Let’s get something straight. There is one reason rape takes place. All rapes, across genders and times and circumstances. From the marital bed to the prison shower, at drunken parties to hospital beds. There is one reason rape happens and only one. You ready for this?
Rape and sexual assault take place because the perpetrator believes that they have a right to the victim’s body, which hasn’t been offered by consent. There are multiple ways to get there: you believe that you have the right to sex with your partner, simply because they are your partner. You think that buying dinner is the same as buying an orgasm. You think women don’t know what they want. You think that if someone is dumb enough to get drunk, then they get what they get. Or you just want and it doesn’t really matter to you whether the other party thinks about the subject.
How do you stop a rape from happening? The potential rapist must only remember that theirs is not the only set of wants that matter. Done.
Except we aren’t done. Because there is a logical fallacy I see applied all too liberally, which is that responsibility is a zero sum game. Or that, in a situation with two people, there is only one responsibility. When the truth is that there are always as many responsibilities in a room as there are people. So let’s look at Erykah Badu’s Twitter storm over skirt lengths. She voiced an opinion that (to paraphrase) the biology of reproduction is such that a xx of child bearing age is likely to be sexually stimulating to an xy who has reached sexual maturity, so it makes sense to mitigate for that truth.
When we talk about young women protecting themselves (because the young boys who are sexually assaulted are hit with a different variety of victim-shaming), the language used to describe a xx’s responsibility to protect herself is kind of gross: stuff like how you wouldn’t walk around waving around a wad of $100 bills, therefore girls shouldn’t walk around in short skirts. And on the other side, we have the violent opposition to what Erykah Badu said, yelling at her about how we can’t shame victims and make controlling the sexual response the responsibility of young women.
Blame the Puritans, rail against the patriarchy, but the xx body is highly sexualized in this culture. It shouldn’t be, but it is. We can talk all day about how these things shouldn’t be true, but yet here we are in a culture where they are still true.
Two people, two sets of responsibility which have nothing to do with the other. First, primary, and most important is the simple fact that one person is not entitled to access to another persons body without consent. Everyone should be able to handle that one, it isn’t complicated.
But there is another responsibility. Whether it should fall on the shoulders of the xx or not is certainly debatable, but in recognition of our reality, the truth is that it is in the best interest of *everyone* not to do risky shit. Risky shit: getting into a car with strangers. Drinking with people you don’t know. Going out as a group and leaving without one of your party. I’ve done risky shit and been saved by the other party keeping track of the first rule in preventing rape: don’t rape. I’ve been lucky. That doesn’t mean I’d advocate for risky shit.
Short skirts don’t cause rape. Boys in baggy jeans get raped. But short skirts *do* draw attention and let’s face it. Attention in this culture – maybe in any culture – is a risk factor. Is it right? Absolutely not. It’s bullshit. But the fact that it is bullshit doesn’t make it any less true. So carry on, Mama Badu.