8 Lies Your Children Will Be Told About Sexual Assault

sexual assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and no one is perhaps more misinformed about rape and sexual violence than kids of a certain age. While there are a lot of lies that are in constant circulation regarding who gets raped and why, the idea that these attacks can be thwarted with wardrobe choices or location do a massive disservice to keeping our sons and daughters safe. For every boy who is told that rape is only something that happens to girls, or for every girl who will blame herself for the violation by one of her family members, a myth has certainly been successful.

When considering the actual data on attacks, there is no “rape uniform” as both boys and girls get assaulted in a variety of clothing. Meanwhile, stigmas surrounding victims of assault prevent us from culturally calling out the real narrative that puts our children in danger, such as the idea that they provoked their attacker with appearance, or that young boys shouldn’t be expected to “restrain” themselves in an alcoholic setting.

Sadly, we live in a society that says “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” And while lies and justifications continue to let attackers off the hook for their actions, all the alleged warnings and cautionary tales to children often miss the one point that does matter: victims are raped when they’re in the presence of a rapist, no matter the setting, the attire, the time of day, or the perpetrator.  And the sooner we get our kids to acknowledge that base line, the safer they’ll ultimately be.

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  • Jen

    I honestly don’t know which of these infuriates me most. When are we going to stop teaching our children how not to become victims and start teaching them how not to become rapists?

  • cynicalsocialworker

    I guess I have to tenatively disagree with a couple of these.

    Nothing morally excuses a rapist or makes a victim morally culpable for being attacked. At all, ever.

    However, there are higher risk behaviors that make you vulnerable. Similar to not walking around downtown at 3am flashing a roll of cash–it doesn’t make it morally right for a person to mug you and beat you but you are a more attractive target.

    Don’t take drinks from strangers (roofies). Don’t wander around town by yourself at 3am. That’s being safe. Teaching people that those are higher risk behaviors helps (or can help) to prevent certain types of sexual assault. It’s hard to draw the line between “It is more dangerous to do this” and “Doing this means you are at fault” but if you want to teach people about sexual assualt and, importantly, strategies to minimize thier risk, you do need to cover that.

    What drew it to a head was a recent training when someone used the mugging metaphor. The trainer asked if we would think someone was at fault for being mugged if they walked around the seedy part of town flashing cash (the analogy I used earlier). There was, among the law enforcement, a fairly hefty chuckle and a lot of later water cooler talk about that person wasnt’ at fault but sure set themselves up.

    • Jen

      The problem is, though, that we teach our kids that it isn’t ok to steal. Sure we also try and teach them to make good decisions, but the fact is that we also attempt to instill in them the moral fortitude not to commit the crime in the first place so we are actually attempting to work from both sides of the problem.

      Rape prevention, on the other hand, is ALWAYS couched in terms of “ways that girls can/should protect themselves”. You don’t see adults talking to their children about how it’s not ok to sleep with an incapacitated person or how too drunk is too drunk.

      Another major difference (and I’ll borrow your analogy here) is that when you hear a story about a mugging on the news it’s not accompanied by pundits discussing why the victim choose to walk around at 3am with his ipad in his bag or how maybe if the bag he was carrying wasn’t such a high end brand he wouldn’t have become a target. You also don’t tend to hear many stories about people getting mugged by the cops they asked for assistance to prevent them from being mugged in the first place…

    • cynicalsocialworker

      You’re insinuating people don’t teach their children to not touch/molest other people. That is false (at least for everyone I know that has kids–I’m hopeful that’s a representitive sample but I guess I can’t be sure).

      We are working on covering what is and isn’t right; the presence of blogs like this shows that. I’m just worried that at times the advice to not blame the victim goes too far and makes it hard to discuss the dangers of high risk behavior–my own mother is extremely averse to covering that and it irritates me.

      An example from my own past: When there was a rapist active in our area when I was a child, the Golden police department issued some warnings/advice about what to do or not do–don’t let strangers in, particularly if you’re alone. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Stuff like that. She flipped out and wrote some pretty angry letters to both the local paper and the police department, insisting that they were blaming the victim. That is 100% incorrect. They were advising people to be cautious because there was a damn rapist around that they hadn’t caught yet. I’ve seen similar attitudes from a handful of presenters at various courses I’ve taken over the years so I am disinclined to write it off as a one off.

    • Jen

      The fact is that we teach little kids about things like inappropriate touching, but as kids grow up and into an age group where things like rape and sexual assault become actual threats, we stop having that discussion (especially with boys). We also don’t discuss things like taking advantage of someone who is very drunk or passed out or the fact that if someone says no, even if they’ve already said yes, it means no and there are studies out that show there are actually quite a few young men and women who don’t see those instances as “rape”.

      We also tend not to have conversations with our children about what to do if they suspect a friend might be about to commit a rape and since the lines of rape have not been clearly drawn many kids don’t or won’t intercede. Honestly, the sort of nefarious rapist dragging women into dark alleys at night is perhaps the least likely way a woman will be assaulted, since 2/3 of rapists are known to the victim.

      The other side of the coin is that while most people won’t disagree that issuing warnings about an active rapist is a safety precaution (at least no one that I’ve ever met), there is a point where that does cross over into victim blaming. As I said in the previous post, the fact is that rape is one of the few crimes where the victim is consistently put on trial. What did she look like, what was she doing/wearing/drinking at the time, does she have a possible motive for falsely reporting a rape, are we sure she didn’t just change her mind after sex, etc, etc (I’m sure you’ve heard them all too). Often times once a warning is issued any new victims of the rapist are more closely scrutinized for not taking the “proper precautions” (see the Astoria rapist from a few summers ago for reference) and this can have the impact of making women virtual prisoners.

  • Pons

    I once heard a cop say that if you diligently follow all of the rape prevention measures, tactics and advice meant to prevent yourself from getting raped (or mugged), you would meet the clinical definition of paranoia. The point of this article was to help prevent and reduce survivor’s guilt, not rape. Well done too btw.

    Rape prevention messages should be directed squarely at people who rape, not thier victims.