Rape myths still perpetuated by one third of students

// 24 February 2009

A LondonStudent survey carried out on over 1,000 students at 119 Higher Education institutions around the UK has found that around a third still believe a woman is at least partially to blame for being raped if she is drunk (34%), was ‘alone or walking in a deserted or dangerous area’ (31%) or has behaved in a flirtatious manner (29%), while almost half (48%) believe she would be partially or wholly to blame if she failed to clearly say ‘no’ to the man. Perhaps as a reflection of more liberal attitudes to sex among the younger generation, a smaller – but still depressingly significant – proportion believe that a woman should take some share of the blame if she was wearing ‘sexy or revealing’ clothing (19%) or if it is known that she has had many sexual partners (13%).

Male students place greater blame on the woman than female students in all scenarios apart from where the woman is alone or in a supposed dangerous area. So not only are young people continuing to perpetuate the same old myths about rape, female “responsibility” and men’s inability to control their dicks, but young women continue to internalise the generally misplaced fear of being raped by a stranger when walking alone or in certain parts of town, while some male students appear to feel a need to justify male sexual violence against women, or at least to defend their apparent ‘right’ to access women’s bodies.

This is frightening stuff, and it is up to the two thirds of us* who recognise that the only person responsible for raping is the rapist to challenge these incredibly harmful attitudes whenever we come across them. I’d like to think that most of the individuals who profess to believe in women’s partial responsibility for being raped have simply not taken the time to think about what they are actually saying, about the implications of these kind of statements, that they are just blindly repeating the crap they’ve been fed by the media and by a society which fails to take non-stranger rape seriously. I’d like to think we can counteract that crap with some sense, some logic, some compassion and humanity. We also need to start educating young people about the importance of active consent.

We can all take steps towards doing that by talking to people we come across who hold these views, by spreading the truth about rape through creative activism (good postcards here, and stickers are easy to make at home). But why in hell isn’t the government doing something to combat attitudes which help support criminal activity? (That’s a rhetorical question, I know full well why. Sigh.) As Heather Harvey, Amnesty International UK’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign Manager says:

“It has been consistently pointed out by campaigners like members of the End Violence Against Women campaign that the government has failed to develop a programme of prevention around violence against women – they can do seatbelts, smoking, obesity, binge-drinking so why can’t they start to tackle attitudes like these which ignore violence against women or worse still blame women for it?”

Over 90% of rapists are getting away with it, and the attitudes displayed by these students are in part directly responsible for that. So let’s do all we can to make sure the next generations recognise them for just what they are: myths.

*A study carried out by Amnesty on the population as whole produced similar figures three years ago.

EDIT: I have published and responded to a number of women-blaming comments which some readers may find offensive or upsetting; in the context of this post, I think these comments should be challenged rather than ignored.

Comments From You

Amy // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:26 am

Wow I feel sick…. Disturbing, no wonder 95% of the few rapists who actually go to court, go free.

I actually feel nauseous.

Lauren O // Posted 25 February 2009 at 5:30 am

Actually, I’m surprised the percentage is that low. I would have thought it’d be somewhere around 2/3 rather than 1/3. Still needs LOTS of work, obviously, but I find this a pleasant surprise in some ways.

Jess // Posted 25 February 2009 at 11:20 am

I constantly came accross this kind of women blaming attitude when I was at university and it disgusted me. What made me particularlly sad was the women who would laugh along with the jokes and agree with the men making them and then admit to me behind their backs that they didn’t agree with them.

JenniferRuth // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:13 pm

I’ve been thinking for a while about designing a set of stickers that can easily be printed out on 14-sheet labels.

In the past I have written feminist statements on label stickers and stuck them on sexist posters and such. I am thinking that these are probably not eye catching enough. It is depressing reports like this that makes me think there is a massive need for them.

Anyone got any good ideas for statements for my stickers?

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:46 pm

I’m not in the least surprised at the increasing women-blaming and this is another reason why feminism is still a necessity not a luxury. What we all need to do is to challenge these rape myths because they are widespread and are accepted by our relatives, work colleagues, friends, acquaintances etc.

