There is a certain argument that pops up a lot of the time when a news story comes out about a woman being assaulted. The media has a tendency to judge whatever activity she was engaged in when the assault occurred, and based on the merits of that activity, decided whether or not she deserved to be assaulted. For instance, Lauren Spierer was a 20-year-old woman who disappeared from Bloomington, IN in 2011. The night of her disappearance, she had been drinking at a bar with friends. Because she had been engaged in something illegal that night, many people, either directly or inadvertently, put the blame on Lauren for this turn of events. If she hadn’t been drinking with people she didn’t know, they said, she might not have vanished.
The same arguments cropped up during the Steubenville rape trial. The girl in question was drinking underage with a bunch of boys she didn’t know very well. If she hadn’t taken those actions, it was stated, they would not have been able to take advantage of her.
The victim-blaming side of this particular coin is obviously problematic. It should be no secret by now that bad people are always out there, and even if you spend your entire life locked away in a castle’s highest tower, you may come into contact with them. Our choices as women are not ever to blame for rape or abductions. Rapists are the only ones to blame. Nobody ever “deserves” to be raped, no matter how foolishly they were acting. Stupidity, in fact, is not a crime, nor is it even a moral conundrum. Even people with no common sense deserve to be protected and defended. (In no way am I saying that a woman who goes out drinking with people she doesn’t know is stupid – I am merely stating that there are innately unintelligent people out there, and they deserve as much respect as anyone else.)
However, the other side of this coin is an even blearier lens through which to look at this issue. This is the side that pronounces that we as women should not have to take precautions against assault because sexual assault is not our fault. Let me be clear: This is absolutely true. We should not HAVE to take precautions. In an ideal world, we would not have to take them. But people seem to be under the impression that because rape is bad, we should ignore the fact that it exists and cease all conversation on it.
The fact is, there are rapists in the world. There shouldn’t be. But there are. They are fucked up human beings and they should be in jail. But they’re not. And I personally am not going to stick my head in the sand and pretend otherwise. I know I have the right to wear short skirts in public. I know I have the right to let a stranger buy me a drink. I also don’t want to be assaulted. So there are certain things I do that I believe are small ways to keep yourself a little bit safer.
I’m not saying you are a bad person if you don’t do these things. If you never do any of these things, you are still a good person and don’t deserve to be raped or blamed for your assault. These are merely helpful hints to use when you are out with people you don’t know. Take your safety into your own hands. Don’t depend on rapists to not be fucked up monsters.
Instead of saying “you shouldn’t” or “don’t,” I’m going to phrase these as suggestions based around what I like to do. To be clear: Take my advice or don’t. You are entitled to structure your night out however you want.
1) I like to keep a few choice objects in my bag when I go out, including my cell phone, a nail file (excellent weapon) and a pair of extra shoes if I am wearing heels. If I need to walk somewhere in a hurry, sneakers are probably going to be more comfortable.
2) I never let my cell phone die. If you feel uncomfortable somewhere and need to be picked up, you need to be able to contact a friend. If something happens to you, you need to be able to dial 911. Having a dead cell phone in this day and age is the 21st century equivalent of your plane crashing in the forest and having nothing to start a fire with. Similarly, I memorize at least a couple of important phone numbers. If I lose my phone, I’ll still be able to contact my mom, Domino’s pizza, and your mom. BOOM!
3) It’s best not to leave a bar or any other place with a guy (or girl) without telling at least one friend your date’s name and where you are going with them. And if your friend is leaving with someone, be a creepy stalker. Get their name and address, preferably straight off their license. Who cares if you seem weird? It’s all in the name of having a great, safe night out.
4) Ideally, I don’t go out alone. Partying is usually more fun with some friends anyway, so the more the merrier. When you’re heading home, you could try to surround yourself with other people; take a taxi or a bus, not the darkest alleys you can find. If you see a policeman or other public service figure, take note of their location and make sure they notice you. They could come in handy.
5) Take this with a grain of salt, but: don’t do illegal things. I fully support the notion that sometimes, life is just better on the wild side, but if you are lighting a nursing home on fire with your street gang – that’s right, you still don’t deserve to be raped. But the circumstances will be muddled due to the fact that no one involved is going to be honest about where you were or what was happening. People may not be willing to incriminate themselves to defend your story, so often it’s best to just avoid doing stuff that you’re aware is wrong and shitty to do.
Once again: even if you go out alone and completely naked with a stranger, unarmed, with a dead cell phone, you don’t deserve for anything bad to happen, nor should you be planning on it as a default. It is very important to emphasize that sexual (or any other) assault will never be okay, no matter how romanticized or mainstream it becomes. But look at it this way: A group of Boy Scouts does not plan on being mauled by bears when they go camping, nor do they deserve that kind of fate. But neither of those facts will stop it from happening, because bears are stupid, violent creatures, especially after a couple of Natty Lites. That’s why the Boy Scouts are always prepared with a clear head, quick action and some bear mace.