Re: Mia Freedman et al and their “advice”

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.


  1. Tim says:

    I completely agree with what you’re saying, but 100% think you have completely misread Mia’s article. SHE IS NOT VICTIM BLAMING. She is offering words on how to stop there even being victims in the 1st place.. Let’s go with an allegory.

    There are plenty of Bears in the wild. Not every single bear will attack every single hiker that it comes across, but every now and then, bears get the OPPORTUNITY to attack a hiker (the hiker forgot to put his food high in the tree – the bear could smell it and came running). The hiker was killed, which is obviously a terrible tragedy. However, when you really think about, there is nothing that the hiker could have done to to save himself getting attacked (short of never going hiking in the first place….. But he loved hiking, so off he went). The bear was stronger and faster, once it saw its chance to attack nothing could be done to stop it.
    But, maybe there WAS something the hiker could do to REDUCE his chance of being killed by this savage wild animal. You see, the hiker slept in and missed his ‘bush survival’ training class. He didn’t learn to hang his food high in a tree, he didn’t learn how to spot the type of landscapes where bear’s often live etc. Had he known these things he MAY have escaped the bush with his life. Or, he may not have given the bear could have just been in the right place at the right (wrong) time. Regardless, I would have to say that if he did actually go to “bush survival’ class, his chances of being attacked are surely reduced. Can I point out – the Hiker is NOT to blame – bears a wild animals. Admittedly, he may have had a better chance had he not slept through his alarm and missed the class, therefore learning some good survival techniques. But regardless, the bush is there to be enjoyed by everyone. Both experienced and beginner Hiker’s. Just because there are wild bears out there, doesn’t mean that Hiker’s should stop enjoying what they love – it is their right to go hiking.
    To ensure that the next hiker REDUCES HIS CHANGE of being attacked by a wild bear, we have two options. 1) domesticate every single bear (obviously impossible) or 2) Knowing that THERE WILL ALWAYS BE WILD BEARS IN THE BUSH (THIS IS A FACT – very unfortunately there is nothing we can short of killing every single bear), we can educate all future hikers about the dangers of bears and the various things they can do to try and stay out of harms way.

    If we Forced all future hikers go to Bush Survival classes, we are NOT saying that it was the 1st hikers fault for getting himself killed (He, VERY UNFORTUNATELY, was seen as a target by the bear and only realised when it was too late). We are merely trying to reduce all future Hiker deaths as a result of Bear attacks.

    This is long i know… but surely it has a point???

    • Ben says:

      Tim, there’s a big flaw in your analogy. It’s no-one’s “fault” if a hiker is attacked by a bear. Not the hiker’s, not the bear’s. A provoked bear will attack someone, even if the provocation wasn’t intentional. They act on instinct.

      A rapist or perpetrator of sexual assault is a human being. He has free will; he makes decisions. He chooses to assault a woman. Whether he chooses to or not has nothing to do with whether she is drunk. Look up the statistics. Whether or not the woman assaulted will feel too ashamed to report the assault, access support services, and psychologically recover? That has an awful lot to do with the conversations we have around what she did or didn’t do to “make herself a target”, when of course she did nothing of the kind. That man may well choose to assault someone even if no-one is drunk (statistically only a small percentage of men commit assault and rape, but they do so repeatedly); if he chooses the most drunk woman as his target (and there’s nothing to suggest this is what happens), it’s only because the conversation we have in public makes him feel he will be more likely to get away with it.

      The reason this matters is because the conversation has to be about what the men in these scenarios are doing, not what the women are doing. Otherwise we only perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming – the flip-side of which is that we treat men as wild bears: acting on instinct, just needing to be provoked in the right way or offered the right opportunity to commit sexual assault. I think you’ll agree that’s ridiculous and abhorrent.

      • Ian says:

        You are arguing from the wrong premise – assuming, that you actually are arguing the basis of Mia’s article.

        Her premise was based upon how to minimize risk whilst yours seems to be that the risk should not exist in the first place.

        Clearly you have the right of it in the sense that all crime is the responsibility of the perpetrator not the victim. But I am sure that this would not stop you putting a burglar alarm on your shop.

        The fact is that criminals exist and taking precautions to minimize the risk of encountering them is common sense and does not lessen the culpability of the criminal.