It is very easy to obtain a set of Truth About Rape’s postcards or alternatively look at Rape Crisis Scotland’s website because they have produced some excellent postcards challenging other rape myths.

One issue which is consistently ignored and overlooked is the fact men are responsible for not raping – not women. Denials such as ‘but I’ve never raped a woman’ are all very well, but if men do not challenge other men’s misogyny this enables our rape culture to continue unabated.

Men can join White Ribbon Campaign which focuses on working with men to challenge male violence against women. As for the government – well they continue to issue consultation documents but apart from that nothing is being done. Heather Harvey is correct the government spends huge sums of money on campaigns focusing on obesity, women’s health, alcoholism, crime (which is overwhelmingly committed by males), but continues to ignore male violence against women.

Women comprise over 51% of the UK population but because government is male-dominated and any challenge to male sex right over women is seen as ‘man-hating’ or ‘just a bunch of loony radical feminists’ it is no wonder this issue is still being swept under the carpet.

So start challenging your colleagues, friends, lovers in fact anyone who claims women are to blame for causing men to rape them. With 95% of men charged with rape being acquitted this means rape is the easiest crime to commit and the one least likely to result in conviction.

The Boggart // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:14 pm

@Jennifer Ruth

I have some ideas for your stickers if you’re interested. Perhaps you could use something like “A Rape Victim Wearing Birkenstocks is A Rape Victim. A Rape Victim Wearing Blahniks is Also A Rape Victim.” Please play with the phrasing, as I’m sure that you could make it sound snappier. Perhaps you could take advantage of the repeated phrasing with clever formatting.

Although I like the alliterative quality to Birkenstocks/Blahniks (and of course the cultural baggage and character assumptions that it instantly creates in some peoples’ minds), I dislike dropping brand names. Maybe you could replace them with a reference to halter tops/cardigans e.t.c.

Alternatively, I feel that this is quite powerful: “Do you think *I* care what I was wearing when I was raped? So why should *you*?”

I really admire grass-roots activism – best of luck to you!

Ellie // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:40 pm

Depressing news indeed but I’m not that surprised, I’ve had the conversation with a friend of mine about women dressing in a certain way or walking in the wrong place being partly to blame for being raped. He likened it to wakling into a pub full of supporters of one football team while sporting the shirt of their biggest rival and not expecting to be beaten up. He acknowledged that it’s not ideal but it’s reality so if you choose not to deal with it out of principle then you are partly to blame.

I still need to follow up that talk with him, and this is bearing in mind that he’s and intelligent and honest guy who I’ve had many gender discussions with.

If it takes this much effort on my part to get one good friend of mine to change their mind, I can’t really see how some stickers are going to effect real change.

I agree with Jennifer Drew, the government, if it ever should step in about issues like this, now would be a good time to launch a campaign combatting such harmful misinformation. I’m going to write to my MP anyway, see if I can get him to ask a question about it in Parliament.

Mark // Posted 25 February 2009 at 5:00 pm

Not surprised, sadly.

My brother was in conversation with 4 women about the Mike Tyson rape verdict. To a woman they said, “She went to his room! What did she expect?” It was my brother – the only man there – who pointed out that she didn’t expect to be raped.

We still have a long way to go. One might wonder about the common sense of a woman who wears sexy outfits and wanders into a men only changing room. However, if she were to be attacked it would still be rape. I cannot envisage any circumstance where “contributory negligence” should ever influence either the verdict or sentence.

Brandi // Posted 25 February 2009 at 9:36 pm

I find this study–or more like the people you answered these questions with these opinions–are ridiculous. I understand that a women should be partially to blame if she didn’t say no. But to think because she is walking alone in a dangerous area, she is asking to be raped? Or because she happens to drink too much, she deserves to be raped? No one wants to be raped. No one deserves to be raped, no matter what they are wearing or how they are acting or where they are walking. Rape is one of the most heinous crimes there is, and the only person who should be blamed for such a crime is the rapist.

Laura // Posted 26 February 2009 at 1:05 am

Why should a woman be partially to blame for the actions of a rapist if she didn’t clearly say no? Sex should be premised on clear, active consent from both/all parties: men can’t (and most don’t) assume that all women want to have sex with them unless they state otherwise. Any man who respects the woman he wants to sleep with would not put her in a position where she has to verbally fight him off if she doesn’t feel the same.

