear-stained face and tries to engage you in conversation after you say you’d rather be alone? He could be a fatherly type who wants to help…or he could be a serial rapist testing your boundaries!! Tell him very firmly, “No, I do not want to talk to you. No, no, no. NO. NO. Leave me alone. Go away.” (According to some participants in online discussions about rape, one must be very clear with men because some have problems understanding anything but a firmly stated and repeated “no”. These men are supposedly baffled by and unable to comprehend polite refusals and sometimes can’t even tell if a woman is saying yes or no!)
Don’t trust men. If a man is trying to gain your trust, you have no idea whether he is a nice guy or a rapist trying to set you up! It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known a man – don’t let your guard down just because he hasn’t raped you yet!
Don’t feel compassion for men. When we feel compassion, we lose objectivity. Next thing you know, we want to comfort this man, lend him a sympathetic ear, and help solve his problems. But he could be lying with his sob story. Maybe he is a rapist and he is just using the tragic death of his beloved wife as a way of gaining your sympathy and trust. You can’t be too careful.
Treat any and all compliments or supposedly lighthearted teasing/flirting as a potential threat. Do not allow it. Yes, you may offend some nice guys but do you really want a rapist to claim, since you enjoyed being told you were pretty, that you owe him sex? Do you want others to claim you must have led him on?
Never go over to an apartment where men live, no matter how much you trust them. [Oops…trust? See #2.] It doesn’t matter if you have a friend along. You don’t know if one of the men whom you are foolishly trusting might be a rapist. According to some men in online discussions of rape, going to a man’s apartment or inviting a man to your apartment is a signal that you are agreeing to have sex. (Perhaps, if you must be there, it would be wise to keep repeating, “NO SEX!! No, I will not have sex with you!” just so there will be no confusion.)
Don’t drink alcohol around men. Especially don’t drink to excess. You never know if there might be a rapist in the room. Even if there isn’t, some people seem to think that, once a woman starts drinking, she is asking for any and all sexual acts that might be performed upon her, no matter how violent and/or degrading. It no longer matters what she says or how she might resist; the fact that she was drinking negates all that. (It’s probably best to forego all beverages, lest they be spiked or drugged. Thirst is a small price to pay for safety.)
Don’t let a man serve you dinner or drinks. Sure, you might miss out on some nice evenings but, if he is a rapist, all you will miss out on is being raped.
Never be alone with a man. In fact, don’t be alone with men. Better yet, avoid being in any place or situation where a man could behave inappropriately. Otherwise, if the men you are with turn out to be rapists, you will get blamed for “putting yourself in that position”.
Always carry your keys between the fingers of one hand and your pepper spray in the other. The instant a man tries to touch or kiss you, no matter who he is, shout “No, NO, NO!!” If he doesn’t apologize and retreat to a safe distance immediately – and especially if he dares try to touch you again – he might be a rapist and so you should gouge his eyes out with your keys and spray him with pepper spray. Too bad if he is just a clueless guy with a crush on you. One can never be too sure. Besides, some people seem to think that allowing a man to touch or kiss you is a way of giving him complete, irrevocable consent for any and all sexual activity from then on. Make your “NO” as clear as possible and leave immediately, before he can recover from the pepper spray. [Note: some people, most of them men, will disagree with #9 and instead insist, “If a guy even tries to get fresh with you, grab your concealed handgun – every woman should carry one – and shoot him.” I find this advice a bit extreme.]
Don’t like men. If you like a guy, it will be really hard to gouge his eyes out.
Probably, at this point, some readers might be wondering if I’m a “man-hating super-radical feminist”…a hermit-like cat lady…or just plain wacko. Others might be up in arms – do I really think all men are potential rapists and should be treated as such?
No. No, no, no. (Is that clear enough?)
So why did I write this stuff? I have to admit that I was in a sarcastic mood, and I did go for a bit of comedic effect – but the actual “advice” was based mostly on things people have had the nerve to come right out and say. To round things out, I included a few nuggets of the sort of “prevention tips” women are bombarded with. I wrote this to vent, but also to make a point.
Over the many years since my rape, until “coming out” on this blog, I’ve told few people, outside of my community of survivors. But some (most? I’ve tried not to keep track) of the non-survivors felt a need to “Monday morning quarterback” my experience, and – if they were women – let me know why my rape would have never happened to them. They have asked/said things like this:
“Why did you even talk to that creepy man in the first place? Couldn’t you tell he was a serial rapist?” Uh, no. I couldn’t. He looked like a harmless guy who was visiting his nice son over the summer. I guess he forgot to wear his “I’m a serial rapist” name tag.