        • Ben says:

          I am arguing that the best way to minimise risk is to stop human beings choosing to engage in behaviour that causes harm. In that, Mia and I agree – but the behaviour we need to change is men committing sexual assault.

          I disagree that drinking alcohol makes you a target for rapists, because all the statistics and studies tell us that’s not what happens. You are not less likely to get raped if you don’t get drunk. A man who will choose to rape a woman will do so regardless. We can’t stop him by telling women not to get drunk; even if Mia’s premise were true, all you would do is change the target of his assault. We can only stop him by changing our culture.

          As for putting a burglar alarm on my shop? I might do that. But that’s not a real analogy. Someone who resorts to theft rarely does so for the same reasons as someone commits sexual assault. They may be desperately poor, unable to find honest work in an unjust society that abandons many who need the support of the community; they may be operating outside of society’s laws because those laws don’t support them. They still choose to rob, of course, and the blame is still on them, but there are problems in society we can address to make it much less likely. Thieves – especially ones who rob businesses – are doing wrong, and choosing to do so, but rarely without some kind of motivation.

          No such mitigating factors apply to sexual assault. It is about the exercise of power over another person (and not about sex at all). It is usually targeted not at strangers, but at those close to to the perpetrator. And it is precisely because of the arguments we have in public about how women should act not to provoke it that men can believe they have the right to commit them.

          I think we should all minimise risk. I disagree that “not drinking” is at all helpful in minimising the risk of being raped; rather, men who commit rape and sexual assault are doing so in part because of the culture such conversations create.

          • Emma says:

            Can someone please point me towards ANY evidence that supports this oft-quoted argument:

            “No such mitigating factors apply to sexual assault. It is about the exercise of power over another person (and not about sex at all). “

  2. Ian says:

    Forgive me but I have just come upon Mia’s article by chance – and read it carefully. It seems to me to offer very sound advice. In your first paragraph you say:

    “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…”

    On a careful re-reading of Mia’s article it seems to me that this is precisely the advice that she is offering.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Ian,

      That’s fair comment, but I disagree – mainly because the entire article is couched as a response to sexual assault against women. And while it is true that consuming less alcohol does make you less likely to have accidents and encounter certain other dangers, studies (and I’m trying to find one I can link to which is publicly available – I don’t like to mention generic “studies” without sources) have shown that there is no correlation between intoxication and rape. It’s simply not true that drunk women are more likely to be sexually assaulted – just as it is not true that “rapists” are anonymous strangers who trawl bars preying on vulnerable women. Those are exceptionally rare cases; in the real world (and Freedman does seem to want to talk about what’s real), the sad truth is that the vast majority of such crimes are carried out by friends, partners and family members.

      The real danger posed by this popular belief that alcohol – or manner of dress, walking alone, being out at all, “slutty” behaviour (whatever that’s supposed to mean) etc. – makes someone a target has a demonstrated effect on juries convicting perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s not that people truly believe a victim “deserved it” (though some perpetrators surely think so), but they do subconsciously put women who “put themselves at risk” into a separate category. And in any case it’s hardly a fair comparison: being drunk and wandering into traffic, you are posing a danger to yourself and others, and no-one will choose to run you over as a consequence. But being drunk in a bar with your friends, if one of them sexually assaults you – they choose to do that. They don’t choose to do it because you’re drunk, unless of course they somehow have received the message that this is more acceptable – or at worst, they just know they’re more likely to get away with it.

      This reply got long, sorry! But in short, I think “don’t get too drunk, you’ll do dumb things that put yourself in danger” is a fine argument in general, and good advice; but “don’t get too drunk, you’ll do dumb things and make yourself a target for rapists” is not only not true, but does real harm to the well-being of survivors of sexual assault.

  3. amd says:

    Thank you. Her victim blaming piece was genuinely revolting. I hope someone posts a link to this there, though I doubt they will publish it.

  4. Dani says:
  5. fee says:

    you are a beautiful man, Ben. Thank you for writing this beautiful, succinct, calm but passionate piece. You’re totally right, it’s not OK for only girls to be taught how to prevent or cope with the possibility of rape. If only more men understood this as clearly as you do.
    Hugs for saying it x

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