Sabre // Posted 26 February 2009 at 9:44 am

The Boggart – like your slogan but it might be better without the ‘victim’ bit.

JennierRuth – how about the simple “No woman ever asks to be raped”

Ian Cheong // Posted 28 February 2009 at 7:31 am

It just sickens me to the pit of my stomach that at least 1 in every 3 people out there is a flipping moron. Not is it discouraging for many victims to come forth with allegations of the assault upon their persons, it also reflects poorly upon men who are, in fact, being depicted as animals with no control over their dicks.

It’s just sickening to me, all around.

Dolores // Posted 28 February 2009 at 8:46 am

I don’t know if women should necessarily be blamed but there are instances they should accept some responsibility.

If I leave a BMW with the keys in it in a bad neighborhood and it gets stolen, it would basically be my own fault even though I didn’t do anything “wrong.”

The point being, any individual has to use their brains to prevent going into harmful situations and drawing attention to themselves as a target. Of course a woman can dress how she wants and walk where she wants. I could leave my front door open all night if I want. If I get robbed, it’s not my fault, but it clearly happened because of some bad choices I made.

Any person, male or female, should exercise good judgment in all kinds of situations. Not getting raped in the first place is way better than getting raped and having your friends and counselors tell you it’s not your fault while you are crying.

Isen // Posted 28 February 2009 at 8:49 am

I believe I would be classed as that 1/3. If I am crossing on a pedestrian crossing, and a car hits me, then yes: legally it was purely the fault of the driver, etc. But in actuality I SHOULD have been paying attention, I SHOULD have been keeping an eye out, and I AM partially responsible.

Laura // Posted 28 February 2009 at 10:21 am

Dolores and Isen –

The vast majority of rapes are committed by men known to the victim and in the victim’s own home, not by strangers down dark alleys or in bars (although this does happen, yes). So by your logic – where women should not put themselves in situations where they might be raped – women should cut out all the men in their lives and never let a man in their house. Does that sound sensible?

Why should women have to change their behaviour in order to try and avoid something that is out of their control? If a man is going to try and rape a woman, he will try and rape her – she can be teetotal and wearing a burka but it could still happen. Blaming her for being raped lets the perpetrator off the hook, and contributes to the disgustingly low conviction rate for rapists (less than 6%), as the defence can roll out all these women-blaming myths to let the rapist off the hook. What’s more, your arguments paint men as violent imbeciles incapable of resisting raping a woman if they get a flash of cleavage. Is that how you really view men? Again, this attitude (aside from being offensive to non-rapist men) lets rapists off the hook, and fails to differentiate between the men who do not to rape and those who CHOOSE to rape.

Comparing a woman – a human being – to a BMW is crass. You are taking the rapist’s attitude that women are objects to be used. We’re not; we’re human beings, and decent, non-rapist men are perfectly capable of recognising that.

Isen – your comparison would only make sense if we’re talking about a naked woman opening her legs in front of a guy running at her with a hard-on. Otherwise, considering that being drunk, wearing certain clothes, or being in certain area do NOT statistically increase your chances of being raped, you’re basically saying that women should lock themselves away from men. Hardly practical, is it?

Anna // Posted 28 February 2009 at 12:50 pm

‘Not getting raped in the first place is way better than getting raped and having your friends and counselors tell you it’s not your fault while you are crying’.

Um, excuse me, but what the hell? Nobody wants to get raped. That is one of the worst things I’ve read on the internet in a long, long time. It’s just sick on so many levels I can’t even begin.

The Boggart // Posted 28 February 2009 at 12:58 pm

@ Laura Woodhouse

Exactly! I’ve never been able to quite articulate as you did why I dislike women-blaming/shaming rape metaphors which talk about expensive cars stolen or houses broken into.

Although the media loves the dramatic nature of “stranger rape”, it would be a huge step forward to eliminating these sorts of attitudes if they were to portray “date rape” as the norm. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t fit with the way that our culture has fetishised rape.

