Posted by: David Harley | March 4, 2013

Not all rape advice is good advice

Social media networks like Facebook and Tumblr are currently seeing an epidemic of a chain message that generally goes under the title through a rapist’s eyes – or even THROUGH A RAPIST’S EYES. (As we all know, if it’s in block capitals it must be true.) It offers advice to women that is claimed to have been put together on the basis of interviews with rapists and date rapists in prison.

Me, I believe everything a criminal tells me. Why wouldn’t I? Except that there’s no indication in the versions I’ve seen currently circulating, as to the source of the survey information and other statistics quoted. A 2001 version cited by the ever-reliable clearly indicates that the (probably) original message derives from an email from an employee at a New Orleans PR firm who attended a self-defence class taught by one David Portnoy. I have no idea how effective the physical training may have been, but it appears that he was far from forthcoming about his informational sources.

Snopes’s Barbara Mikkelson does a pretty good job of debunking the ‘one size fits all’ view of rapist behaviour and motivation in Assaulted Tale (aka This Bird Won’t Fly) but does concede that a little situational awareness is a Good Thing (in this context as in many others – it would certainly have saved me from being mugged a few years ago). She quotes research from the 1980s that posits a triple motivational typology: anger, power, and sadism. (Rapists don’t generally seem to be people who can’t get sex any other way, and sexual satisfaction isn’t necessarily the main driver.) Of course, rapists are individuals, not types: I don’t think anyone is arguing that three disjoint sizes fit all. Unfortunately, defensive behaviour will work better with some individuals than others: putting up a fight will deter some, but enrage or titillate others.

An insightful post on the same theme is Why looking through a rapist’s eyes isn’t going to help you.  Another is Analysis of “Through A Rapist’s Eyes”. While most of the statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – apparently based on Department of Justice figures – directly contradict those cited in the chain message.

I’d rather you read that material for yourselves rather than rewrite it all from scratch, but here are a few of the most salient points for comparison. Note that most of these data points are US-specific and not necessarily recent: the point is that they are check-able statistics, not unsupported assertions: I’d be delighted if you were to check them, and by all means let me know if you find something I didn’t check carefully enough. Though that might not delight me. 😉

  • There is no evidence that long hair makes a woman significantly more vulnerable than short hair. Or overalls!
  • The assertion that 5.0-8.30 a.m. is the hotspot for sexual assault isn’t supported by the Department of Justice statistics.
  • There is evidence that considerably more than 2% of rapists carry weapons. Mikkelson cites a 1995 DoJ figure of 30%: states that ‘Roughly seven percent of acquaintance rapists and thirty percent of stranger rapists use a weapon to intimidate the victim.’ According to a list of rape myths posted at the University of Minnesota,  14% of the rapes reported to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center involved the use of a weapon. 74% involved physical force and/or threats of force.
  • The New Mexico Clearinghouse on Sexual Abuse and Assault Services Rape and Sexual Assault Statistics Report indicated that “rape/sexual assault victims were most likely to be raped/sexually assaulted at home (33.7%) or at or near a friend/relative/neighbor’s home (21.3%)”. There’s no universal evidence that parking lots and public toilets are hotspots. However, the New Mexico report does suggest that certain locations (including parking lots and garages) are common locations for stranger rape. But as Mikkelson points out, it’s probably isolation that’s the common factor, not specific location preference.
  • Talking of stranger rape, the UK’s Rape Crisis Centre states that “only 9% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’.” An American source, however, citing a 1994 report on Criminal Victimization in the United States, puts the figure at 33%, as does the New Mexico report. Clearly, there are many factors that might account for regional variations.
  • I really wouldn’t rely on that assertion that a predator with a gun will only hit a running target 4 times out of a hundred, especially at close range. Obviously…

It might sometimes be better to ignore the logical deficiencies of such messages because some of the advice may be helpful, I suppose, but in this case, I can’t learn to love all the contradictions and contraindications, the unsupported assertions, the ‘pot & kettle’ emotional blackmail trying to compensate for a lack of useful, verifiable comment:

If u have a heart or compassion share this photo.


Not to mention the fact that even if this message was more likely to reduce the number of assaults, it seems intent on diverting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

Why is the victim of rape, unlike any other crime victim, always in part, or totally, held responsible for a man’s criminal choice? Why don’t we ever ask him why he did it and refuse to accept any self-serving, victim-blaming excuses from him? Why are we so quick to give alleged sex crime perpetrators the benefit of our collective doubt, but never the alleged perpetrators of other crimes?

“Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”     Freda Adler

Small Blue-Green World

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