Friday, January 08, 2010

Violence Projecting Mindset From Victim Focused Violence Prevention

I came across a letter to the editor in the Herts Advertiser (which is in the UK) titled Rape Prevention Advice Welcomed by Sonia McDonnell which disagrees with criticism from Kim Thornton of a police superintendent who instructed women on how to avoid being a victim of rape.

McDonnell writes, "many rape cases are not always as cut and dried as Miss Thornton would lead us to believe." McDonnell then goes on to talk about how alcohol can interfere with the victim providing a coherent account.

The problem with this is that these issues exist when men who are not sober become crime victims. They might have difficulty answering questions like: After you staggered from the pub did you walk left or right down the sidewalk? Getting left and right mixed up shouldn't imperil the criminal case against the man who subsequently pointed a gun at him and demanded his wallet. The victim doesn't need to be fully coherent for the public or a jury to understand that he didn't spontaneously offer that man his wallet.

There certainly isn't equal prevention messages telling men to not drink to avoid becoming crime victims and this lack of parity has a real impact. Victim coherency is also a problem when someone is assaulted as they sleep or if they are assaulted in the hospital. I doubt that McDonnell would accept the same attitudes toward these victims as she tolerates toward rape victims who aren't sober.

The default assumption that rape cases where the victim is not sober aren't cut and dry incorrectly prejudices assessment of the evidence. What was obviously meaningless for the defense in other types of cases can be seen as exonerating evidence or reasonable doubt when the charge is rape. "She's getting left and right mixed up, she can't keep her fabricated story straight."

The mindset which so many people express is contained in McDonnell's report of driving by a drunk young lady. Her mind immediately jumped to how easy it would be to rape that young lady if she had been a rapist. This woman who is not a rapist looked at a drunk young woman and she easily projected herself as that woman's rapist. This is not an automatic response, it is a learned response which comes directly from repeated victim-centered safety messages.

If those rape prevention messages had a non-rapist woman thinking about how easy rape would be in that moment imagine what those messages do to a man who has disdain for young women who go out drinking. He might use those rape prevention messages to decide that overpowering that young woman will teach her to not turn her nose up at prevention advice.

He's not a rapist. He's a hands-on rape prevention reminder.

With the absence of primary rape prevention messages there is no message to counter the victim-blaming prevention messages so when people like McDonnell say, "These young ladies do have a responsibility for their own personal safety," they are actively removing the potential rapist's responsibility. They are communicating that he's not responsible for the rapes he commits.

This will be denied by many of these people when stated this clearly, but this is often proven to by these people's beliefs about the prosecution of rape cases. We see this when people say things like, "rape cases involving alcohol are not cut and dried."

This takes us back to the beginning of McDonnell's letter. Basic assumptions about rape cases are informed by the responsibilities many people place on certain crime victims that they would never place on other crime victims.

These assumptions help rapists so rather than the victim-focused prevention messages reducing danger they increase the danger that someone can rationalize raping someone who is intoxicated and increases the likelihood that someone who is rightfully accused will be able to avoid legal responsibility.

If those who are presenting these messages are committed to reducing sexual violence then they will be committed to learning the complex impact of what they say and what they fail to say. Commitment means being willing to learn and change when a well-meaning idea is a failure.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:09 AM   1 comments links to this post


At January 08, 2010 12:35 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Sonia MacDonald's claims and assumptions clearly demonstrate that media promotion of women-blaming and exclusion of male accountability with regards to male sexual violence committed aginst women, has been very effective.

MacDonald is correct in one aspect and that is most cases wherein males are charged with raping a woman/women are 'never cut and dried.' The reason is because immediately a woman discloses a man/men has raped her, the ones who hear this disclosure commonly make their own assumptions and reinterpret the disclosure according to how much they have accepted embedded rape myths and endemic women-blaming/male exoneration of accountability.

Juries, defence and prosecution council, police officers and society in general commonly believes they know what is and is not 'real rape.' However, given the issue of male sexual violence against women has now become one wherein it is women's fault for not taking sufficient precautions rather than holding the male perpetrators accountable, this in itself ensures whenever a woman discloses a male/males have raped her, she is commonly disbelieved.

I wonder if Sonia MacDonald would tell her son if she had one, that he alone is responsible for ensuring his safety and if another male robs him or physically attacks him - then he, not the male perpetrator is responsible.

Focusing on women and holding them accountable for men's violence committed against them ensures one thing only - the focus is never on primary prevention of male violence against women. Instead we are led to believe it is women's fault if they are subjected to male sexual violence and men continue to be excused/exonerated any blame or accountability. It is in other words, a rapist's charter - men can commit rape but they must ensure they target women who have consumed alcohol; women who are out in men's public space at night; and also women who do not have the obligatory male accompanying them.

It is long overdue that men must be educated with regards to the dangers of consuming alcohol, because men who consume alcohol are more at risk of endangering their lives and engaging in violent behaviour towards other males. Men need to be warned that they alone are accountable and responsible for their safety. If men do go out in public spaces at night, or if they drive in cars alone, then they are at risk of being assaulted by other opportunistic men. It is not the assaulter who is to blame but the male victim/victims because they did not take sufficient safety precautions.

If such advice were to be routinely and constantly addressed to men there would be immense male anger and outrage - because how dare 'society' tell men as a group they must limit their activities and not venture anywhere which is deemed 'unsafe.' But such advice is constantly directed at women and girls because it is supposedly 'common sense.'


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