Andrea // Posted 28 February 2009 at 1:06 pm

And on the other side you have this portion of females that somehow think regret means rape.

They go to his room, get drunk and then after playing coy for 15 seconds have sex with him all night. The morning after they wake up saying to themserves that they don’t do stuff like that and therefore it must have been rape.

Then the truth comes out and you have two ruined lives and more ammunition for the blame game.

Yes, men are the rapists. But that doesn’t absolve you from being conscious about what you do, where you go and with who. Responsibility for keeping yourself safe falls on yourself, shifting that responsibility to a rapist is just silly.

Anna // Posted 28 February 2009 at 1:38 pm

Laura, honestly not trying to have a go at you – but why are you publishing these comments?

Laura // Posted 28 February 2009 at 1:43 pm

Oh FFS, Andrea, I think you’ve been watching too many soaps. Have you actually seen this happen? Who are these women you’re talking about? And how damn stupid do you think women are? Yes, we all do stuff we regret when drunk, but we can tell the difference between regret and rape. This is the kind of rubbish that is rolled out by guys who think it’s OK to take advantage of women in vulnerable states in order to justify their exploitative and abusive behaviour.

“Responsibility for keeping yourself safe falls on yourself, shifting that responsibility to a rapist is just silly.”

What, so any woman in a situation where a man could potentially rape her is fair game for rapists, and they should shoulder no responsibility for their actions? That’s disgusting.

Laura // Posted 28 February 2009 at 1:45 pm

I’m publishing these comments because they display the kind of attitudes that we need to challenge. Yes, they’re offensive, but they’re not going to go away if we ignore them.

Anna // Posted 28 February 2009 at 1:59 pm

Thanks – and thanks for replying to that in a far more coherent and reasonable fashion I’d ever have been able to.

Laura // Posted 28 February 2009 at 2:15 pm

No problem, Anna, I can understand why you’d question my publishing them :-)

MiceAreNice // Posted 28 February 2009 at 2:30 pm

Is there any chance you could highlight that this posts comments could be triggering? I am surprised to have read such sickening view points on here.

No one wants or should expect to be raped. Men are not sex mad beasts who cant help themselves at the sight of female flesh and I would be very surprised if there were many (if any) women who would put themselves through the ordeal of ‘crying’ rape because they ‘regret’ a night of consensual sex. I would be interested to know where Andrea gets this idea from and if she has any evidence to prove that this ‘portion of women’ actually exist.

Where is a rape survivor to gain support from when so much of society thinks like this? How can you justify taking away the responsibility from the rapist for his crime? What is it that makes it ok for you to apportion blame to the victim? Where is your sensitivity or compassion?

Laura // Posted 28 February 2009 at 2:43 pm

MiceAreNice: I’ve added a note to the bottom of the post.

Fran // Posted 28 February 2009 at 3:42 pm

I’d like to add to the great responses to the victim-blaming comments that if you expect women never to put ourselves in positions where we might be raped (by strangers — Laura has already pointed out the actual facts about who rapes), you’re vastly restricting what women can do. Never go out at night, never drink, never flirt, never walk through a quiet area — why should it be okay for men to do these things and not women? Shouldn’t we be tackling the real cause of rapes — rapists — rather than telling women what they can and can’t do?

Personally, I refuse to ‘take responsibility for my safety’ if ‘taking responsibility’ means ‘not having much of a life’.

Kuja // Posted 28 February 2009 at 5:20 pm

Can only agree with the points of view set forward by Laura and other commenters; certain commenters don’t seem to understand that women can’t just “be careful” and therefore avoid being raped. It happens in so many different situations that there’s no failproof method for a woman to know when she’s at risk; and why should women live in fear? Should we always expect to be open to attack? I really hope we can challenge these victim-blaming myths. If a man was beaten up because he walked through a dodgy neighbourhood late at night, no-one would claim that a gang had the right to his money because he “wasn’t being sensible” or was somehow “asking for it”. Criminals are criminals, victims are not, what’s so difficult to understand?

