Reporter's Notebook

On Rape and Empowerment
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A reader debate sparked by singer Chrissie Hynde’s controversial comments over her sexual assault and a woman’s role in preventing similar assaults.

Show None Newer Notes

Some remaining loose ends on the long reader thread:

It’s important to note that when individual woman chooses to dress differently, drink less, etc. it may reduce the likelihood of her personally being raped, but there is no evidence that it reduces the overall rate of rape. So if a woman chooses to wear nail polish that helps her detect date-rape drugs, I’m not going to object to her trying to avoid rape. But if as a society that’s our strategy for preventing rape, it’s fundamentally wrongheaded because it doesn’t do anything to change the culture and may not even prevent rape, but only redirect it.

Another reader:

A few of the responses in this conversation bring up the distinction between offenders who deliberately sexually assault people and those who “do not realize what they did is rape,” and how we shouldn't lump them together “as if their crimes are equally heinous.” But does anyone really not realize they’re committing rape?

This female reader wants women to fight back—literally:

I’ve argued with many newer feminists when debating the notion of self defense. Self defense and resistance as rape prevention are real and effective solutions supported by research[*]. Yet many newer feminists view even the very idea as victim blaming. I think this is a problem within many social movements today. In the interest of maintaining a united front, all nuance and subtlety is ignored!

And it completely ignores the historical significance of self defense in feminism from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Readers keep the important conversation going:

Your reader makes a good point about people who do not realize that what they did was rape—but I also think it’s important for activists to make clear that there’s a distinction between these people and intentional, predatory rapists.

The latter are always going to exist, and they are not going to be swayed by a change in culture. The former are not necessarily callous people, and for them it’s not about power; it is just about sex. Lumping these two groups together as if their crimes are equally heinous is, I think, counterproductive. You’re not going to win over a man who makes bad choices when the line of consent is blurry if you treat him as if he’s holding a knife to the woman’s throat.

I think it necessitates a change in tactics (that “don’t be that guy” campaign your reader mentioned is, I think, a step in the right direction). But more importantly, it necessities a change in rhetoric within the movement.

Another reader raises a further issue, illustrated in the above PSA:

One way to address prevention without blaming victims and survivors is to focus on the potential role of bystanders.

Some remaining thoughts from readers on the taboo topic:

One of your readers is quoted as writing, “It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape.” The problem here is that word “blame”—because for most rapes, there are many, many people who think nobody is to blame, because (they think) there was no rape: The person assaulted wanted to have sex, but changed their mind later, or was ashamed, or was just a lying slut with mysterious motives.

Another reader:

This discussion is hard, because some of the answers are incongruously lofty and nuanced relative to the stark evil of rape. But I think it’s too important and the topic needs to be exhausted.

A reader makes a comparison:

I’m not interested in wading into the debate over Chrissie Hynde, but I’ll dip my toe in enough to say that the approach to rape prevention expressed by Katie Russell makes me think of the abstinence-only approach to sex ed. The absolutist approach actually results in more problems (pregnancy and STDs on one side, rape on the other) because proponents refuse to accept the reality of the situation they face (kids like sex / women are vulnerable to rape).

This reader uses an analogy:

A rape and the situation that led to it are two different things. A woman can take some responsibility for what led up to it while laying blame for the rape at the rapist’s feet.

This might sound callous, but here goes.

Sophie has a thought provoking piece on the controversy surrounding Chrissie Hynde—the lead singer of the Pretenders—and her comments regarding a sexual assault she experienced four decades ago. Sophie isolates an interesting irony among Hynde’s critics:

[T]here’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.

Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?

Sophie continues with an incisive indictment of Twitter as a means of expression. Meanwhile, a few readers take on the highly-charged topic of rape prevention:

Chrissie Hynde is refusing to be a helpless victim. There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for what one can take responsibility for, and blaming the victim or letting bad people off the hook … but I believe she is properly walking that line. Chrissie is what a genuinely empowered woman looks like.