As women, it is engrained in our heads since birth that we always need to be on our guard. We need to be constantly vigilant of people around us, as most men likely have the ability to overpower us. Whether we actually are able to protect ourselves or not, this paranoia is taught from birth. While this idea is destructive to women, it also poses an idea of men as brutes who cannot control their sexual desires. It’s time for us to take a new approach at preventing rape, without placing blame or inciting panic in either gender.
While only about one-fourth of rape incidences are committed by someone the victim doesn’t know, generally only women are told how to prevent rape starting as soon as they understand what the word rape even means.
The most popular advice given to young girls is usually something along the lines of, “dress so that you can run away,” “cut your hair short because short hair can’t be grabbed,” “take a self defense course” and the ever-popular “don’t get drunk.” This advice puts blame (however unintentional) on the victim rather than on the rapist, and creates a paranoia that is ever present in a woman’s mind.
When asked how nervous she felt while alone at night and how she protects herself, a woman from Argentina responded to a blog that she feels very scared, and when she feels as if she is in danger, she walks faster. The woman also carries pepper spray as protection. Pepper spray seems to be the weapon of choice among young women. Does the trick, but potentially less dangerous to victim than carrying a gun or knife.
Amy Hamilton, a junior at OU, agrees. She feels vulnerable when she walks off campus at night, however, and carries mace at night. “Men are typically stereotyped to be attackers and women are stereotyped to be victims, but I don’t feel like that’s actually how it always is,” said Hamilton.
Madeline Gall, an Ohio University junior, doesn’t feel vulnerable on campus, but said that she is “obviously more aware at night.”
For trans women, a whole new aspect of fear comes in–fear not necessarily taught at birth, but learned abruptly. Transgender people especially are targets of sexual violence, even more so trans women of color. One in 12 trans women are at risk of being murdered in a hate crime; that risk rises to one in eight for trans women of color.
Former OU student Patty White, a trans woman, said in an email, “The biggest personal adjustment has been this looming anxiety of violence.” The first time she presented herself fully as a woman in public, she was a victim of extreme harassment.
“Guys I didn’t know told me I had ‘bitch face,’ called me a ‘prissy bitch,” said White. “A pack of guys followed me while yelling that I was a cunt because I wouldn’t talk to them.”
Countless trans people are killed every year in hate crimes, which are oftentimes sexually charged.
How we deal with street harassment and potential sexual assault needs to be reformed. At the most basic level, we should not be putting it into the heads of girls that they should be constantly terrified and into the heads of boys that they are all uncontrollable monsters. At the most basic level, we should be able to walk across town without fear that the worst is lurking behind every corner.