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Preventing Assault Isn’t Just Women’s Work

21 September 2009

Message to Annie LeThis happened a lot when I was at Scripps.

Some girl would get assaulted after a wild night at CMC or Harvey Mudd, and the next week would see, as predictable as clockwork, a whole slew of articles on what women can do to keep themselves safe.

Annie Le wrote one of these herself, a few months before her body was found stuffed into a wall.

Never go out alone. Take a friend with you. Check in with each other frequently throughout the night.

Watch your drink. It’s easy to slip something in if you’re not paying attention.

In fact, maybe you shouldn’t drink at all. Well – one or two is fine. But more than that, and you’re just asking for trouble.

Always leave the party. Don’t ever lie down. Once you lie down, it’s all over. Next thing you know, it’s the next morning & your head is woozy & you can’t for the life of you remember what happened the night before.

Don’t walk near tall bushes. Assailants like to use them for cover. They hide & wait for you to walk along, drunk from your too many drinks, and then they get you. Yeah, that’s how they get you.

I read those articles, and I read the articles about Annie Le, and I wonder why they’re all so focused on what women can do about the problem of assault & sexual assault. Why aren’t we talking about what men can do about assault? (Namely – stop committing them & stop rationalizing away your friends’ acts of violence).

In the wake of Jaycee Dugard and Annie Le, why isn’t my Twitter feed jammed up with articles admonishing men for raping, assaulting, and in Annie Le’s case, killing women? Why do the articles about the Annie Le murder even bring up these “self-help” tips? Yeah, as if there was something Annie Le could have done to protect herself, or Jaycee Dugard to protect herself.

In a September 13 Washington Post article

Just seven months before police found what they believe is Annie Le’s body hidden in a Yale University building, the graduate student wrote a magazine article about how to stay safe on the streets around the Ivy League school.

I like their gender-neutral wording. “How to stay safe.” What Patrick Sanders of the Post means, of course, is how women can stay safe.

On Sunday, police said the 24-year-old bride-to-be, who had been missing since Tuesday and was to marry next Sunday, apparently met a violent death in a secure Yale building accessible only to students and staff.

A violent death! Like what we might all meet if we’re not careful. Don’t go out alone. Watch your drink. Are you sure you want to wear that? Might send the wrong message.

From a September 15 New York Times article

“Last winter, Le, a pharmacology student from Placerville, Calif., wrote a magazine article about how to stay safe around Yale’s campus.”

“The article, titled “Crime and Safety in New Haven,” was published in February in a magazine produced by the university’s medical school. It compares higher instances of robbery in New Haven with cities that house other Ivy League schools and includes an interview with Yale Police Chief James Perrotti, who offers advice such as “pay attention to where you are” and “avoid portraying yourself as a potential victim.”

“In short, New Haven is a city and all cities have their perils,” Le concludes. “But with a little street smarts, one can avoid becoming yet another statistic.”

Leslie Tung, whose daughter is a freshman at Yale, says –

“I don’t think you can worry about living in a college setting…. or else you stop living. [I’m] not worried about my daughter. She knows to lock her door and be careful.”

While not every case of sexual assault is committed by a man, most are. Why are we letting them off the hook?

Women don’t “get” raped, hurt, and killed. Rape & murder aren’t these anonymous things that fall from the sky, completely unattached from human actions. Men rape, hurt, and kill women. Men are responsible for what happened to Jaycee Dugard & Annie Le – not me, not the women themselves, not women period.

A person can only be responsible for his or her own actions. If a man wants to rape & kill me, I can’t be held responsible for that. Only he can. So why am I being told to watch my drink & don’t dress too  slutty when I go out with my friends? Why does Leslie’s daughter have to lock her door & be careful?

Why aren’t the Post & the Times publishing articles that say RAPE IS BAD & INTOLERABLE & WHEN A WOMAN FUCKING SAYS NO, YOU NEED TO LISTEN YOU FUCKING FUCKWAD DISGRACE TO SOCIETY every time a man rapes or kills a woman? Maybe that’s not the Post and the Times’ position on rape & murder. Maybe that’s not their position because it’s women getting hurt.

Maybe if we were less ambivalent as a society about our stance on the rape & murder of women, it wouldn’t happen so freaking often.

