Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself


* Disclaimer: I was reluctant to cover an issue as depressing as this but this blog is not all sunshine & daisies. I want this blog to challenge social norms, to help us confront our prejudices and the misinformation we have taken to heart. I want this blog to help us break free of the fear that comes with having misinformation about issues such as the following…

Warning, this article could be triggering to those who have struggled with sexual assault and violence. Click with caution – just remember fear is only as powerful as we choose to let it be!

After a harrowing hour spent lost in a very bad area today (GPS systems do not always come through) I got to thinking quite a bit about the idea of a “rape culture” that I see debated about on many sociological and feminist blogs as well as in my real life experiences with domestic violence awareness events. The message from all of these sources is simple: don’t live your life in constant fear that something bad is going to happen to you. Don’t assume that being a woman, being out at a certain time of night, or being in a certain area puts you in “danger” of rape or abuse. Why? Because if you live your life in fear, if you adapt yourself to what is sometimes referred to as a rape schedule (avoiding certain areas at night, keeping your keys in your hands, etc.) then you are letting the hate win. You are bending your life to accommodate hate.

I’m not saying don’t be prepared, don’t be cautious. All I am saying is: don’t let fear win.

As a good first step towards conquering this very understandable fear I’d like to dispel some common myths about domestic violenc and rape. The following facts come from an e-mail forward that has been going around recently, ususally under a header like “Important Information FOR YOUR SAFTEY.”  It should actually read, “Commonly Accepted Sexual Assault Myths.”

[The whole this is ridiculously long, I have chosen highlights for you lucky readers!]

The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed . They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair . Women with short hair are not common targets. The second thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around specifically to cut clothing.

This is, for lack of a better term, total bullshit. Law enforcement officers, psychologists who have researched this issue, and activists at violence awareness organizations were all interviewed by several newspapers (like this one) and everyone asked pretty much agrees: rapists don’t discriminate based on clothing or hair. Moreover, its almost impossible to get into the minds of these people – so addled by hate – that even if a generalization could be made (it can’t, rapists are people too and like all people they all have their own ways of thinking) it would be almost impossible to gather the information needed to confidently characterize the “typical rape victim.”

Men are most likely to attack & rape in the early morning, between 5:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

Factually? No. Denver Police Sgt. John Burbach explains: “Mostly, the reported assaults occur in the evening hours to early morning” However, what does this information mean to you? Does it mean you should avoid being out at night? No. It just means you should be smart and aware, but not AFRAID, pretty much at all times. So go out at night with friends whenever possible, stay away from deserted streets unless its necessary, and just be aware of thats around you. Thats all – no need to carry pepper spray or clutch your keys as you race to your car.

The number one place women are abducted from/attacked is grocery store parking lots. The number two: office parking lots/garages. Number three: public restrooms.

An RAAP spokesperson and the police officer perviously mentioned both took issue with this, saying that “statistics in studies […] don’t support this idea about grocery stores or parking lots being especially unsafe, it comes down to common sense. If you’re in a dark, isolated place, you’re a much easier target than if you’re at Cherry Creek Mall, with hundreds of people around you. You don’t want to be in a dark, isolated place.” So if you get out of work at nine and want to do your grocery shopping? Go ahead! If you have to pee and you’re out in public? March right in there and relieve yourself with confidence. Honestly, the panic that articles like this create does nothing to protect women or men, all it does is create unnecessary fear.

Only 2% said they carried weapons because rape carries a 3-5 year sentence but rape with a weapon is 15-20 years. If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn’t worth it because it will be time-consuming. These men said they would not pick on women who have umbrellas, or other similar objects that can be used from a distance, in their hands. If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell STOP! or STAY BACK! Most of the rapists this man talked to said they’d leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Again, they are looking for an EASY target.

As Snopes points out, to say this statistic was a little off would be kind… the US Department of Justice reported in 1995 that approximatley 30% of potential rapists carried weapons. I’d say 28% is a pretty large difference, wouldn’t you? This fact makes that second part sound a little stupid – especially when you remember that all people are different and therefore not all attackers are going to react in the same way. If you find yourself in a situation like that the smart thing to do is not attack; you yell and you run and attack only if necessary… your number one priority should be getting away and getting somewhere safe with witnesses and people who can step up to help you.

Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc, and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc.) DON’T DO THIS! The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.

This is one of those tips that really bothered me… only women sit in their cars, men don’t ever display these behaviors? Seriously now.

ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)

Logically, elevators can be just as dangerous: small enclosed space that can be stopped between floors with the appropriate press of a button? Logically you can find a reason that almost every place you go could be dangerous. Lets go back to the old standby: I could walk out of my house tomorrow morning and be hit by a car while crossing the street… does that mean I’m never going to leave my house? No.

Besides, I like the stairs – they’re good exercise and much faster.

Also, why do we keep trying to drive home the point that darkness (night) = danger? As I learned when I was five; there’s no reason to be afraid of the dark – everything is the same as it is during the day, its just a little less bright.

As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP! It may get you raped or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked ‘for help’ into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abduct ed his next victim.

Always. Damn those female emotions! Why can’t we be logical and safe like men? Then we’d never get raped, after all… men never get raped. Oh… wait… they do… don’t they? This “fact” really gets to the heart of my problem with these types of fear-inducing “safety tips.” The bottom line is compassion should not be referred to as a liability. Being a nice person won’t get you hurt, I promise. Just trust your instincts and make sure you’re not alone in a situation you can’t trust and you’re fine. Tips like this only hurt women and men as they place the blame for horrible events like this on the backs of the victims who shouldn’t have been so sympathetic.

I’d like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it onto them, as well.

I don’t think I need to explain why this closing drives me crazy. But just in case: women are not the only ones who have to worry about rape, men can be raped too, men can be in danger too. Disclaimers like this are detrimental not only to women but also to all of the male victims of rape who are essentially being told that what happened to them shouldn’t have happened to them, as a man.

This list of “tips” also neglects to mention that Acquaintance Rape is FAR more common than Stranger Rape. In fact a report in “Violence Against Women” which is published by the Department of Justice shows that 82% of the victims were raped by someone they knew rather than a stranger on the street. (Does anyone have statistics on men? They’re proving quite elusive…) Maybe we should all start carrying pepper spray at home, at school, on dates, when hanging out with friends… after all 82% is huge! [See how that suggestion sounds ridiculous? Why doesn’t it sound ridiculous for the under 20% of rapes that people seem to be obsessing over?]


The bottom line? Be SAFE but do NOT live your life in fear. Don’t follow a “rape schedule” go out whenever you please and feel safe because if you live your life in fear than you’re going to miss a whole lot; there will always be danger, hate, and hurt but we cannot let it be stronger than us!

More More Information: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Netowork) probably has the most comprehensive website out there – that avoids the steriotypes and common myths. If you want to know how to keep yourself safe, you need support over an incident that happened to you, you want statistics on these crimes, you want an anti-rape organization to support, or more… this is the most reputable place I can think to go. There’s also this article on pandagon that talks about more long-term efforts that can be made in teaching adolescents how to build non-violent relationsips.

2 thoughts on “Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

  1. Amen.

    Finally – a little common sense! I got very tired, a long time ago of being told I am constantly in danger, just because I have boobs.

    Thank you for posting this!

  2. very interesting. some of the stuff you pointed out is true. very true. and the funny thing is when i got this email i freaked & emailed it to everybody on my list.

    so now i can run in the morning. phew. ha ha. without fear.

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