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More Thoughts on Helping Girls Stay Safe
A while ago I wrote a blog post on how parents can help their girls reduce the risk of sexual assault. I was careful to say that we could never entirely eliminate it; but that we should do what we can to help our girls be aware of their surroundings, act responsibly and cautiously, and hopefully stay a little safer!

I really tried to state that I do not blame women for sexual assault. But just because they are not to blame does not mean that we can't take preventative action. Here's part of what I wrote:

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 is raped? 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).

I know this is a sensitive subject, because I know many have been assaulted and there was absolutely nothing you could have done. That is the nature of the crime. But if there are steps that can reduce the risk, should we not take them?

That's the issue that I was trying to raise, but unfortunately I still raised some qualms of some readers. One commenter said this:

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.

I have a lot to say on this, and I'll probably make it into two long blog posts. I'm going to address the modesty issue in another post, because it's an issue of itself. But let me start with part of this. The big issue that this woman raises is that, even though it's good to teach our girls about safety, the fact is that if we say that certain things can reduce rape, we're really blaming the victim. (Read my column on Actions have consequences here for examples of stupid things women did).

First, I am not blaming women at all. There is this misconception that says that if we say that we can reduce the risk, we are therefore blaming people if they do get raped. I think that's faulty logic.

Look at it this way. If your goal is to reduce rape, and by lecturing boys and men you could reduce it by 5%, and by changing women's behaviour you could reduce it by another 10%, is it not still worth trying to change women's behaviour, even if it doesn't reduce the risk entirely? If we can't reduce the risk completely, should we not still be be talking about changing girls' behaviour? After all, if changing behaviour is effective (and I think staying away from drunken parties does make you safer), then isn't that worth teaching our daughters?

I am less likely to die in an automobile accident than many. I wear my seatbelt always. I obey the rules. I do not drink and drive at all. But I can't eliminate the risk, because others could hit me, or I could hit bad weather. Should I thus throw my hands up in despair and say, "I guess there's no point in wearing my seatbelt, since I can't eliminate the risk"? That would be insane. We do what we can, accepting the fact that it will never be completely enough. But it is something. And I think that something is worth doing.

Here's another thought: The rate of rape in a society goes down when women have more protection. In the Middle Ages, for instance, rape was endemic. Men faced few consequences if they raped, and rich men had incredible power over poor women. Roads were deserted and dangerous places. Sexual assault was extremely common.

Similarly, sexual assault is very common in some countries today, like Kenya, where I have travelled extensively. When girls have no protection from family members, and hte law is unlikely to help, they are vulnerable.

In contrast, sexual assault is less common here than it was in history or in other places. I am not saying it does not occur; only that it does not occur as frequently. Why? Part of it is that men had more opportunity in the past, and have more opportunity in other places. I think doing what we can to decrease the opportunity, then, seems like a worthwhile goal. And let's point out that even in our society, those in the most vulnerable sector are also more likely to be raped. Prostitutes, for example, are commonly raped. Children of single mothers are more likely to be assaulted than children of two married, biological parents. Having protection matters.

So we should do what we can to make sure that our daughters have protection. We should meet the men they're with. We should let them know of our presence (and especially our husband's presence, if my readers are married). We should teach our girls how the laws, and how to phone the police. They should be knowledgeable so that they give the impression, "mess with me and you'll pay."

The commenter suggested, though, that if we do this, it will simply be other people's daughters that are raped. I'm unsure what she wants the alternative to be. Is it better if all girls have an equal chance? Is equality what we're looking for? I think a parent's main job is to protect his or her children. A mom was put on this earth to look after her offspring. Teaching our girls to be protected from rape is part of that.

But let's look at this historical analogy again. If the commenter is saying that by teaching our girls to be safe, some other girl will just be raped, then she is perhaps arguing that rape is a constant; that if a rapist doesn't rape our daughter, he's likely to rape another.