Jackie Bather // Posted 28 February 2009 at 6:33 pm

Rape is intercourse without consent..why is this so difficult to understand ? Where is the difficulty in accepting that the guilt lies with the perpertrator, not the woman assaulted ?

Saying that the woman dresses provocatively, wears make-up or is out and about late at night sounds like denial and projection to me…Denial of personal responsibilty by the man and then projecting the blame onto the woman he has attacked.

maggie // Posted 28 February 2009 at 7:59 pm

Can Andrea or anyone else explain ‘dress provocatively’ to me because I can’t for the life of me see what that has to do with rape.

Rape involves sexual intercourse without consent on persons who range in age from 0 to 100 (and beyond).

Is the consensus that sexual intercourse and rape is only an activity between male and female? If you think this is the case, you are deluded. This is not the case.

People of 80 have been raped as have babies of 9 months. Can someone explain this to me without resorting to the ‘the person who did this is a pervert’ arguement?

Rape is violence against the person pure and simple. The look of the person on whom this crime has been commited should have no value in determining the crime.

It’s like saying “I knew they were guilty as soon as I set eyes on them.”

Claire // Posted 28 February 2009 at 8:06 pm

‘If I leave a BMW with the keys in it in a bad neighborhood and it gets stolen, it would basically be my own fault even though I didn’t do anything “wrong.”‘

So all women should basically be scared to death – imagining themselves to be a nice car unlocked in a bad neighbourhood when they show a bit of flesh? Hm that says more about the

potential men out there, than it does about women really.

Well…. considering the stats, how many men are violent against women, I’d have to agree.. Can we trust the men around us? They have almost free reign to rape us and know it will be our fault.

Also when a rapist has free reign, there’s not much difference between someone sexists would say ‘was asking for it’, and a girl clothed head to toe.

Why as a nation are we so desperate to cover up “men who are, in fact, being… animals with no control over their dicks.” (Ian Cheung). You’re right Ian! That’s what rapists and abusers are. I’d depict them as worse tbh.

Btw I enjoy this place for being feminist friendly, and really don’t want to have ‘battles’ with a load of sexist dudes. We could do that anywhere on the web!

claire // Posted 28 February 2009 at 8:09 pm

Ha I just realised Laura said everything I did in response to them, and much more articulately :P

maggie // Posted 28 February 2009 at 9:54 pm

I should have said

‘Dress provocatively’ is like saying ‘I knew they were guilty as soon as I set eyes on them.’

Rose // Posted 28 February 2009 at 10:19 pm

‘If I leave a BMW with the keys in it in a bad neighbourhood and it gets stolen, it would basically be my own fault even though I didn’t do anything “wrong.”‘

It’s your own fault in so much as your car insurance will refuse to pay out, but if the person who nicked your car is caught most people would agree that they they have committed a crime and should legally face punishment, regardless of the location of your car and keys at the time it was stolen.

The same applies to most other metaphors that get used – they are situations where 90% of people would call you an idiot who should know better, while agreeing that the person who attacked you/stole your car/T.V./laptop/etc. is a criminal who deserves prison/a fine/community service.

Using this car example as an perfect analogy implies that if I am in a bad neighbourhood and I see a BMW with the keys in and I get in and drive off with it I am not to blame because it is entirely the fault of the person who left it with the keys. I have yet to hear of “But the the keys were left in the car – they wanted me to take it!” used as a successful defence of car theft.

Kez // Posted 2 March 2009 at 11:12 am

Claire – I have to dispute your reference to men as “animals who have no control over their dicks”…. this just seems to feed into that old chestnut, the myth of uncontrollable male sexuality, and almost lets men who rape off the hook as they can’t help it! Of course men have control over their own behaviour. Most men do not rape women; those who choose to do so cannot be excused on the grounds that they are unable to control themselves.

On this whole women as unlocked BMWs comparison… well, apart from anything else, it strikes me that there is a fundamental difference between a crime against property and a serious assault against someone’s person. If someone pinched my car, I’d be pretty fed up, but it hardly compares to being the subject of a violent sexual assault. The two scenarios cannot really be compared. A woman is not a piece of metal.

Fran // Posted 2 March 2009 at 11:51 am

Not to mention that locking your car is a lot less restricting than never flirting, drinking, wearing revealing clothes or walking somewhere on your own!

