Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who is Responsible for Preventing Assault?

On Wednesday a young woman from Austin, Texas was standing at a bus stop.  While she waited for the school bus a man approached her from behind and grabbed her.  When the young woman screamed the man ran away.  The young woman's school then sent a letter home to parents encouraging them to speak to their children about safe practices including walking in groups, not speaking to strangers and informing adults if a stranger approaches. 

Now I am all for telling young people to be aware of their surroundings and encouraging them to be safe.  What bothers me about the advice in the school's letter is that it implies the young woman was somehow to blame for the man assaulting her.  If only she hadn't been standing at that bus stop alone.  If only she had done this, if only she had done that, this would never have happened to her.  

We need to stop blaming women for what men choose to do.  The conversation really needs to be about how we can teach men to respect women and their bodily autonomy.  We need to be encouraging men to take responsibility for their actions rather than blaming women for standing at a bus stop alone.


Anonymous said...

Your whole speech is kind of silly.

If a young man had been mugged or anything else, a similar speech would be given.

Also, your language is sexist. You assume women don't assault or inappropriately touch men, and dismiss when it occurs by only saying things the way you say them.

They always tell people to travel in groups, so don't act as though this is just something that's told to women.

Liza said...

I agree with the sentiment of this post – obviously what happened to this girl was horrible, and obviously it’s wrong to blame survivors of rape and assault for what happened to them. However, I just want to point out the use of gender here. You say, “We need to stop blaming women for what men choose to do.” I disagree with this wording because although it might not occur as much at bus stops, rape and sexual assault happens that doesn’t follow this gender pattern. Women can assault men, women can assault women, and men can assault men. It’s not that we need to stop blaming women for men’s actions; it’s about not blaming survivors for perpetrators’ actions. Everyone needs to be taught to respect everyone else’s bodily autonomy and that in any situation, no means no, and it’s never okay to initiate unwanted contact. In the context of this incident I completely agree that society’s error is in not doing just this – in not having educated this man properly about respecting bodily autonomy, and yes, about respecting women. It shouldn’t be unsafe for a woman to stand at a bus stop alone. I just wanted to throw the gender piece out there.

Amelia said...

Dear Anonymous,

Poooooor men. I am so sad.

Love, Amelia (who generally rejects your types of comments -- see our comment policy for more detail!)

Amelia said...

@Liza: I agree with your note on gender (women can and sometimes do assault men and women, and men can and do assault men). I also think that it is fair to say that this post may have benefited from saying something along the lines of "it’s about not blaming survivors for perpetrators’ actions," as you suggested.

However, I think that many readers of this post may want to keep several things in mind.

First, nowhere in this post does it mention a sexual assault. While victim blaming is a problem in assaults of sexual and non-sexual nature, it is not wise to generalize from one to the other.

Second, while women can be and are sexually aggressive and women can intend assault (sexually and otherwise) men and other women, the vasy majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. It is fair to acknowledge that sexual assault is a problem that men also deal with, but a 1997 Department of Defense report stated that only 9% of rape victims were men (and most often, when men are assaulted, men are involved as an assailant).

Just some things to keep in mind.

Liza said...

Whoops, sorry for misreading! Thanks for pointing it out Amelia. I had just had a discussion about rape and sexual assault with a bunch of people and I think that's why I misunderstood. The language of the post makes more sense to me now.

Anonymous said...

This is a different anonymous-- I did read the comment policy.

I'm curious as to your response to the first anonymous. "Poooooor men. I am so sad."

What I don't understand is why this kind of response/attitude/viewpoint is acceptable. Obviously this is a blog on feminism and women's right. However, how can you expect to advocate for women and bash men in the same forum, while hoping to sustain any kind of moral validity?

Amelia said...

Moral validity. Hmm.

First, to clarify, I did not write this post. I am Amelia, the founder of this blog, and main moderator of most of its comments. This is my space. I created it and invited every other person in (including my awesome co-bloggers, and every commenter).

This being a space of my creation regarding issue's affecting women, I can behave as I see fit. This is not a space where I feel the need to cater my behavior to the whims of outsiders, especially those who bring nothing productive to the discussion. (The only time I have really edited my behavior was through learning about privilege and how that impacts writing. But that is a choice I willingly made, and ask my co-bloggers to engage in also.)

Second, it is not "man bashing" to respond wit "Poooor men" when someone reads a post about something that happened to a woman and tries to imply that it is entirely invalid because it does not focus on men. This is a blog about feminism, which means it's about women's rights and, a lot of times, about women's experiences. Talking down to authors who aren't focusing on men is a derailing tactic and it misses the whole point of the blog (and that particular anonymous comment missed the point of the post, anyway).

In addition to all that, when someone runs a blog where people come and say horrible, hateful things all the time (that people like you never get to see), I think it's fair for people like myself to respond to off-topic, "What about the men?" comments with snark. Again, this is my space.

No further comments on this topic will be accepted. Let's focus on the post itself! Thanks.