– Shiyuan

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 September 2009 1:35 am

    I’d say that one really, really, REALLY important reason why there is no shared sense of accountability amongst the general male community (and there should be a shared sense of responsibility here..which I’ll explain…in a bit) for violence/rape against women is….uh, the general lack of empathy. Men…no, sorry – MOST heterosexual men won’t try to…uhhh…I guess, ’emotionally’ understand what a woman goes through when it comes to the threat of sexual violence.

    And I’m not saying that MOST men wouldn’t shed a tear if they heard/read about a rape crime. That’s just stupid. There are very few people who would be so cold. But there are far too many of us that don’t understand that fear of violation that may come from somewhere we least expected. I’ve never had to rustle up a group of GUYS to go clubbing just so I could PROTECT MYSELF FROM THE INEVITABLE RUSH OF GROPING WOMEN. I’ve never been afraid to walk around at midnight in my neighborhood because of sexual assault (maybe a mugging or something but never the actual physical pain of being violated). Maybe if we understood that sort of feeling more intimately, we’d be more willing to actually take some responsibility.

    And we do need to take responsibility on an emotional level. You’d be surprised at how many ‘guy talk’ conversations consist of ‘how much pussy is walking around’ and ‘that girl is just ASKING for a d*cking’….which is honestly like, two steps away from “but SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT, walking around in that skirt like that.” This is one way we can take more responsibility – at least call other guys out on abusive language like that.

    Yeah it’s kind of (but IMO not really) problematic to label rape as strictly a male act but I would think that if a REAL man heard enough of those statements, they would be mature enough to realize that there must be some kind of REASON for so many women to accuse men like that. Then they could try to understand where all this bitterness comes from and educate themselves. Or instead, they can be a little boy about it and brush it off as another woman who ‘needs a good d*cking.” Pathetic.

  2. Jessica permalink
    22 September 2009 9:24 am

    To you: Word!
    To Kelly: Logic fail!

    To you, things that make me go ‘squee!’:
    -discourse analysis
    -reframing ‘how to stop women from being victims’ to ‘how to stop men from being perpetrators (or colluders)’
    -your anger and outrage

    To Kelly, things that make me go *facepalm*:
    -approaching something as a ‘human’ problem, in the world we live in, = approaching it as a MALE problem. Which would mean we wouldn’t acknowledge the problem at all, since it’s women getting shafted
    -criticising the ‘tone’: I am so ever-loving sick to the bones of hearing people who want social change being ‘benevolently’ advised to make their tone nicer and less hostile if they want to be successful or to ‘suck it up’. Because asking nicely and/or sucking it up has worked so well in the past, has it? “Please, master, I’d like to not be a slave anymore. It’s not really fair, you see…” “I know I’m a woman, but I’d really like to be able to vote. Can you think about it, please?”
    -the myth of isolated perpetrators: We think it’s only a few guys committing violence because we routinely ignore the vast majority of experiences of rape, sexual assault, etc. Girl says it happens, no one believes her. The ‘bigger problem’ is not repeat offenders, it’s repeat denial (from everyone, not just men)!
    -making this a men v. women thing: First of all, you can’t lose 50% of the population. You never had their support to begin with. And it’s not just men who don’t tackle this issue.
    -‘condemning’ or ‘punishing’ all men for the actions of individuals (read: males): That’s not what she said! Shiyuan is condemning everyone (read: women, but especially men because they have more ability in a patriarchal society to change things) who contributes to letting perpetrators get away with what they do.

    My suggestion? Click here:

    • Shiyuan permalink*
      22 September 2009 10:10 am

      That link is GREAT. It highlights so effectively exactly what I think is the problem with how we talk about male violence.

      Also – thanks for pointing out that I’m not anti-men, I’m anti-everybody who remains complicit in a system in which male violence is “not that big of a deal.” That’s men AND women.

      Although not all men perpetrate crimes against women, all men certainly benefit from a system that devalues women. Like not all white people commit hate crimes, all white people certainly benefit from a system that makes white better than anything else. AND SO all the fantastic, inspiring men that Kelly’s talking shouldn’t be offended by my post – I would think they’d be glad. If they’re not, I’d wonder how pro-women they really are. (It’s like the white people who are against racism, but not against the privileges of whiteness they enjoy).

