This article was originally published in the Cornell Daily Sun.
There were recently some new signs on the Arts Quad. With the tagline “Love your body. Defend yourself;” they tell students how to protect themselves from rapists: Don’t wear headphones at night, speak up, fight back, report assault. While I’m sure their creators have good intentions, the signs and the message they send are morally reprehensible.
Take, for instance, that tagline. Its implicit message is that if you don’t defend yourself, then you clearly don’t love your body enough. If you don’t defend yourself, you must not mind very much. If you don’t defend yourself, you deserve to be raped. Maybe you weren’t really raped at all. I’m sure this isn’t the message the signs mean to send. They merely want to warn people of potentially dangerous behaviors.
But when I read “alcohol is the most common date rape drug,” I hear the message loud and clear that I should never drink. If I ever do, someone might take advantage of me, and those signs will judge me complicit. Drinking can be dangerous, yes, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether it is or not, it doesn’t cause rape. Encouraging people to blame themselves for not preventing a horrific personal attack, on the other hand, creates a culture where rape and rapists can thrive.
Not only do such messages fail to address the root cause of rape, they have serious consequences. Do we tell cashiers held at gunpoint that if they truly cared about their stores, they would “fight back” against robbers? No, of course not, because defying a dangerous and malicious individual like a robber, or a rapist, is not going to help your situation. It might escalate it, get you beaten up and maybe killed. But if that happens, at least no one will blame you for “asking for it.”
Almost all the other signs on the Arts Quad similarly blame the victim, while refusing to acknowledge the serious and potentially fatal results of their admonishments. Speak up if you’re uncomfortable? And be socially ostracized for being too sensitive, hurt for resisting or simply ignored? Report your assault? And go through the brutal cross-examination of the police and campus community who refuse to believe you while blaming you for your dress, your intoxication, your gender, your lifestyle and your previous acquaintance with the rapist? (The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.) Your rapist won’t even spend a day in jail. (RAINN estimates that out of every 100 rapes, only 3 rapists will spend even a single day in prison.)