I want to introduce four topics related to the #MeToo posts. These four topics rarely come up in online discussions. However, I think they give a more robust understanding why “how to stay safe” discussions, or in fact most discussions about stopping sexual assault and rape that focus on the victim/survivor’s actions, are of very little, if any, use.
Italics are actual search strings. My brief comments after each search string are only the most basic information because I want to encourage people to read multiple sources about each topic AND get the habit of exploring complex ideas on their own. I recommend using an incognito browser window to eliminate personal browsing history bias in your search results. For those looking for more rigorous sources, use Google Scholar.
- Grooming for abuse: the process in which an abuser shapes their target’s behavior through positive and negative reinforcement, gains trust, and breaks down interpersonal barriers. While it’s often discussed in child abuse situations but it also happens between adults. Grooming often contributes to victims/survivors feeling complicit in their own abuse when in fact they are never responsible for the actions of their abuser.
- Rape is power not sex: While sexual assault and rape can ALSO be about sex, they are ALWAYS about power. Telling women to cover up and not flirt will never be a good solution because sexual assault and rape are rooted in the abuse of power. Teaching men “don’t rape” instead of teaching women “don’t get raped” gets at the heart of this as does promoting consent culture.
- Sexual assault by someone known to the victim: the things we do to avoid potentially violent or criminal strangers only protect us so much. Get the facts about who assaults whom before giving advice like “stay safe by not walking alone at night.” (please note: I’m not saying walking alone at night is safe, I’m saying it doesn’t protect us from the people most likely to assault or rape us)
- Fight flight freeze submit: there are actually five adrenaline stress reactions. Submit is one that is rarely discussed and is just as valid as the rest. Understand what happens when someone under assault reflexively does NOT resist and why what happens after they “submit” still isn’t their fault.
For many reasons besides these four topics, the posts going around about “how to stay safe” are problematic. This article does a great job of breaking down how common suggestions that may seem helpful actually contribute to victim blaming and shaming.