      • Kelly permalink
        22 September 2009 9:07 pm

        Sorry, I just don’t agree. And considering that being passionate about an issue and being stubborn about an issue go hand in hand, I’m betting that neither of us is really going to budge. So here’s my final word on the subject, and then I’m out:

        In my experience, I have *never* seen antagonizing someone make them want to help you with your cause. On the contrary, people become defensive when they’re attacked, and when they’re defensive they’re impossible to reason with. Whether their arguments are stupid or not doesn’t matter at the end of the day; what matters is if they actually enact meaningful changes, or if they defensively cling to what they know. On the other hand, if you show someone the personal benefit in creating a certain change, they are likely to at least hop on the ideological bandwagon, if not be more active.

        So how do we convince people that women’s issues aren’t just important to women? By showing society-wide improvements. In the Middle East, women’s education gains a foothold when the quality of life of an entire village is increased after one of the women gets an education and becomes a doctor, or teaches the others to raise crops. In the US, women’s safety and dignity gain a foothold when the direct benefactors are mothers, wives, and daughters instead of anonymous women.

        Sure, in principle it would be great if we could point out the injustice, and people would take notice and say “yea, that sucks; let’s change that.” But theory and practice are always different. If what it takes is bringing the injustice a little closer to home by making it injustice against a man’s loved ones, then that’s what we need to do. Change is about baby steps, and this is one baby step that is urgently needed. Other societal reforms should follow.

        On the topic of first-time vs. repeat offenders, there doesn’t seem to be too much out on the web. I did find this however; please note the “Premeditation” section.

        (For comparison, the only site I found suggesting the opposite case was here – a rather dubious looking article; my money’s still on the university-sponsored site


        • Shiyuan permalink*
          22 September 2009 9:48 pm

          Thanks for responding & engaging – I really appreciate it. I hope I haven’t antagonized you too much & that you’ll come back later.

          • Kelly permalink
            22 September 2009 10:18 pm

            Always up for a mature debate. Thanks for creating a space for one. I’ll check back in. Good luck with the magazine!

        • 25 September 2009 9:11 pm

          Hmm, that’s the problem, isn’t it? When men make sexist jokes and women get offended, we’re told not to take it so personally. When feminists make cogent arguments about the existence and dominance of rape culture in the US, men get waaaay up in arms saying that 1) they’re not rapists thankyouverymuch and 2) how dare we make light of rape by connecting the casual, everyday offhanded comments about women’s bodies with sexual assault?

          Shifting the focus from women being careful to men – EVERY MAN – recognizing their complicity in rape culture is not antagonistic, it’s necessary. The media has a bad habit of reporting cases like Annie Le’s as a confluence of bad circumstances and a bad apple. We all know this is not the case, as before Annie there was Jaycee, before Jaycee there were the five women George Sodini massacred in that gym, and before that 50% of your friends and 50% of my friends…

          And that’s not even counting the Rihannas, Tila Tequilas, and Erin Andrews’s of the world, who kept their lives but were also victim to a rape culture that condones violence against women because the bitches were asking for it by being uppity/obnoxious/argumentative/beautiful/successful/unafraid.

          Assault will never go away just by women being careful, because assault is not about sex but power.

  3. Kelly permalink
    22 September 2009 12:24 am

    Did your Google search and I’m physically repulsed. There’s no denying this is worse than appalling. I still think a different approach is necessary, though, for a few reasons.

    1) The cultures in the Congo and where the (generic) Post and Times are likely read are very, very different. While the audiences of the Post and Times are potential aid donors and could potentially help halt atrocities in the Congo, blaming the male readership for offenses committed far, far away in a very different context is not going to help solve the problem. No one likes getting false blame, and you’re likely to ostracize your male readers that way (and who can blame them? *I* wouldn’t want to have those crimes pinned on me or “my kind” – and my reaction would likely be anger instead of a desire to reform.). Instead, this problem should be approached as a *human* problem, not male or female. These are crimes against wives, mothers, and daughters – people that the male readership likely cares for and wants to protect. Bottom line: as terrible as these crimes are, I think this discussion is more about how to reform American cultuer (as a starting point). If not, I think that’s a good starting point; I’m going to assume we’re both on that same page.

    2) Of the six close female friends I have, 50% have been sexually assaulted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is higher, and some just haven’t shared. And these are women from middle class families who grew up in decent or better neighborhoods. So I’m not surprised by these statistics. However, of the hundreds of men each of these women knows, only one man acted criminally against her. Sure, there are lots of abuse survivors. But that doesn’t mean that there are an equal number of abuse perpetrators. I think the bigger problem is repeat offenders.