“See? That’s why I don’t trust men. You shouldn’t be so naive.” Wait a moment…I shouldn’t trust any man? I should decide half of our planet is not worthy of my trust, just because they are male? How does that work in everyday life? What about marriage?
“Didn’t you see he was just pulling on your heartstrings to set you up? That sympathy ploy is the oldest in the book, and you fell for it!” So the next time some weepy neighbor shows me a picture of his late wife, I should just say “tough break, dude” and give him the cold shoulder?
“Why did you accept his compliments? And all that joking back and forth – some men see that as flirting, so what do you expect?” OK, I’ll yell at the next guy who says anything nice about me. And I’ll be sure to be serious from now on, lest some guy overhear me make a wisecrack and think that gives him the right to rape me.
“I would never go over to a man’s apartment. It sends the wrong message. And have dinner with a man? Especially a dinner he cooked? That’s dangerous.” We were neighbors! In and out of each others’ apartments all the time!
“Why did you put yourself in that position?” If I’d known he was a rapist, obviously I would have never given him the time of day, let alone hung out with him.
“You were drinking? No wonder. That’s practically asking for it!” Call me naive back when I was 23, but I had no idea the world worked that way. I thought they were nice guys. I had no idea that they would refuse to let me leave, despite my frantic begging and pleading, all because – according to my rapists and you – I was really asking to be raped.
“Why didn’t you leave immediately when you found yourself alone with a man?” Because, stupid me, I trusted him?
“If anyone had ever tried something like that with me, I would have…” Yeah, yeah…I get it. You’re some lean mean rape-thwarting machine, and I’m not.
I’ve been inundated with so much “rape prevention” advice that it makes my head spin. No one could implement it all. If I distill it down to the ten guidelines I listed at the beginning, I’d have to move to a lesbian separatist community to pull it off consistently…and I’m not a lesbian.
Besides, I have men in my life that I love and trust, men I feel compassion for. If I’d followed the fear-mongering advice I’d been given, I don’t see how I could have gotten to know my wonderful husband.
I see no reason to treat all men as if they are rapists. Let me put this another way: I don’t think all men are potential rapists. At the same time, as has been said many times before, rapists don’t alert us to their presence. They don’t wear signs. The ones who have been raping for quite awhile without getting caught do so because no one – until it is too late – suspects they are rapists. They get better and better at selecting their targets and “setting them up”. Afterward, they learn how to shame or intimidate their victims into silence and/or how to make them unlikely to be believed. That’s how they can go on raping.
After my rape, I found out that it wasn’t some isolated, freakish occurrence: the older of my rapists had an album full of “souvenir” pictures of his victims. (Thank God there were no mobile phones or Internet back then!) I learned that he and his nephew raped at least one other young woman that summer, and I have reason to believe there were more than that. I found out that he attempted to rape two other women in our building. This guy was slick – he really knew how to gain our sympathy and trust, how to spot and exploit our vulnerabilities.
With this kind of situation, it’s easy to pick things to self-blame about and I can always find someone who would be more than happy to join in the blame game. For example: Well, maybe if you hadn’t gotten drunk!! My sobriety or lack thereof would have not erased the fact that he was a serial rapist. If I had been the staunchest of teetotalers, he would have merely adopted a different strategy than plying me with overly strong mixed drinks. I believe he targeted me from the moment he first met me, when I was all weepy over a recent death in my family, and he got me to keep on talking with him after I made it obvious that I wanted to go into my apartment and be left alone.
My “rape prevention guidelines” most likely would have worked with him. But I don’t want to live like that! People would rightfully think I was rude, paranoid and misanthropic, and I don’t want to treat people that way. Despite what male rape apologists and some ultra-conservative Christians have to say, I’m with my feminist friends on this one: most men are not rapists, and most men can and will control themselves no matter what careless and stupid mistakes I might be making, or what “mixed signals” I might inadvertently be sending. If the world was made up of “most men”, it would be a much safer place. In the meantime, I will be cautious enough to lower my risk of being raped, but I refuse to isolate myself from half of humanity or treat every man in the world as if he is a rapist.