I’m angry about the “discussion” that Mia Freedman has sparked up again in the media. If you have survived sexual assault or rape: it was not your fault. You could not have prevented it by being smarter or having less fun or living in more fear. I am so sorry for what happened to you, and I am angry that anyone would think the best way to deal with this is to give women ludicrous advice on how they can make themselves “safer”.
Sure, teach children not to drink so much that it seriously impairs their judgement, that’s good and fine. Life can be safer when you’re not drunk, for loads of reasons; I hope you teach that to your sons too. But we all take risks, often, for fun. That’s what life is about. Getting drunk ought not to be that dangerous in any reasonable society; your mates will keep you away from roads and dangerous objects, the sort of things a reasonable reaction time and common sense will help you avoid. But a man, especially one you know, shouldn’t be a dangerous object, and whether you’re drunk or not has nothing to do with the decision a man makes to rape someone. This “debate” is stealing oxygen from the conversations we should be having. I’m not okay with saying “that’s the reality, so let’s deal with that”, because the media “reality” of sexual assault is largely fiction based on rare cases that fit the popular idea of how we want to view rapists; and anyway, the actual reality is not something we “accept”, it’s something we change. I never want to hear the phrase “well, until society changes” again. We should be working to change our society, every day.
The reality I have learned from my brave, wonderful, generous friends (not to mention all the depressing statistics on the subject) is that sexual assault is mostly committed by men against women. It’s hardly ever committed by strangers. It much more often than not goes unreported out of shame felt by the victim (shame inflicted by our culture), making it hard for her to access the support she needs to become a survivor. The vast majority of rapists can’t remember what their victims were wearing, and they don’t wait around outside pubs. If we were really facing our reality, we’d be asking what we need to change about our culture to make sure men do not get away with rape and sexual assault the way they do now – cloaked by an understanding that shame will hide their actions.
So what do we do? We speak up. Teach kids when you have The Talk about enthusiastic consent. Demystify sex, don’t make it holy or embarrassing. Remove the taboo around talking about sex seriously. Dismantle the harmful gendered ideas of how humans think about sex (you know the ones: men can’t control their urge for it, women want it but will pretend they won’t, or don’t want it but will have it to get a relationship, or only want it if they’re morally corrupt, and on and on). Don’t let rape jokes be okay in a society that can’t have a serious, mature discussion about rape. And don’t let this become a “debate” about whether we’re “allowed” to tell women or girls not to get drunk, as though you can somehow link that with safety from sexual assault while simultaneously claiming not to be blaming the victim.