For as long as I can remember I’ve know it’s incumbent upon me to be cautious. I remember being a little girl and it being drilled into me how to safely cross the road. The lesson was tattooed on my mind. Twenty-something years later and I always “Stop, look and listen” before I cross.
As my body changed, so did the things I needed to do in order to be safe. The list of ways I could protect myself lengthened and the potentially dangerous scenarios I could find myself in widened. For my male friends, the inverse was true. They could become more open, fearless, reckless, with no thought given to long- term consequences. After all they would be OK, what’s the worst that could happen?
For women the answer to that question is frightening. As our parents, loved ones and the media constantly tell us — we’re in danger. This isn’t hyperbole. 1 in 3 American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
I remember nonchalantly placing my drink beside me at a club and a young man rushed over to me. I smiled, expecting him to strike up a conversation “Be careful!” he said, “you could get your drink spiked.” I wasn’t afraid that night, but for some reason he was. I gave him an incredulous look and politely thanked him.
Shortly afterward, I heard news of a woman who had been raped in a similar environment, but didn’t press charges because she feared no one would believe her. I haven’t left my drink alone since.
I now have a list of things to avoid. It reads a bit like this:
Try not to walk down poorly lit roads after midnight if you’re in heels.
Never travel home alone if you’re drunk.
Avoid strange people.
Avoid getting obscenely drunk in public places. If you’re unable to do this and succumb to the joys of Jack Daniels Honey, ensure you’re with a close friend who’ll stick by you all night and escort you home.
Always lock the doors when you get in a car (unless you’re in a cab).
Carry a rape alarm.
If you can’t find your rape alarm, take that curved needle you use to tighten your weave. Just in case.
Recently, I was followed. It was frightening.
It didn’t help that I was lost and trying to navigate a sketchy part of Brooklyn at 2 am. At one point I contemplated taking off my heels and running barefoot. Then I realised I wouldn’t know where to run. Fortunately, two men noticed I was being followed and came over to walk with me. One reprimanded me for not knowing better. Shook up, I nodded in agreement. I should know better. I later remembered I’d broken the first rule on my list.
Like many woman, I’ve bought into the fallacy that by adhering to a list of rules, I can potentially inoculate myself against being violated or at least diminish the chances.
Except statistics say the opposite. They indicate it’s likely a woman will know her attacker. Approximately two out of three rapes were committed by someone familiar to the victim. Avoiding strange people doesn’t help. Over 50% of all rape/sexual assaults reportedly occurred within one mile of the victim’s home or at their home. Avoiding strange places doesn’t help either; because it’s likely you’ll be attacked in a familiar environment.
I spoke to my girlfriends and they’d all been given some variant of the “Here are things you can do to avoid being assaulted” talk. I did a poll of the men in my life. Some of them had been given the “no means no” talk, however not enough of them had been taught about sexual violence against women and its implications. It’s apparent that while girls around the world are being told to avoid violence, not enough boys are being taught not to incite and inflict it.