I’m at my folks’ house for Thanksgiving, and on the drive home this evening I heard a brief news blurb on NPR about an assault that occurred recently at a movie theater in Little Rock. Two women were headed to their car after a movie when two men attacked them- one woman was tased, and the other woman screamed and scared the men off before anything more serious happened. I can’t find the transcript of the radio story, so I’m not entirely sure who they interviewed, but if memory serves me correctly it was the local police chief. His advice was that it’s still safe to go see movies; they’ve got security on site and everyone just needs to be aware of their surroundings.
Another news outlet covering this story offers this advice to stay safe:
- Shop before dark, if possible.
- Coordinate shopping trips with friends and never go out alone.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Carry only the cash and credit cards you will need for that day.
- Carry the smallest purse/bag possible. Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket but instead put it inside your jacket pocket.
- Always lock valuables in your trunk.
- Teach children to ask for help from security guards/policemen and never let them go into a parking lot alone.
- If you are approached by an attacker, scream and make as much noise as you can to attract attention and deter the attacker.
- If you leave your house, be sure your doors and windows are locked.
- Don’t display holiday gifts where they can be seen from a window or doorway. Store them out of sight.
- Be wary of solicitors and strangers asking for donations.
And that’s all well and good. I’m certainly a fan of being aware of your surroundings and taking what steps you can to protect yourself. I own my very own canister of pepper spray. But there is a seriously important part of this discussion that’s missing. The only real way to prevent crime against women, or any crime for that matter, is for the criminals not to commit the crimes! From Feministing.com:
The only way for people to not get raped is for people NOT TO RAPE THEM. We can’t end rape by dressing modestly or avoiding dark alleys or letting friends babysit our drinks when we go to the bathroom. The only way to abolish rape is for nobody to rape anyone else. It really isn’t a difficult concept.
I remember the first time I read that, and it was a major light bulb moment. It seems so obvious, but nobody ever says it. Instead, the women who get assaulted, raped, etc get blamed for not being cautious enough, for wearing revealing clothing, for being too drunk. Why don’t more people blame the attacker? Why don’t we hear police chiefs on the radio saying, “Women be aware of your surroundings, and men please don’t commit violent acts.”? We need more information about how the decent men can help stop the violence. (And I believe that most men are decent men- yet I, and other women, have been trained to treat all men as potential attackers until proven otherwise, and that’s really a shame.)
Really, I’ve grown up in this culture of fear and I’m pretty used to it. It’s habit to avoid strangers, protect my drinks, stay in after dark, etc, etc, etc. But why should it be this way? Instead of scaring women into staying home, then blaming and shaming them if something bad does happen, why don’t we take steps to make the world a safer place? Provide support for victims so they will feel safe to speak out and identify their attackers, then take steps to prosecute them. Teach men to be more sensitive to women’s experiences (like, don’t proposition women in an elevator…). Stop telling and laughing at rape jokes. Learn more about what makes a someone a potential rapist/attacker/etc and develop ways to prevent the violence before it happens.
In the mean time, I will still do what I can to protect myself, but I think it’s time to drastically change the core ways we look at these issues.