Liza van Soelen

Victim blaming vs common sense

Liza van Soelen
Liza van Soelen

By Liza van Soelen

Jacques Rousseau wrote an article for The Daily Maverick attempting to raise the concern that in our attempts to limit stranger rape we should be able to talk about ways to lessen the chance of that rape; that discussing ways to avoid dangerous situations should not be viewed as simply victim blaming, but as a means to increase the protection of the at risk population. Rousseau is well aware that stranger rape is a very small percentage and of course discusses the useless of giving advice to avoid rape when girls or women might live with their rapist. Rather he moves to ask whether, to avoid this stranger rape, however small the percentage, if we shouldn’t be allowed to talk about ways to minimize the risk without being lambasted as “victim blamers”. It’s an interesting read and you can read the full article here.

Of course, there is a very fine line to walk when we consider victim blaming vs common sense precautions, but I think the point that is missed out on is that, to a large extent, it seems to me to be superfluous to want to talk about ways to minimize the risk of stranger rape. As girls and women that conversation is already happening and has been happening for some time. If we can take a moment to relive my whiny teenage years the conversation goes like this:

Me: “So, can I go there/do that?

Parents: “No, you’re too young.”

Me: “But my brother did it when he was the same age as I am now.”

Parents: “Yes, but he’s a boy.”

First as young girls, and then as women, we are already raised to be wary and alert for dangerous situations and possible attack. We’re brought up with his dose of “common sense” if you like, to avoid rape or attack. To put it in context for a male reader I suppose I would ask him if any of these situations feel familiar to him:

  • If as a young boy of ten his grandmother showed him where to attack a women if she tried to attack him
  • If his mother took him aside and told him when he orders drinks at a bar to always order from a bottle, watch it be poured and never let his drink out of his sight in case it’s drugged
  • If his sister spent time teaching him to watch his surroundings whenever he walks and then taught him how to throw a punch just in case
  • If his curfew was earlier than his sister’s had been at the same age because “he’s a boy”
  • If his father checked to hear who was going to be out with him that night and was always happier when it was with girls considered to be good and able to look after him
  • If his friend’s mother insisted that his friend’s girlfriend go with them on Matric holiday because it’s not safe for a group of young men to go on holiday alone.
  • If his women friends insist on walking him home at night, even a five minute walk, because it is not safe for him to walk home alone (and then on one occasion feels deep gratitude they did when he finds out a young man had been attacked by a group of women just outside his house a bit earlier in the evening).
  • If, as a man going for a jog, if, when he sees a large group of fit looking women, if he either runs faster to get past them or takes a turn down a different road to run in a more ‘safe’ direction because he’s been taught to be wary.
  • If he’s ever offered to let a women friend crash on his couch for the night after a few drinks when she has no way to get home and then considered whether he should lock his bedroom door because a friend let a women stay over once and she raped him. And only decide against it, because she doesn’t seem dangerous and even if she tried, she’s scrawny and he knows martial arts and could probably defend himself if he had to.
  • If, while working in Korea and going on a trip there is an option for sleeping that asks if he wants “boys only” or “boys and girls” and he must tell his Canadian friends that he wants to have “boys only” room because growing up in South Africa he doesn’t feel all that safe agreeing to share a room and spend a night with women he doesn’t know.

Of course, these are examples from my own life with the sex of the participants swapped over. There are more examples, of course, of warnings women receive (time of day, what they wear, if they’ve had a few drinks and so on) but I think I’ve made my point. We don’t really need to open a discussion about ways women can minimize their risk of stranger rape; we’ve grown up hearing, at home and from friends, of ways to stay safer. Moreover, women have a good dose of common sense about our well-being; we don’t actively look for danger.

So if you want to talk to women about ways to minimize this risk of stranger rape, please, save your breath. We already know. Use your time to tell our male sport’s stars and media stars, our politicians, the teacher’s at our schools, our country’s brothers and fathers to talk to the boys, the young men and older men in South Africa, telling them what rape is, that it is never ok, never wanted, not a way to show your manliness or strength, and provide strong role models of real masculinity for all they young boys growing up in South Africa.

I do appreciate the good intentions of saying that it’s a good idea to tell women ways to keep themselves safe and take care of themselves. But honestly, as women, we don’t need to hear it, we know it. What we need to hear are stronger voices telling men not to rape. Most especially as despite all these precautions and fears, women are more likely to be raped at home, by someone they know. 


4 thoughts on “Victim blaming vs common sense”

  1. Great article. Entirely agree on all, but I must say that I had to give my stepson the rohypnol talk as boys are also vulenrable. He had no idea! I worry about more daughter more than my sons, but boys and men are also subject to sexual molestation and rape. We need to break the silence on this too.


  2. My daughter spent the night with a friend and we never thought that there would be a teenage predator lying in wait for her. She is traumatised but is determind to fight back, she does not consider herself a victim but a victor,


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