[Trigger warning: Rape, sexual assault]
I drive down I-35 quite frequently. On the right side of the highway as I’m driving through downtown Austin, there is a huge sign on the side of a building reminding people to lock their cars, stating that if they don’t and their car gets stolen, they were “asking” for it. The sign drives me up the wall. While it is true that locking your car is a smart thing to do, no one ever asks for any crime to be committed against them. The language of “asking” for it puts blame on the victim, where no blame belongs.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 2.5 minutes. 1 out of every 6 women have been the victim or attempted or completed sexual assault.
What do locking cars and sexual assault have to do with each other?
As Christians, it is our duty to stand up for victims of sexual assault. But we can’t do that if we’re not informed.
The first step is education.
Today, I want to talk about why any language putting responsibility for sexual assault on a victim is offensive, entirely inaccurate, and should be completely dropped from our vocabulary.
A prominent Christian leader recently wrote that a woman who makes poor choices and gets raped is asking for it “in the broadest sense of the term.” He compares a woman who gets drunk and takes her shirt off, later getting raped, to a man who flashes money in a bar, only to be robbed later.
As someone who personally knows someone who has been raped, I am incredibly concerned that this kind of attitude continues to be common in Christian circles. For some reason, it is generally considered okay to say that a woman who has made a bad decision (whether it’s getting drunk, dressing immodestly, or being in the Wal-Mart parking lot alone at 5am) bears some degree of responsibility for her rape (even if it’s acknowledged that her rapist is fully culpable for his crime.)
Let me make this clear:
Under no circumstances is a woman ever even partially responsible for being sexually assaulted. Never. Period. End of story.
The idea of “asking for it” has been taken too far in our culture. The example of unlocked cars I began this post with is an example. Let’s clarify what “asking for it” actually means. Someone who picks up a snake with their bare hands is asking to get bit. It is in a snake’s inherent nature to bite when they feel threatened. In that case, it is not the snake’s fault that he bit the hand. The snake didn’t know better. It is the person’s fault for picking up the snake.
In the case of crime, the idea just doesn’t apply. Humans are capable of making choices–choices to not commit crime. To claim that someone else bears partial responsibility for a crime committed against them makes the assumption that the aggressor, on some level, somehow didn’t know better, or couldn’t help himself.
The language of a woman “asking” to get raped is incredibly damaging is not just to women, but also to men. It implies that if a woman makes a certain choice, that men may not be able to help their reaction. This is obviously false. Men are responsible for maintaining self-control and are completely responsible for their own actions. The actions of the women around them does not somehow make it okay for men to commit sexual assault, or even reduce their responsibility on any level.
This means that a woman never, ever bears any responsibility for a crime of sexual assault that is committed against her. No matter what she’s wearing, or how she’s acting, or where she is.
Does that mean that woman should make bad choices? Of course not. Yes, women (and men!) sometimes make unwise choices. But unwise choices do not, under any circumstances, translate into responsibility for crimes committed against them.
Another reason why the language of women “asking” to be raped is so harmful is that is often spreads misinformed views of rape. Rape is often seen as a response to high amounts of lust, when in reality, rape is about power. It’s about an aggressor asserting his power and control over his victim. The fact that rates of sexual assault are higher in Middle Eastern countries, where women are much more covered, and that rapists are more likely to be serial criminals than serial rapists, are evidences of this. In trying to encourage women to protect themselves from rape by not engaging in certain types of behavior, or covering up more, the misinformed view that rape is about sex continues to perpetuate.
When people are misinformed about rape, they will not know how to protect themselves, will not know how to respond, and will not know how to help others who have been raped.
If Christians want to be able to truly advocate for victims of sexual assault, the first step is to know the truth about it and stop spreading misinformed views. The idea of a victim “asking” for it is offensive, misinformed, and has got to go.
For more information, please visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.