Gilchrist: Outdated attitudes victimize women

Tracy Gilchrist / Kamloops Daily News
January 11, 2013 01:00 AM

The rape and subsequent death of a student in India has thrust that country's outdated and dangerous attitudes toward women onto the world stage. While thousands march in public protests calling for harsher laws on rape and better policing, elders there still advocate that lowering the age of marriage will help reduce the high number of rapes.

The issue has reignited well-meaning safety warnings for women elsewhere, one of which a friend shared via Facebook this week called Through A Rapist's Eyes. The information was supposedly gathered from interviews with jailed rapists about what they look for in potential victims, for instance, long hair that is easy to grab, clothing that can be removed quickly, someone distracted by talking on a cellphone.

It noted that women are abducted most frequently from grocery store parking lots, followed by office parking lots or garages, then public restrooms.

It offers tips about yelling, running, ways to fight back, watching for suspicious people or vehicles, even suggesting if you are thrown in the trunk of a car to kick out the taillights, stick your arm out the hole and start waving so others might see you.

It's food for thought, but on a certain level, such rape prevention strategies re-victimize women by telling us to live in fear because what we do might draw the attention of men waiting to assault us. There is no doubt dangers exist, but survivors know their assailants in 80 per cent of sexual assault cases reported to police.

So while it's good to be alert, allowing stranger danger to constrain one's freedom - mentally and emotionally - is no way to live. Take Back the Night marches held each September highlight the point that women should feel safe to move freely in their communities day or night.

Why do these well-meaning safety strategies continue to treat women as though it's our fault if we don't take steps to prevent rape? Why aren't attackers told how to modify their behaviour?

The website of SACHA Sexual Assault Centre, a non-profit out of Hamilton, Ont., provides such a list of tips. It includes suggestions like: "When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!" "If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!" and "Carry a whistle! If you're worried you might assault someone 'accidentally' you can hand it to the person you're with so they can blow it if you do."

And, given the results of a November sexual assault trial here, this one is timely: "Don't forget: you can't have sex with someone unless they are awake!"

India and many other countries are light years behind us in women's rights and security of persons, but we still have our own problems. According to the Kamloops Sexual Assault Centre, a growing concern is teen girls participating in sexualized chats online with middle-aged men.

In addition to the problem itself, is a lack of funding for education programs to both boost the self-esteem of girls as well as educate men that it's wrong to exploit vulnerable girls (how can that not be obvious?).
India's not the only place where victims continue to be blamed; we need to start reshaping our own attitudes, too.

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