I have been called a ‘silly ignorant girl.’ On Twitter. By an upper-class, twenty-something blogger who has never had to work a day in her life and who spends most of her time talking about shoes and baking (she’s a ‘social media consultant’ whatever that is). She has now blocked me and I have been left worrying about where to find a suitably individual May Ball dress or an equally good brownie recipe. And, annoyingly, I have found myself in this dilemma because of my views on women getting drunk, flirting and on the consequences of their actions.
The blogger in question had re-tweeted a post from ITV Daybreak a few weeks ago asking the following, ‘Can women who are drunk or flirty ever be blamed for being attacked?’ Her own opinion was obvious (‘No woman, regardless of her state, should NEVER be blamed for being attacked,’ and I agree) and she was joined by hundreds of others. Angry responses from Daybreak viewers flooded in, accusing the show of ‘incitement to violence,’ and ‘misogynist crap.’
An attempt to gage public attitudes to sexual violence, the tweet was intended to follow up a recent survey on ‘Violent Crimes and Sexual Offenses.’ The survey in question revealed that around one in twelve people thought that a victim was ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped when they were under the influence of drugs, when they had been flirting heavily beforehand, or while drunk.
In this context, ITV Daybreak’s post is hardly breaking news. In the last two years, rape victims have been increasingly ‘blamed’ for enticing their attackers either with their behaviour or their attire after a Toronto policeman encouraged women to ‘avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’ Joanna Lumley echoed this opinion in an interview with The Telegraph at the start of 2013. The star warned women against going out looking like ‘trash’ and getting blindingly drunk ‘because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.’
However, the backlash against these warnings and exhortations has been severe as women everywhere defend their right to a female identity. The Toronto policeman’s comment sparked the creation of ‘SlutWalk,’ a series of global marches defending women’s rights to wear whatever and behave however they like. SlutWalk argues that ‘women are constantly made to feel like victims, told they should not look a certain way, should not go out at night, should not go into certain areas, should not get drunk, should not wear high heels or make up, should not be alone with someone they don’t know,’ and that this creates a culture in which rape is ok as the woman is seen as ‘asking for it.’
They have a point. Rape is, as SlutWalk says, ‘never, ever ok,’ and it is ‘always the fault of the rapist, never the survivor.’ In the same way, to use a weak analogy, theft is ‘never, ever ok.’ If you were to leave your laptop on the table in the library while you got a coffee, and it was stolen, it would be the fault of the thief, not you. You trust the other people in the library not to be tempted by your deserted laptop in the same way that you trust a stranger on the street not to be tempted by the sight of a defenseless girl in 5 inch platforms teetering home because she’s too drunk to hail a taxi. It’s all a matter of trust, temptation and, most importantly, responsibility.
Obviously, there is a massive difference between material theft and a physical attack, especially from a psychological perspective. But when considering the role of responsibility, would you go on holiday with your house’s front door wide-open? Or leave an iPhone on the front seat of a car parked in a dodgy suburb? Or walk away from a public computer leaving your credit-card details on the screen? Of course not. It’s opening the path of temptation to any opportunist who happens to walk past.
It’s the same with violence and sexual assault and it doesn’t only apply to women. A man walking home alone through a dangerous part of town at night risks being attacked or mugged, just as a drunk, vulnerable girl in a short skirt risks being assaulted. Both are putting themselves in harm’s way and chancing an opportunistic attack. Yet this isn’t a case of black and white, ‘you are to blame or not to blame.’ Rather, some shades of grey need to be determined by understanding the difference between ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility.’ By no means is a girl to blame for being attacked just because she’s had a few glasses of wine and asked for your number. Responsibility on the other hand is a different matter.
In an ideal world, women would be able to go out and walk the streets alone wearing next to nothing. We’d also all be able to leave our cars unlocked and our valuables on display in broad daylight. Unfortunately, in reality, this isn’t the case. Both men and women have every right to go out, get drunk and flirt and wear whatever they like but they should also accept that their actions could have dangerous consequences. By behaving sensibly and responsibly and avoiding dangerous situations both sexes can reduce the risk of opportunist violence and abuse. In answer to ITV Daybreak’s question, women are never to blame for being attacked, but sometimes they could have avoided it. So rather than walk home alone, next time, share a taxi, stay with a group or, as my mother always says (and she always knows best), wear a coat.