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Getting Smart About Keeping Safe
Every now and then I really tick feminists off, which is funny, because most people who know me think of me as rather a feminist, at least in Christian circles. I like to think of myself more as common sense, personally.

But whether it's my opinions on daycare or that women should at least try to look pretty for their husbands, I tick off lots of people who think I'm trying to keep us in our place. And that's not my point at all.

My goal is to help women live the abundant lives they were created to live, and that means embracing relationship, finding their purpose in Christ, and pressing forward to making this world a better place.

We don't do that by being stupid and making excuses. And let me tell you about the things I say that are often taken as the most offensive. Usually it concerns the idea of modesty: that women don't understand a man's sex drive, which is so closely linked to sight. And when young teens dress in a revealing manner, they are inviting guys to think of them in that way. Those guys aren't thinking: wow, she's pretty! They're thinking, "Wow, she has nice ---- ". Get it?

It was this column that set it off. Since writing it, I've received a ton of emails accusing me of saying that if these girls get raped, it's their fault. Of course I don't believe that! The blame lies solely at the feet of the guy who raped her, and he should be punished to the full extent of the law.

But does it follow that just because the guy SHOULD be punished, and just because it IS the guy's fault, that girls should therefore dress however they want? I don't think so, because it's just plain stupid. And I don't abide by stupidity.

When I was in university twenty years ago, the administration pushed a "No means no" campaign. The emphasis was on insisting that males obtain proper consent before having sex. If the girl was drunk, she couldn't give consent, and it would be considered rape. Everywhere you went on campus were "no means no" posters, with pictures of alcohol.

I always wondered, "why would a girl go to a house where there are a bunch of buys and drink that much in the first place?" Does that mean that it's her fault if she gets drunk? Again, no. But just because it's not your fault doesn't mean it's not dangerous. God won't hold you responsible for what someone else does to you, but that's no reason not to raise our girls to be smart.

We're spending so much time trying to ram it into boys' heads that if they force sex on a girl who is drunk, or high, or hasn't explicitly said yes that it's rape, but we've stopped telling girls that you shouldn't go to a boy's apartment alone, you shouldn't consume alcohol in a guy's place, you shouldn't walk home in the dark alone, you shouldn't accept a ride from someone you barely know (and often even from someone you do know).

Most sexual assaults, after all, happen between two people who already know each other. They're not random strangers grabbing you from behind. And what that says to me is that many sexual assaults could be avoided if the girls acted smarter. Please understand: I'm not saying that if a girl is assaulted it's her fault. But I am saying that perhaps we should teach our daughters some basic common sense things that our mothers knew, but that our generation stopped being taught because it violated feminist principles.

Here, then, is the list of what I am teaching my daughters:

1. Never go near a guy in a parked car. If he wants directions, stand far back and talk loudly. If you think you're being followed by a car, turn around and walk in the opposite direction (ie. towards the car). Don't go near a woman asking directions in a parked car, either. My fellow Canadians will remember Kristen French, who was nabbed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka when pretty Karla stopped and leaned out a window with a map to ask her for help. I tell my daughters to be wary of all cars, even those with women.

2. Never consume alcohol. Period. If they want to drink once they're married, I'm fine with that. But it compromises your judgment, and you need that. To other kids who are not my daughters, and who are not so inclined to listen to me, I would say: do not drink outside of your own home/apartment. Never drink unless you are in the presence of at least one other female who is not drinking as much as you are.

3. Don't be alone in a boy's room. Don't let him into your room. If you're engaged, and you're older, keep the door open. Live with roommates and make sure they're around. And if you ever get weird vibes with a guy you're dating, leave.

4. Try as hard as you can not to accept rides from people you don't know very well. Try to make sure there are girls in the car, too. If that's not possible, or if it's a guy you've been dating for a while, don't drive for the sake of driving. Drive because you have somewhere to go and you're expected there at a certain time. Other than that, try to walk. It's cheaper and healthier.

5. Watch what you wear. Give off the impression that you want to be treated with class. Don't give off the impression that you're interested in sex, because that's how people will start to see you. Dress to attract the kind of person you want (though of course we have to remember that many people who rape appear like upstanding citizens).

6. If you walk in the dark, walk with your keys in one hand and your cell phone in the other.

7. Live with other girls. Don't live alone. Always have a roommate.

8. Make sure someone always knows where you're supposed to be, and what time you're supposed to be home.

9. Have a code word you can say to your friend or parent on the phone when you are in trouble.

Will these rules mean that they won't be assaulted? No. Nothing can guarantee anything. But I still think it's better to be wise and overcautious than to be silly and dangerous when it comes to something as serious as sexual assault.

So, to reiterate, if someone attacks you, that is never your fault.

At the same time, though, we should all try as hard as possible to avoid danger. We can never eliminate the risk, but we can reduce it. And if it's possible to reduce it, then isn't that a worthy goal?

None of this should have any bearing on feminism. I know at one point women were blamed for rape based on what they were wearing, because they "asked for it", or based on their profession, or even based on the fact that they were married to the potential rapist (a husband can't rape his wife, after all, so the thought went). All of these things were archaic and evil, and I'm glad they're gone. Rape is rape.