That's not true. If it were, rape rates would be even across history and across cultures. But they're not. They're extremely divergent, meaning that what influences rape is both culture and opportunity. If we limit the opportunity, we limit rape. It's not like someone will try to rape your daughter, but if he fails he'll turn to another. It's that people tend to take advantage of opportunities. Few rapes are planned out ahead of time. The ones that are tend to be stranger rapes and kidnappings, and those likely will occur to someone else if they don't occur to your daughter. But those are the vast exception, not the rule. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes. They're assaults of opportunity. Take away the opportunity, and you decrease rape.

And if we start a campaign to educate our girls on how to act, how to avoid alcohol, how to avoid certain types of parties, how to avoid giving off certain messages, then we will also change the culture. Let's make it cool to be safe. Let's make it uncool to take risks. Do this, and we don't just affect our daughters; we affect other people's daughters, too. I don't just tell my daughters to be safe; I talk to their friends about it. I talk to my nieces about it. I talk to our youth group about what's safe and what's not. It's about protecting them and changing the culture.

Finally, let me tackle the point she made that rape is about power, not about sex. I have a Master's degree in Sociology. I heard this backwards and forwards. In our academic community, everything boils down to power. Rape is about power. Sex is about power. And it all started from Marx, who boiled everything down to power, which he defined as controlling the means of production.

Why is this important? Because modern ideologies that stress power above all else do so for a purpose: they are substituting power and victimhood for good and bad. Instead of talking about sin and evil, they talk about oppressor and oppressed. Marxism at its core is atheistic. Hence, it had to get rid of morality, and it did so by talking about power rather than about right and wrong.

Feminism has done the same thing, and hence we hear over and over again that rape is about power. Men rape even though they can find willing participants. But is this true? Personally, I think rape is a combination of lust and power or pride. It's that urge to control that is endemic to human evil, the root of pride--that I am what matters. But it is also about lust. Most rapes, when they occur, are in highly sexualized situations, usually with alcohol involved. They are not men trying to wield power over another as much as they are men out of control. Certainly some men do rape with power as the main goal; they seek to humiliate their victims. Who in Canada, for instance, can forget our notorious Paul Bernardo, who still gives me nightmares? But too often we believe that the Paul Bernardos are the face of rape, rather than the university coed who our daughter is dating, who likes beer just a little too much. Most rapists will not grab girls off the street; most won't even rape in normal situations. But get them alone, with a girl, with alcohol and lots of music, or after some heavy petting in the car, and an evil persona emerges. It's lust, too.

Another post on modesty is coming up, but let me leave it at this. I know many of you reading this have been sexually assaulted. I know you are scarred. I talk to women all the time who have had these horrible wounds in their lives. And you, of all people, know how awful it is. You, of all people, want this to stop happening. So do I. I don't want my daughters hurt, or their friends, or anyone I know. But I know I can't prevent all rapes. Sometimes those that seem the most innocent end up being the ones to turn on us. All too often we are betrayed by those who should protect us. But at the same time, frequently women are assaulted after putting themselves in difficult positions. If we can teach women not to put themselves in those positions, we can potentially save many from the pain that all too many of you have been through. My goal is not to blame you; the blame lies solely at the hands of the men who do this. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take precautions. And that is all I'm trying to get moms to teach their daughters to do.

Any follow up thoughts? I'll post more on modesty later!


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At 9:04 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Every time I think I couldn't agree with you more, Sheila, you find a way to make me agree with you more. When you said this:

Why is this important? Because modern ideologies that stress power above all else do so for a purpose: they are substituting power and victimhood for good and bad. Instead of talking about sin and evil, they talk about oppressor and oppressed. Marxism at its core is atheistic. Hence, it had to get rid of morality, and it did so by talking about power rather than about right and wrong.

I found myself thinking, "Amen!"
To remove the lustful, sexual aspect of rape from it is an attempt to absolve women of our responsibility to protect ourselves.

You made several excellent points, but a key one is that the boogie man in hiding behind the bush (who would rape just about anyone) represents a very small portion of sexual predators.

Because we know that's true, it sugests that there are things that we can do to make ourselves (and our daughters) more safe.

