men, masculinities and gender politics

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“Don’t be a victim!” (And other absurd statements that obscure a perpetrator’s responsibility.)

 

The other day after a frightening mugging on the campus of York University in Toronto, a warning went out urging all members of the community to “be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.” 

After receiving this warning, one of my friends at York wondered on Facebook just what purpose that being “aware” of the people around you would serve.  Would getting a good look at the perpetrator somehow have prevented the assault from occurring?  she asked.  Or was the more implicit message to simply avoid people who might not look like you?  You know, scary people. 
 
My friend’s point was that the warning was useless -- and detrimental to the creation of an inclusive environment.  That it was also probably going to have race- and class-based impacts.  Because, after all, whom does society teach us to fear?  People of color.  And poor people.  (And God save us all from a person of color who also happens to be poor!)  So the warning would be both ineffective at promoting safety and also cause unnecessary distrust in the community.
 
It is useful to remember that crooked financier Bernie Madoff swindled people out of at least 18 billion dollars.  But he’s a white professional guy.  In other words, not whom we typically think of as a criminal.  Not the type of person we try to avoid.
 
This warning brought to you by the people who gave the world the “slutwalk.”  It would seem that York hasn’t learned much about issuing ineffective warnings that only work to make victims responsible for the attacks of perpetrators.  This latest piece of unhelpful “guidance” comes on the heels of the events of last year that led to the world-wide eruption of “slutwalks” in which women assert their right to dress and behave exactly as they would like to -- and still be free from the threat of rape.   
 
For those who are not familiar with the phenomenon, the “slutwalk” began as a creative response to a Toronto police officer, who, speaking in a meeting at York University about rapes that had occurred there, said:  “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this.   However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
 
And just in case it needs repeating one more time (and it probably does): a woman’s clothing is not what gets her raped.  A woman’s drinking is not what gets her raped.  A woman’s choosing to party is not what gets her raped.  A woman leaving her drink unattended is not what gets her raped.  A woman getting naked with a man but deciding to stop short of intercourse is not what gets her raped.  A woman walking down a dark alley is not what gets her raped.  A woman going for a run through the woods is not what gets her raped.  The only thing that gets a woman raped -- the only thing -- is when a man chooses to put his penis inside of her without her fully willing consent.  Consent that is given freely -- without confusion, without having been manipulated, and without fear of retaliation of any sort if she says “no.”    It is the man’s choice to rape her-- and only that -- that gets her raped. 
 
“Don’t be a victim”?  Screw that!   But as a society we don’t yet understand that.  So we try to make women responsible for not getting raped.  Just like we try to make children responsible for their own safety from pedophiles by teaching them about things like “stranger danger.”  (Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of child molesters are not in fact strangers.  They are teachers.  Coaches.  Youth workers. Religious leaders.  Fathers.  Uncles.  Brothers.  Neighbours.)
 
And one of the biggest perpetrators of this victim-blaming ideology is actually the police themselves.  They do this with pretty much all forms of crime.  “Don’t be a victim!” is one of the most common mantras of their crime prevention initiatives.
 
Ok, ok, so I am not supposed to be a victim of crime?  I have a better idea.  How about you not be a damn perpetrator? 
 
How about you not touch my kid inappropriately?
 
How about you not walk into my house uninvited and take things?
 
How about you not steal my personal information and loot my bank account?
 
How about you not call my aging relatives and attempt to scam them?
 
How about you not mug me?
 
How about you not rape my friends or anyone else?
 
How about we start from there? And then we don’t need all of these ridiculous “prevention” programs that make me responsible for trying to avoid your bad behavior!
 
“Don’t be a victim”?  No.  That’s ass backwards. 
 
The message should be:
 
Don’t be a perpetrator!