But again, just because the guy should be held morally and legally responsible for rape does not mean that women should just assume they can do whatever they want and thus be safe. The world doesn't work that way. Whether we like it or not, we are the weaker sex. We are vulnerable. It's up to us to be smart and reduce the risk. No, we can't eliminate it. But I'd rather teach my girls at least how to reduce it, instead of saying, "rape is never your fault!", and leaving it at that. I want to prepare them for the real world. Don't you?


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At 7:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Rape certainly is rape, and not the woman's fault, no matter what. Having said that, I'll just say the obvious: most women who claim to have been raped in drinking situations like frat parties certainly *did* ask for it, and then lie about their consent later when they regret having cheerfully gone to bed with a guy after drinking too much.

We put way too much emphasis on a guy needing to get consent, when the truth is, short of video, no amount of consent-gathering is going to be enough when the girl who drank too much decides she doesn't want word to get out about who and how many she slept with. Being drunk doesn't absolve her of responsibility any more than it does him.


At 7:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Which brings me to the point I would have made if I didn't get distracted by coffee: We really need to make sure our boys know to stay away from those situations, too! Otherwise, he may be "asking for it" when he falls into a situation where is accused of rape.


At 7:48 AM , Blogger Jennifer said…

Someone I know was going off a few weeks ago about how a woman should have a right to walk in dark alleys at night, that doing so was not an invitation to rape. Well, of course not. That doesn't change the fact, however, that there are predators out there who lie in wait in just such places.

I think sometimes we worry too much about what SHOULD be, and not what IS, when it comes to rape. No, being drunk does not make it a woman's fault if she gets raped. The way she dresses should not be used as an excuse, nor where she is, nor how she acts. BUT there are predators out there - and while I don't think the way we dress is going to make a difference one way or another to a predator, where we are, how capable we are of defending ourselves, or if we are physically isolated from protection, are all things that do make a difference to predators.

Should we be able to go wherever we want and do whatever we want without fear of being assaulted? Yes. Can we? No, because there are people of evil intent everywhere. I would no more go to a party and get drunk, than I would post my social security number on the internet. Of the two, I'd rather put my SS# out there - it would be safer.

(And - Of all the women I've known who have been raped, I've only known one woman who was attacked by a stranger. Everyone else was assaulted by a man they knew and trusted.)


At 8:27 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Jennifer, so true! Thank you for your comment. I don't really have anything to add.

Cindy--I think you're right to focus on the guy as well. I wouldn't necessarily say that "most" women who were drunk asked for it, but drinking certainly is stupid in those situations!

But we have to teach our sons, too, never to be alone with a drunk girl. They could turn around and accuse the boys of rape. In fact, many women HAVE consented (albeit in a drunken state), and then changed their minds afterwards. I wouldn't say that's the majority, of course, but it happens. Don't put yourself in a position where someone could accuse you of anything.

We shouldn't be having sex outside of marriage anyway, but unfortunately the world does not agree with us on that one. So I would tell my boys: don't be drunk with the opposite sex. Don't go near a girl who is drunk. It's just safer.


At 10:07 AM , Blogger Barb, sfo said…

Thank you! I'll be sharing this info with my daughter, for sure!


At 12:18 PM , Anonymous Nebby said…

Great advice. Thank you so much for it. Especially as regards the boys, I think of the Bible's injunction that an elder should be "above reproach." Of course tenage boys are not elders but they may be someday. Being above reproach to me means as far as possible not putting yourself in situations that someone could later misconstrue, like being alone with someone of the opposite sex with the door closed.


At 9:16 PM , Blogger Tracey said…

Sheila, I love your common sense approach to womanhood.


At 11:32 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

If does fairly boggle my mind the lengths some people will go to, to avoid common sense.

Good points, Sheila. And good advice for the young men, too - don't get in a situation where you could be (falsely or truly) accused of anything.

Sadly, that rules out a few things - like babysitting.



At 1:03 AM , Blogger Carolyn said…

I will be sharing this post with my daughter just to reinforce that it is not just her overprotective paranoid mumma saying this. Our girls are at risk and do need to take responsibility to ensure in as much as it depends on them that they use good judgement and a dollop of common sense!!
Thanks for the discussion starter!


At 9:34 AM , Anonymous kelly O said…

You make some great points about important things to teach our daughters....but i think there are two things still worth mentioning.
Although i believe modesty is a good idea for many reasons, it has no place in the rape discussion. Modest girls get raped.Immodest girls get raped. The problem with the idea that modest clothes will reduce your chances of getting raped is that it assumes that Rape is primarily a sexual act. It is not; it's a violent act. It's about control, not Lust. If a rapist just wanted sexual gratification he could easily enough find a willing participant...but instead he chooses to violate and control an unwilling one.
Which brings me to my second point: While all these things are good things to teach our daughters (and i will certainly be teaching my daughters to try to stay safe) they don't actually reduce sexual assaults. At best, these things will insure that it's somebody else's daughter who gets raped.
In your article "actions have consequences" you gave a couple examples of women that were assaulted and suggested that this was a consequence of their actions. I hope you will reconsider that point of view and consider an apology to those reading who may have been hurt by it. Women who have been sexually assaulted are already experiencing a great deal of hurt and the community (especially the christian community) should be able to support and help them without criticizing them when they are most vulnerable.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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