Is Staying Safe Your Responsibility?

The chances are you will have heard about the recent sexual assaults that have taken place close to campus. The BBC posted an article online, the SRC sent us all an email, and the story was passed around Facebook like a Kony 2012 video. People naturally responded. Loudly.

I didn’t want to mess this one up. Sexual assault is an understandably touchy subject, and there is every chance that someone reading this has been sexually assaulted in the past. I figured the most thorough way of making sure everyone had a say was to ask for opinions on Tumblr and Facebook. Sure enough, everyone had their bloody say.

If a woman is sexually assaulted in a close on the way into her flat, and then the response from the media and advice outlets is to tell women not to travel alone and stay vigilant, is the victim being blamed? That was what I asked. I had every response imaginable. Yes, it is victim blaming, teach men not to rape, don’t teach women how not to get raped. No, it is not victim blaming, you can’t control other people’s actions, why wouldn’t you travel in groups if you know there is a danger you could be attacked?

There is definitely something to the “yes” argument. For instance, if you encourage women to travel in groups, you can then place the blame on the woman who got attacked who was walking by herself. It is almost as if the women in groups passed their assault on to the lone female, and it was her fault that no one was with her at the time. This is obviously ridiculous, but does that mean the advice should be changed?

With regard to the “no” argument, common sense prevails. If a human is aware of danger in the area, you would adapt accordingly. After a night out, you are more tempted to order a taxi than stumble home down a few dimly lit paths in an intoxicated state. If there is a shortcut to your destination through a dodgy looking alley, it may be acceptable during the day, but you could be accused of asking for trouble by wandering up there after dark.

On the day I sat down to write this The Daily Mail, that beacon of sanity, posted an article with a headline stating “Rape victims who are drunk or flirtatious ‘only have themselves to blame’, say 1 in 12 people.” Now, I am sure there is no need to clarify qmunicate’s position when it comes to The Daily Mail (see our previous issue). Chances are, the majority of readers will agree with this article in saying that no woman should ever be blamed for being a victim of rape. Fundamentally, 11 in 12 people disagree with this statement, and that’s heartening because by the law of averages there’s probably 1 idiot in 12 people anyway, but that doesn’t mean that these people should be allowed to stand uncorrected.

So where does this leave us. Anyone with half a brain knows that by the very definition of rape, no one is ever asking for it. You could be out in public naked and that would still be true. A woman could be in a man’s room, making out, intending to have sex and then say “no.” That is enough. That “no” means that if the man did not stop what he was doing, it would be unwarranted, and no matter how flirtatious she had been, the woman did not give her consent. Recently the anti-rape advertising campaigns that for some reason seem to run every Festive period have seen the error of their ways and switched focus on to men, and not raping, rather than women not getting raped. There have been real and encouraging steps to move away from victim blaming, and emphasis is being placed on men being responsible enough to know where the line is between sex and rape.

But what of the man in the news? What do we do when there is a known predator in the area? All I can say is that you should take whatever precautions you must do to make yourself feel safe. The SRC had to order more rape alarms after sending students an email about the predator’s presence, so the loud screech alerting others in the area is obviously something people feel would be beneficial. Others have said they take self-defense classes for this very reason, taking a more assertive approach. And some have said that it isn’t their problem – catch the guy, and stop blaming me for not being in a group, not being trained at martial arts, and not being constantly vigilant.

Whatever you do, whoever you are, wherever you go, stay safe. Don’t let people you don’t recognise follow you into your close; it might be a rapist, but it could just as easily be a bike thief.

[Scott Wilson]

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