Sabre // Posted 2 March 2009 at 5:26 pm

Laura, I think it’s great that you’re putting up the disturbing comments for us to read and challenge. I am often surprised to find how widespread victim-blaming is in society as I tend to surround myself with like-minded people. I must admit (with shame) that I used to victim-blame as a teenager because of the messages that are fed to us, e.g. ‘what did she expect, going out dressed like that?’ etc. It’s hard to break outside that way of thinking if nobody ever tells you any different. And in fact nobody did tell me any different, it was only when I started reading feminist websites and blogs that I challenged my own stunted ideas.

Not everyone who victim-blames is a horrible person, most people simply haven’t heard any different or haven’t bothered to really think about it. Therefore it’s worthwhile us explaining rape myths to people, even if it seems like we’ve done it a million times already and are sick of it. I wish somebody had taken the time to explain it to me when I was younger!

Two other things I find useful:

1. If using an analogy for rape don’t use unlocked cars or homes. These are objects, people are not objects. A car cannot be asked permission before being taken, a woman can, and therein lies the massive difference. Use examples of where people are directly impacted by a crime, e.g. assault, being hit by a drunk driver or murder and people realise more quickly that it’s stupid and wrong to blame the victim. Even in the car analogy nobody’s blaming the car for being stolen! They’re blaming the owner – who’s that in a rape analogy? The male partner probably of the victim probably. Bah!

2. Living in fear – I always use the analogy of fear of terrorism after the London bombings. Yes women could live in fear and stay in a locked room but life cannot be lived that way. After the bombs people still went to work, most people knew that they couldn’t just stay at home scared of it happening again. To use a term I hate, ‘it would mean that the terrorists had won’. I find this analogy helps people understand my point that women can’t live in fear and be expected to stay at home, dress modestly and all that other BS, any more than anyone can try to avoid being in a car accident or assaulted or bombed (I know it’s a silly analogy but it works for me!)

Daniella // Posted 2 March 2009 at 9:07 pm

Sabre, that analogy of the London bombings is perfect. I will use it in the future!

What strikes me about a lot of these comments is they are still focusing on instances of stranger-rape. Suggesting women can somehow protect themselves by not going out alone at night, not dressing in certain ways.

It’s been stated that the vast majority or rapes are committed by men who KNOW the victim, in the home. How can do protect yourself against a man you’ve just started dating, but aren’t ready to have sex with yet? How can do protect yourself against that friend of a friend, who you don’t expect to push you into a room at a party when you’re having drinks with your friends? Against your ex when you’re talking things over one night?

In each of these examples (things which have happened to my friends, real women) it is the RAPIST who is to blame. That doesn’t change, no matter what.

I am saddened by finding some of these awful attitudes here, a progressive and friendly space.

Madeleine // Posted 3 March 2009 at 12:47 pm

As Maggie points out, the age range of rape victims is from a few months old to 80+.

That’s such an important point and should be made more often. The one question any rapist looking for a victim asks himself is, ‘can I quickly and easily overpower this person?’ Not, ‘gee, s/he’s sexy!’ They want what they see as easy prey. Women who “dress down” and cover themselves up, rather than in a way that Daily Mail readers (and some commenters here) would consider “provocative” or “asking for it” are actually MORE likely to be attacked, because rapists see them as being frightened and less confident. The last thing they want is someone who might cause them trouble.

Or could this lead to even more victim blaming? “She was dowdy and not confident enough, so she was asking for it”!

There’s only ever one person to blame, and that’s the rapist.

Rachel // Posted 3 March 2009 at 9:32 pm

When I spoke to my husband about this he said he thought if people feel the need to make car analogies about rape, a more appropriate one would be to compare rape to inviting good friends round to your house for dinner and them stealing your car keys from your sideboard, handbag etc. I don’t think many reasonable people would say the car owner bore any responsibility in this situation…

Apart from the obvious issue, amongst others, that you’d still be comparing women to objects, it would perhaps be a useful and quick answer to the ‘keys in the BMW’ argument when talking to people who insist upon making that sort of comparison?

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