    3) On a related note, I know some *fantastic*, inspiring men. They care about those around them, they work hard, they respect women, and they’re just generally really good people. It angers *me* when these wonderful people are treated as bad apples, too, because they don’t deserve it. They’re doing their best to make the world a more just place, too. And I know it angers them, and turns them off to the feminist movement. It’s like shooting ourselves in the foot. These men aren’t going to become less likely to change from good guys into rapists if they’re chastised for the actions of someone else. Instead, they’re likely to decide that their help with the issue is obviously not welcome, and they’ll likely try to avoid it.

    I’m not acting as an apologist for abuse perpetrators and murderers; I have little pity for them. But just as patriarchal societies can’t afford to waste the talents of 50% of their population in today’s competitive world (a point I hope we can all agree on), we can’t afford to lose the support of 50% of our population in tackling this persistent issue. We *need* to work together to stop violence against the mothers and daughters of both men and women.

  4. Kelly permalink
    21 September 2009 9:47 pm

    Fact: the vast majority of the male population does not commit murder or rape.

    It is preposterous to suggest that we punish and condemn everyone who *happens* to be born male for the actions of individuals. It’s just as ridiculous as confining everyone who *happens* to be born female to the kitchen barefoot. Or as racial profiling. What needs to be changed are societal attitudes; however, ostracizing 50% of society is not the way to do that. Sure – a little outrage over violence against women is in order. But there’s nothing offensive about teaching women some reasonable steps to take to protect themselves. No one’s suggesting women hide themselves indoors. No one’s suggesting male escorts at all times. What is suggested are small adjustments that don’t need to interfere in a major way with a woman’s life. These are methods of empowering women to take their safety into their own hands, and in fact they are reasonable safety precautions for men *and* women in many city settings. A staggering-drunk man is a great target for crime, too…

    So, from one feminist to another: suck it up. Articles with safety tips for women certainly aren’t at the root of inequality, and complaining about them certainly isn’t going to help women’s status. If we’re going to tackle violence against women (and it’s certainly an important issue), let’s do it in a way that encourages and welcomes the support of our male counterparts instead of in a manner that just accuses the innocent right along with the guilty.

    • Kelly permalink
      21 September 2009 10:33 pm

      Reading back over that, maybe what I should say is:

      I’m not trying to start a flame war (and sorry if it seems that way). I (obviously) understand strong reactions to things you’re passionate about, and the need to vent. But if you’re trying to establish a good reputation for your magazine (as an editorial or not), then it might not be the best place to vent. It seems like that’s what’s happening here. Perhaps more voices from either side of the debate, or more facts to support, or less of an attack on the population. Anger, outrage, and attack are appropriate in different contexts.

      Best of luck with the ‘zine!

      • Shiyuan permalink*
        21 September 2009 11:01 pm

        I think we disagree on a fundamental point. You think that sexual violence is a problem of a few bad apples – that is, a small minority of men commit all the crimes, & their actions, however abhorrent, do not reflect on society as a whole. I think that sexual violence is a systemic problem – that more men cross the line than you think, that more women experience assault than you know, and that all of our silences contribute to an environment that’s hostile towards women & forgiving towards men.

        Nobody really knows how many women will become victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. Some reports say as few as 25%, others say it could be 50% or 60%. If 50% of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, you can bet its not 1 or 2 guys doing all the assaulting. I mean, they’d have to be doing it from dawn to dusk. (That’s what I call hard work).

        50% of women! We should be more than “a little outraged” at 50% of women being assaulted. I don’t want to hold hands with our “male counterparts” & tell them its alright that 25-50% of women will be assaulted in their lifetime, or that 25% of women will be assaulted while they’re at college. I want to shake them about the shoulders & tell them its NOT ALRIGHT. I’m not okay with it, they shouldn’t be okay with it, and none of us should look the other way while half of humanity gets quietly snuffed out. (Google “rape” and “the Congo.” You’ll see what I mean.)

        • Kelly permalink
          22 September 2009 12:26 am

          Shoot. Thought I replied here. See above please! And thanks for the civil discussion =) While I’m at it (since I can’t seem to stop myself today), I’ll add that I do agree with you that there’s something systemically wrong with our culture as far as violence against women goes. I think we just disagree about how to tackle that problem. And now I’m done (for the time being).

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