Monday, November 21, 2005

Asking For It

Wouldn't it be interesting to conduct a survey about mugging victims' culpability in their muggings? If I was creating one of these surveys I'd ask whether driving an expensive car makes the victim partly responsible for the crime of carjacking or if checking the time with ones Rolex in plain view contributes to the arm being cut off when the watch is stolen. Such things are incitements to mug, aren't they? And then there is the usual question about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victims really should be more responsible.

Amnesty International just published a similar survey about the British public's views on rape, and found that one third of the public (or that proportion of those surveyed, anyway) believes that acting in a flirtatious manner makes the woman totally or partially responsible for her own rape. This really worries me because I'm not quite sure what counts as flirtatious. Does smiling count? Or looking the rapist in the eyes?

The survey also found that

...more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.

Around one in 12 people (8%) believed that a woman was totally responsible for being raped if she'd had many sexual partners.

Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say "no" to the man.

I'm speechless. Well, not really, but I'm sitting here wondering how Americans would answer a similar survey if they didn't already know that certain answers would be frowned upon.

My comparison to mugging surveys has a problem, of course, and that is the absence of anything like mugging which would be mutually voluntary and which could be used as a defense by the person accused of mugging, although I guess the mugger could always argue that the guy wanted to give him or her the Rolex so much that he hacked off his arm to speed up the process. But on the whole the defense in rape cases is that the sexual contact was a voluntary one, and this survey shows that a worrisome number of Brits seem to think that a woman has entered such an agreement by perhaps smiling or by drinking too much or by having entered many similar agreements in the past. Or by dressing seductively. To be absolutely sure of her safety a woman should probably wrap herself in a blanket, drink nothing but water and say NO in a gruff tone whenever a man walks by. Which is my way of pointing out that the scope for some dangerous communication problems here is enormous.

Though I also think that the respondents who chose to find fault with a rape victim for being flirtatious or drunk or promiscuous did so because they want to think that rape can be avoided by avoiding whatever "slutty" behaviors they mention.

Then there is the really frightening possibility that the respondents attributing responsibility to the rape victim based on her clothes or drinking or past sexual history actually think that certain types of women deserve to be raped. But this one is too horrible to contemplate.