The commenter you referenced would be wise to do what she can to protect herself and her daughters as well.


At 9:19 AM , Blogger Gretchen said…

As an assault victim, I have to agree with you. I and the girls I knew who were assaulted were in positions of risk. We put ourselves in bad situations that we and others had convinced ourselves were perfectly normal and safe. In the average college scene, it is bandied about that parties are normal and safe, it will happen to SOMEONE, but probably not you, and the guy that you should most fear is not the guy down the hall from you who is so funny and helpful, but the frat guy at the party that the guy down the hall TAKES you to.

It is preached that partying and drinking and "making friends" at parties is part of college. It is normal and it is fine. You will be fine. You'll wake up with a hangover maybe, but you'll be fine.

Not so. Most of these parties are at houses or apartments that college co-eds rent with their buddies. They are full of very loud music, very loud people, and lots and lots of booze. There are numerous ways that you and your friends get separated from each other- one goes outside for a smoke that a guy offers. She's never had a cigarette before, but hey, it's college! Another goes into the kitchen for another beer with a new "friend" she's just met and the third goes down into the basement with a couple of guys to see their cool beer pong table that a couple of their other guy friends are playing on. It's that easy.

I'm not making college guys out to be monsters. Most of them aren't. Some of them are. But all of them are hyper-sexualized,hyper-hormonal, and on their own for probably the first time in their lives. They've been told that college is the time when girls stop being "teases" like they were in high school and START being hyper-sexualized, permissive college girls who will put out with anyone, anywhere, anytime. (Don't believe me? Watch any "coming of age" college movie- American Pie, High Fidelity, VanWilder, etc)

No longer are girls to be safe. No more are boys taught to be gentlemen. No more is it considered wrong or below-board to go to bed with someone you just met.

Girls are set up by their circumstances. Guys are suddenly playing by a new set of rules. And when they cross the line that they KNOW is there, they ARE responsible. They are NOT blameless. They are NOT to be pitied.

But. There are things you can do to be safe. YES, in a perfect world we could do anything we wanted and know that we were safe. In the Millenium, that will be true. But for now, in a fallen world, it's not. And it won't be. But YOU and YOUR DAUGHTER can be one less statistic. One less story talked over with shaking heads and "too bad, too bad". You can be smart. Stop getting defensive and combative about the issue and start learning what WORKS. Start learning what will protect you and what will help you, rather than what "should" be and what is or isn't your responsibility.


At 9:19 AM , Blogger Gretchen said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 9:19 AM , Blogger Gretchen said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 7:14 PM , Anonymous Caleb John said…

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


At 10:08 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Terry, thanks for your kind words! I wish people would stop seeing rape as that "boogie man" and start realizing that it usually is someone you know. Which means that we do have a bit of power over our circumstances. It doesn't mean we can always stay safe, but we can be a little smarter!

And Gretchen, I so appreciate your comments, especially since you've lived through it. I'm glad you see my point: it's not to blame victims, but to empower all women not to have to live through this. Your comment was just excellent, and sums up my argument perfectly!


At 10:37 AM , Anonymous Heather Laurie said…

Shelia thank you for posting and continuing to follow a touchy subject. You are absolutely right, ladies you have to protect yourselves in passive and active ways.
We are all for teaching ladies to fight off a man when things have gone too far. But what about more passive protective measures.
Modesty IS a major concern. It projects what and how you want other to treat you. In my local high schools and colleges the party styles scream, "Don't you want me!"
Awareness of where and when you are. Going out with friends in normal. That's fine but park under a light. Cut the evening at the door not the livingroom sleeper sofa.
Tone. Too many ladies try to make everything okay and smooth out the tension of the evening, leaving a very confused scene. In which some men will push until you basically say yes and you leave feeling abused.
My husband would teach co-eds at our local college how to protect themselves. The first thing they talked about situational awareness. It is common sense. Just because you have the right to wear or be where ever you want that does not make it the best thing for your health and well being.
Thank you Shelia!!!
God bless
Heather Laurie

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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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