I've wandered the streets of New York black-out drunk, so I know that bad things sometimes come to girls who take stupid risks. Although I am extremely prickly about even the slightest suggestion that a woman is in some way responsible for being raped, I do understand that I'm a little bit safer today because I always know what part of the city I'm in, and what my own name is, and how to walk.
Yes, we can and should take precautions to try to protect ourselves, but it's a mistake to think that precautions make us safe. Just like your house can get robbed even when you lock your doors, you can be raped even if you're doing everything right.
The only essential ingredient for a rape is a rapist. If it weren't for them, we could all walk down the street and be just fine.
Which is why it's so frustrating to see only rape awareness ads aimed at women. No other crime is treated so one-sidedly. We might see a sign that says, "Watch your valuables," but we also see ones that say "No Shoplifting." And we realize that no matter how hard we're watching our valuables, someone can still come along and take them from us by force. And when they do, nobody says we weren't watching them well enough.
All this is to say that as a rape survivor and a woman, I was deeply moved when I saw this series of posters from the MyStrength project, created by the California Department of Health Services and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault to " raise awareness of sexual violence" and "highlight the vital role that young men can play in fostering healthy, safe relationships"
It was this one. I teared up.
The posters all show young couples (including a gay male couple) and feature the phrase "My strength is not for hurting," followed by slogans like "So when she said no, I said OK" and "So when she wanted me to stop, I stopped." They're simple, decent statements that you never, ever hear.
When you've seen a lot of sexual violence, you can start to believe that behavior is the norm.
So when I'm tempted to blame myself instead of my perpetrators, I imagine an unquestionably decent man I know, like my boyfriend or my old boss, approaching a young woman drunk and stumbling on the street. What would he do in that situation? I ask myself. The answer isn't "Force or coerce her into sex acts." It's more like, "Put her in a cab and make sure she gets home safe."
Thinking about that makes me feel the same way these ads do.