Do women "ask for it?"
If women dressed more modestly, would they be less likely to be raped?
By Shawn Lawrence Otto | Jun 24, 2011 | Comments (3)
Sheril Kirshenbaum has a new piece out on Canada's National Post. It's a counterpoint to some Canadian news covereage of a Toronto policeman who suggested that if women dressed more modestly they would be less likely to be raped.
This is a claim I've heard from several sources lately, but is it true? Despite the latest "slut walk" movement to push back on this notion, there's a reason moms tell their daughters not to dress like a "slut." It's generally demeaning to your own sense of yourself - and the sense others have of you - not as a sex object but as a whole human being, sexual but also intellectual and social and emotional and professional and spiritual and athletic.
But is the oversexing of women in our culture encouraging men to rape them or somehow causing more men to simply "lose control?" Is dressing suggestively "asking for it?" The idea presumes that men's default setting is rape and unfettered sexual aggression and it's up to women to avoid that by "not encouraging it." As a man I think this cliche is insulting, but setting that aside, is it true? The DOJ's National Institute of Justice has a report out on rape incidence that has some statistics that suggest that the rate of rape in the US may in fact be increasing:
The largest jump seems to correlate with the sexual revolution and the baby boomer generation, and has climbed since then as pop culture has become more sexualized. But can we conclude it is sociological? Or could it be generational or "something in the water?"
Rape occurs in all societies, modern and primitive, as well as other species like orangutans. Most rapists are not psychotic or otherwise mentally disturbed and most are not strangers - they are most often someone the rape victim knows - and they come from all walks of life. Given that, is it partially a woman's fault if she is raped? If so, it seems an awful a lot of women have been asking for it; nearly one out of five:
Additionally, by that logic, it seems kids are especially asking for it with their suggestive ways:
The assumption that victims are somehow to blame for their rape persists despite these sobering figures. Why?
There is a lot of interesting science around something called the Just World Belief theory. For example, the tendency to blame the victim, which is unusually high in Americans, is an effort, psychologists say, to maintain the belief that the world is just and people get what they deserve.
Therefore, a woman who was raped in her apartment by a stranger who sneaked in while she was taking out the trash described how friends and colleagues suggested that she was partly to blame because of her “‘negative attitude’ that might have ‘attracted’ more ‘negativity,’” or because she had “’bad karma’ from a ‘previous life.’” A close friend told her she had “asked for it” by choosing to live in that particular neighborhood.
Similarly, a crime victim must have been in the wrong place; a sick person must have done something to deserve it. If a young girl had just kept her "goods" better covered, you know, out of sight, out of mind, as in the Victorian era - or a young boy, since 48% of first male rape victims are under 12 - well then the rapist wouldn't have lost control. If we believe we are responsible for our circumstances, this prejudice makes sense.
Of course, degrees of just world belief span the ideological spectrum even in America, and correlate to some degree with political ideology. Strong just world believers tend to be more economically and politically conservative, to see the status quo as desirable, to believe in an active God, to be less cynical, to be less socially and politically active, and, interestingly, to more often adhere to the Protestant ethic.
This correlation can also be seen in a broader sense in today's antiscience politics, such as those around climate change, the war on drugs, or abstinence-only sex education. When science fails to affirm the ethos of individual destiny in favor of data suggesting that
- energy consumption has collective environmental effects
- drug addiction may limit control over decision making
- preaching the self-control of abstinence to hormone-saturated teens may make parents feel better, but may not be the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancy
- women who are raped in fact were not in any way "asking for it"
then the tendency of people higher in just world belief is to throw out the science in favor of their internal sense that we control our individual destinies and we therefore get what we deserve.