If they don’t want to get raped, women should not go out alone after dark. In fact, the vast majority of rapes, according to the United States Department of Justice, happen between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
So perhaps the advice given by Linda Ross, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women is not so inane, insensitive and offensive as it first seemed to me.
In response to a question posed by CBC reporter Curtis Rumbolt, “So what kind of tips do you give tips or how do you handle this when an item (RNC advisory on a series of sexual assaults) like this comes up?”
Ross replied, “It’s so important for women to take precautions when they’re walking. And one of them is — as much as possible do not walk or go anywhere by yourself when it’s dark.”
Most women are pretty aware of the precautions they have to take to protect themselves. Because most women live in fear of being raped, we have the “tips” down pat. Of course these precautions didn’t help the young woman recently assaulted outside The Rooms in St. John’s. She was walking alone — yes — but not that late in the evening and she had her cellphone and was talking to someone when she was assaulted.
And yet, she was still assaulted. Ross says, “I think the important thing is to always be aware of the precautions that you can take to avoid having something happen.” Precautions like going out with friends, not walking alone, using your cellphone and not leaving drinks unattended when downtown.
I guess, then, that the recent victims of sexual assaults on George Street were not following these precautions. After all, Ross says following them will allow you to “avoid having something happen.”
Except, you see, they were following those same precautions that every woman knows. As Fiona Cunningham, certified counsellor and columnist for The Independent, noticed: “The RNC has said that in each case the attacker was known to the woman. Perhaps the survivors were following this great advice and drinking with him to start with.”
Fiona continues: “And do not go anywhere after dark? Like all women should be on lockdown by 4:30 p.m. during the winter in Newfoundland or else they were asking for it?”
And that is the essential problem with Ross’ advice. When Rumbolt asked for tips or ways of handling the information he was probably looking for exactly the response Ross gave. But this was her chance to really stand up for the women of this province and not pay into the victim-blaming rape culture we all live in.
Why did she assume he meant tips for women? How about tips for George Street businesses, local law enforcement and men?
How about all bars supply drink testing strips for free to women — they’re not that costly and would allow a woman who accidentally left her drink for a moment to test for the presence of Rohypnol or Ketamine — the two most common “rape drugs.”
Or, allow women to get a new drink if they come to the bar with a half-finished one which they realize was unattended momentarily. Or, provide a lockdown service for drinks so that a woman can check her drink in behind the bar when she goes to the bathroom or dance floor and retrieve it when she comes back.
How about bouncers trained in recognizing the signs of drugs being used or drunkenness beyond the ability to consent stop “couples” at the door to do a safety check? How about more law enforcement downtown, looking for more than bar brawls?
How about instead of telling women not to go out alone ’cause they might get raped or telling them that it’s their responsibility to protect their friends we tell men not to go out alone because they might find themselves wanting to rape someone.
Tell men to stay with their male friends to prevent them from raping a woman. Tell men that if they can’t go drinking without feeling the urge to slip drugs into a woman’s drink then they shouldn’t be drinking. Tell men to stay home after dark so they don’t accidentally find themselves in a dark alley forcing themselves on a woman.
Any of those would’ve been better tips than the victim-blaming “tips” reported on CBC. I’m sure every woman who was assaulted smacked herself in the forehead and said “oh, how could I have been so stupid? I could’ve prevented this after all.”
The sad thing is that those victims are likely already blaming themselves, just as their friends are blaming themselves for not doing something to prevent the assault. The truth, though, is that women and their friends cannot prevent rape. They’ve never had that power and they never will. And yet it is the one crime where we feel obliged to put the onus on the victim to prevent it.
No one ever tells a robbed store owner that they were open too late or that they should’ve had their friend across the street watching out for them or that the way they displayed their wares made people want to steal them. No one ever asks the man who was mugged if he had been drinking that evening or if he led the mugger on. But when a woman is raped it’s because she didn’t do enough to prevent it.
Ross could’ve made these same points in her interviews following the RNC advisory. But she chose not to. She chose, instead, to feed the victim blaming with tips for women, rather than provide tips for our society as a whole.
And that does nothing to advance or protect the status of women in our province.
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