SlutWalk is coming to Singapore. And I’m not pleased.
My problem with SlutWalk is NOT about its goal to redefine the word ‘slut’, encouraging women to express their sexuality, or even its stance that rape is a crime. Had SlutWalk defined its goals as such, I wouldn’t have slammed it. I might have encouraged it. But SlutWalk perpetuates myths and fallacies about rape and victim-blaming, and I can’t tolerate that.
Things that matter
SlutWalk Singapore x Kuala Lumpur’s Facebook page says that one of its goals is ‘to stop victim-blaming in sexual assault, which is a crime that has nothing to do with what we wear or even sex.’ This reveals a dangerous misunderstanding of sexual assault.
Clothing matters. Rapists prefer women who wear clothes that are easy to remove. Rapists want to do the deed as quickly as possible, to minimise risk to themselves. The more time they spend removing clothes, the more time the victim has to defend herself and call attention to the rape-in-progress. Rapists aren’t necessarily turned on by scantily clad targets – but they will prefer targets who are easier to attack.
Sex matters. Most rapists are men who target women. Therefore, women are more at risk than men.
Such a statement betrays a shallow understanding of rape, and it shows again and again in SlutWalk’s statements and activities.
Rapists don’t care
SlutWalk says ‘We need to teach “DO NOT RAPE” instead of “do not get raped”.’ This is admirable. But SlutWalk is going the wrong way. SlutWalk’s main vehicle is a protest march, largely by young women. Members also conduct workshops, fora and meetings. This approach will not work.
A protest march is a public expression of group opinion – but rapists don’t care. They don’t see themselves as part of society. (More on that below.) Protests can’t pressure someone who won’t feel it.
Workshops, fora and meetings attract people who have a stake in the topic. Rapists do not. They won’t show up. They may know someone who attended such a workshop – so they’ll just take her and her friends off their target list, if they care. Or put them on the list, if they care that much. (Again, more below.)
Profile of Rape
SlutWalk’s fundamental problem is its ignorance of rape and rapists.
A complete dissertation on sexual assault is beyond the scope of this blog. I recommend reading this page, all the links on the main article, AND all the links on each sub-page for an overview on rape. Especially this. At the risk of oversimplification, though, there are two kinds of rapists: predatory and social.
A predatory rapist is the stereotype of a rapist. He’s portrayed jumping out of a dark corner and ambushing helpless young women. Such a person is probably antisocial – he doesn’t care about, and violates, the rights of others. There are differing estimates on the rapes caused by predatory rapists. Marc MacYoung suggests multiple figures, none of them exceeding 15%. Statistically speaking, a woman is less likely to be attacked by a predatory rapist.
Which means she is more likely to be attacked by a social rapist. A social rapist is someone known to the victim. He’s an abusive, self-centred, angry, and violent bully known to the victim. He’s an acquaintance, a friend, a lover, a husband, or a relative. The degree of probability decreases with each level of intimacy. But the amount of effort needed to recognise the threat increases. So is the effort needed to deal with them. It’s easy to close an eye or justify the same behaviour we would condemn in a complete stranger in order to keep the peace and maintain the relationship. Modern women are socially trained to smooth things over in times of interpersonal conflict. It’s not wrong, but social rapists abuse that mechanism to get away with their behaviour.
A predatory rapist isn’t moved by popular outrage. He doesn’t even see himself as part of society. A social rapist doesn’t care…and may turn on ‘his’ woman if he learns she took part in something like SlutWalk. It’s not rape to him; he’s just putting her in his place.
The heart of SlutWalk’s stance on rape is its attack on ‘victim-blaming’. SlutWalk believes that society pins all the ‘blame’ of a rape on the victim instead of the rapist. On the surface, this is only logical. A rapist committed a rape, therefore the rapist is to blame. But this is a shallow way of looking at rape – the rape probably occurred because the victim didn’t look after herself.
Predatory rapists like to ambush their targets. The key word is ambush. They wait in dark, secluded areas, and assess everybody who walk by. As soon as they see a target, they strike. Predators can be avoided by going where they can’t hide and not provoking an attack. Personal safety is beyond the scope of this blog, but for more information, there are plenty of books and websites available. I favour Marc MacYoung, Gavin De Becker, and Rory Miller. While geared towards an American audience, much of what they say applies across cultures and borders. More importantly, they make sense, and their tactics work.
Social rapists are people you interact with. To avoid being raped by them, cut them out of your life, and spread the word about them. The closer they are to you, the more difficult it is to do it. It is more difficult to ditch an acquaintance than a boss, coworker, or spouse. But cutting off potential threats in your innermost social circles is always preferable to the trauma of sexual violence, or having to inflict violence to prevent it. Preserving your health, mental, emotional and physical, outweighs the costs of removing threats. Further, potential rapists tend to fit a profile: if you know what to look for, you can take appropriate measures. They’re not that difficult to spot; they tend to be misogynistic bullies or slick charmers.
Most rapes occur because a woman took a risk, and got burned. She took a risk by walking down a dark alley, by ignoring the three young men lined up against a wall, by leaving a charming handsome stranger alone with her drink, by continuing to live with her abusive husband, and she paid the price. But these are avoidable risks. Most crimes occur this way. It’s controllable, even eliminated in some cases.
I advocate personal responsibility. It is NOT mutually exclusive with putting an end to victim blaming. But SlutWalk’s strident call to end victim blaming is fundamentally flawed: victim-blaming, or lack of it, occurs AFTER the rape has occurred. It’s a Band-aid on an open wound. I’d rather prevent the rape from happening, and that means looking after yourself.
By learning how to stay safe, and putting these theories into practice, anybody can avoid most, if not all, kinds of crime. Including and especially rape. SlutWalk doesn’t recognise that personal safety is a personal responsibility. The victim didn’t encourage someone to attack her, but she brought herself into the circumstances that allowed someone to attack her.
Sense, not just passion
SlutWalk’s focus on rape has more passion than reason. It repeats the tired slogans of ending victim-blaming without understanding criminal behaviour and personal safety. Instead of teaching women to take care of themselves, SlutWalk chose to send a message that rapists will not acknowledge. Instead of understanding rape, SlutWalk perpetuated anti-victim-blaming. Instead of standing for personal safety, it stands against rape.
SlutWalk is clearly founded on passion. But passion is not enough. Its mission statement is a collection of feel-good statements, not an attempt to address reality. Its activities call for solidarity among fellow believers instead of addressing potential and actual rapists. As an anti-rape platform, SlutWalk is doomed.