I received an email from a reader asking me if I had seen a viral email with supposed expert rape prevention advice. This led me to revisit a post I included in the latest edition of the Carnival Against Sexual Violence called Nothing to fear but fear itself. This post analyzed this viral email, possibly with some variations, sometimes titled "Important Information FOR YOUR SAFETY" which has been in circulation since 2001.
For those who want to understand rape through a rapist's eyes in order to avoid becoming a victim there isn't one perfect source. Even if there were this understanding is not rape prevention. At best it is rape avoidance where those who have been targeted learn to recognize early signs of danger or learn strategies about how to minimize harm once a rape or rape attempt is in progress.
Genuine rape prevention works effectively to reduce the number of rape attempts. The best and least expensive way to do this is to challenge all of the rationalizations and support rapists use to tell themselves that they aren't real rapists or that their victim is getting what she/he deserves.
This support is something that many non-rapists who see themselves as non-supportive of rapists provide through their actions, words or their failure to act or to speak up.
This means abandoning all victim blaming and victim responsibility for rape -- especially in rape prevention advice. And it means abandoning all rape denial. Rape is still rape even if the victim flirted first or allowed limited sexual contact or didn't clearly communicate lack of consent.
Making this change is harder than following rape avoidance advice since it means examining everything we have learned about sexual interactions with a willingness to recognize dangerous messages which may have been given to us by people who loved us and wanted us to be safe. It means rethinking everything we say about rape and everything we say about what we consider to not be rape.
Those who have provided support to rapists by attacking teen rape victims or by telling rape victims that they only think they were raped will find this examination painful and many of these people will not have the courage to work through that pain. If their examination isn't painful it will be because their dangerous attitudes are so entrenched that they cannot see what they have done from any perspective other than their own.
This rape prevention strategy which seeks to reduce rape attempts isn't dependent on the type of hyper-vigilance which this viral email advocates.
The greatest number of rapists only attack people they know because these non-stranger rapists have the greatest social support for their crimes, but the advice in this viral email is almost entirely focused on random stranger danger.
Before I was raped my gym teacher talked to all of her students about rape and we even practiced self-defense moves so we would be ready if we were grabbed by a stranger. My gym teacher talked about strategies for tricking stranger rapists into lowering their guard. There was never a single mention that rape could be committed by someone we knew and trusted.
I wasn't taught to recognize disrespect for personal boundaries and to see that disrespect as a red flag that the boundary violator might also violate sexual boundaries. I wasn't taught that sexual contact, by someone I knew, without my consent was a sex crime. I was taught to take the responsibility for boys' and men's sexual actions which I didn't or couldn't block. This teaching helped my rapist view himself as having done nothing criminal. All he ever admitted to was having made mistakes in our relationship.
One type of rapist, which I think of as the superior rapist because of this type of rapist's sense of entitlement and feeling of being generally superior to this rapist's victims of choice, is highlighted at Interactive Theatre:
I raped a woman. I do not believe that I am a pathological sex offender, but all the same, I raped. I don't think I am a bad guy. I have a college degree in the arts from a prestigious school and I get along well with my parents, who are still married. I do not hate women or the world, or myself, for that matter. My female friends, as well as many of my ex-girlfriends, think I am a bright, caring, understanding person. But all of that did not keep me from raping.
This particular rapist found his victim at a bar, but this mindset can be present inside churches and respectable businesses so avoiding bars and wild parties is not effective rape prevention.
This man had plenty of social support for his admitted crime and for his initial denial that what he did was rape. Even in this article where this man admits rape he practices minimization. His rape victim was a visitor from England which meant that she would be unlikely to be able to stay for a full investigation or for a trial. Yet he never mentions how that fact could embolden him to rape.
You can also get a good perspective of the conditions many rapists need in order to justify rape from reading the words of the anonymous men online who claim that 98% of rape reports are false. Not all of these people are rapists, but their denials provide insight into the thinking which invalidates almost all rapes.
That process of exclusion can tell us why the rapes they deny are so common.
To be effective, rape prevention which focuses on changing the standard behavior of potential rape victims would need to include teaching all potential victims how to mind read and how to get X-ray vision.
Since that isn't going to happen in the real world, the most effective rape prevention actions must create a hostile environment for rape supportive attitudes.
Legal and freely given sexual cooperation or bust.
In part 2, I will include the email my reader received with my comments after each section.