Do Cautionary Measures Let Rapists Off the Hook?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader pushes back on the comments from a mother of two daughters, who said in part:

I’m about as politically correct a person as you can imagine, but I refuse to pretend that there is nothing a woman can do to make rape less likely. Staying in control of one’s faculties may not prevent all attacks, but it will make them less likely to happen. Rapists choose their victims for their vulnerability, and a woman fully aware of her own surroundings is safer than one who is drunk—not absolutely safe, but certainly safer.

The latest reader writes:

My stomach turned when I read that. That kind of thinking is based on the idea that “rapists gonna rape,” as if assault is an unstoppable constant and our only hope is to rape-proof ourselves and our daughters in the hope that someone else ends up being selected as a victim.

I graduated from undergrad in 2011. In my last year at university, I had a textbook removed from my kinesiology course that told its female readers that they could avoid being sexually assaulted if they didn’t touch men on the arm or accept an invitation into a man’s home, because, presumably, doing either of these actions triggers that unstoppable rape compulsion that men are incapable of shutting off.

I followed every rule that I was told when I was younger: don’t drink, don’t go out alone, don’t dress “provocatively.” The last time I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a pair of jeans and my father’s windbreaker, taking a cab back to my sister’s house. I was not intoxicated. I did not touch the cab driver’s arm. I did not follow him. I was a young woman and I got in a cab. When the police arrived to take my statement, they told me that the reason that I had been assaulted was because I told the driver I was from out of town (when he asked me how to get to the address I had given him).

The point of me sharing this story is this: We can and will always find an excuse to explain why assaults happen until we decide that rape and assault are not inevitable constant forces. I’m tired of hearing excuses for why men assault women. Let’s stop excusing away assault and actually hold perpetrators accountable rather than accepting a scenario where we encourage young women to police themselves in the hope that some other woman will end up being the rape victim.

If you’d like to respond, or have an experience to share, send us a note and we’ll post.