The foreign minister in India just made headlines for a newly published list of tourism tips. They run the gamut of normalcy, common sense mingled with observance of local custom, but with an interesting caveat for female tourists.
Don’t wear skirts.
After a string of high-profile rape cases in India against foreign women, (not to mention the appalling rape and sexual assault statistics for Indian women themselves), I’m sure the foreign minister thought he was helping by giving women tips to lower their chances of being the victim of sexual assault.
That right there is the problem.
Once again we’re putting the burden on girls and women to AVOID being assaulted or raped when the burden should fall squarely on the shoulders of men. Women should not need to avoid getting raped. Men should avoid raping.
Don’t drink too much.
Don’t go out at night.
Don’t go to an area you’re unfamiliar with.
Don’t go out alone.
Don’t go out for a run.
Don’t wear suggestive clothing.
Don’t wear skirts.
You may as well just issue a blanket statement: Don’t be a woman.
No matter the intention, when you give women a list of dos and don’ts to follow like a checklist of rape avoidance, you’re reinforcing the notion that it is somehow IN THEIR CONTROL, that rape or sexual assault can be avoided if they’re careful and follow all the rules. The corollary is that if it happens, it must mean it was their fault, something they did wrong.
Not only is it damaging and insulting, it’s flat out wrong. There are plenty of women who are assaulted and/or raped who are wearing pants, or sober, or at a party with others. There are plenty of women raped in broad daylight, in their homes, by men they know.
There is one commonality. They are women.
We still haven’t truly changed the way we look at sexual assault and rape. We still haven’t changed the way we talk to boys and men about it. And we still haven’t come up with solutions to stop men from doing it in the first place.
Again, women don’t need to avoid being assaulted and raped. Men need to avoid assaulting and raping.
How do we do that? Education. Training. Punitive consequences. Zero tolerance for sexual assaults. More education. More training.
A friend told me this morning about a college in Canada which suspended their entire hockey program because two of the players were involved in a sexual assault and several more were complicit. Suspending an entire hockey program sounds harsh, right? Especially for the ones who weren’t involved at all. But…
The school put its foot down and took a zero tolerance approach. The school actually put the welfare of women above its hockey team. Imagine that. By taking a resolutely punitive stand on the issue, perhaps the next generation of hockey players will think about the consequences, because the consequences will actually have meaning to them. Maybe it will stop someone in their tracks. Maybe a friend will stop a teammate from committing an assault.
But in order to have that work, the consequences must be real. We must reach a social and judicial point where raping or assaulting a woman just isn’t worth it.
Until we do, assaults and rapes will keep happening. Two recent cases of young, white men convicted of sexual assault who walked with a slap on the wrist are just one example of why the justice system needs to look at the way they sentence men convicted of sexual assault.
Harsher sentencing and stricter consequences for assault and rape isn’t about an eye for an eye. I’m not arguing that a woman’s life is irreparably changed and therefore a man’s should be as well.
It’s about changing the way we look at assault and rape. It’s about putting the burden on the potential rapists, not potential victims. It’s about making sure that assault and rape are not viewed as ‘youthful mistakes’ or indiscretions that can be overlooked or forgiven, but crimes. With sentencing that means something.
Instead of ‘don’t wear a skirt’, we need ‘if you rape, you’re going to jail.’
Instead of ‘dont’ drink too much at a college party, we need ‘this university has a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and should you be found guilty of such, you will be expelled in addition to legal consequences.’
Instead of ‘don’t wear suggestive clothing’ we need ‘clothing never equals equal consent’
Instead of ‘what have I got to lose?, we need ‘here is exactly what is at stake’
We need to change the entire mindset. And that starts with the way we talk to our kids. Both girls and boys. Yes, we need to teach our kids to be safe. We need to teach them to use common sense. But we need to hammer home the difference between right and wrong when it comes to sexual assaults and rape.
We need to shift the burden.
Otherwise, all we are doing is skirting the issue.
34 Things Women do to Feel Safe: The Burden of Being Careful--how many have you done?