Common Sense for Preventing Sexual Assault

Image from mencanstoprape.org

So much of the advice out there about how to prevent sexual assault is usually directed towards the victims who are mostly women.  Something about that seems backwards. Why is all the responsibility still being put on women to “prevent” getting assaulted? I think that more of those conversations need to be directed at the perpetrators, who are mostly male, on how not to commit a sexual assault, what ‘no’ means,  the definition of ‘consent’, and the knowledge that no woman is ‘asking for it’.

A recent article provides an interesting, slightly humorous, informative, male version of “Ways to Prevent Sexual Assault” that more people need to see:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1.       Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2.       When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3.       If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4.       NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5.       If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6.       Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7.       USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8.       Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9.       Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10.   Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

                And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime – no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you saw a woman being battered?  Would you do something – maybe call the police? Or would you just ignore it and think that it wasn’t any of your business? You may think that you would try to intervene.  But are you sure?

This question came up in a recent article that refers to a story reported by ABC News in a “What Would You Do” hidden camera report.  In the hidden camera video, people’s reactions were recorded when they saw women being physically and verbally abused by their boyfriends in a crowded restaurant.  The scenarios involved two different couples, a Caucasian couple and an African-American couple.  The couples were actors posing as a man and woman in an abusive relationship.  Please be warned, that the video from the news story can be disturbing to watch. 

In each hidden camera scenario, the woman has been made up to look bruised and battered and acts visibly distressed.  The “boyfriend” is loud, verbally abusive, and is being physically rough with his “girlfriend.”  This scenario is played out four different times using both couples.  However, in the second time for both the Caucasian couple and the African-American couple, the “girlfriends” are provocatively dressed. 

The reaction from the onlookers is both hopeful and discouraging.  In the scenarios where both the Caucasian “girlfriend” and the African-American “girlfriend” are dress conservatively, other diners appear concerned for the abused woman and offer to help her right away, ultimately confronting the abusive “boyfriend.” But, in the other two scenarios, both the Caucasian and African-American “girlfriends” who are dressed provocatively, do not get any assistance from the other diners in the restaurant.  In the video it is clear that the diners are bothered by what they are seeing, but their concern, surprisingly, is not for the safety of the “girlfriend,” but for the dignity of the couple.  Some diners even mention to the couple that they are embarrassing themselves. 

It is hopeful, that in today’s society, where everyone seems to be so self-absorbed and isolated, that there are some people out there who recognize right from wrong and are still willing to intervene, especially in cases of abuse.  But it is discouraging that the misconceptions are still out there about abuse and that some women based on the way they dress or who they are “deserve” to be abused.  It is not okay to think that anyone, no matter what, deserves to be treated badly, battered, or abused.  Abuse is the fault of the abuser – period.  But as the video clearly showed, some people are still misinformed.   

Obviously, ABC News’ report was non-scientific and had their test been done a few more times or at different restaurants and in different cities, the results could have been different; and then perhaps, at least one person would have come to the aid of the provocatively dressed “girlfriend.”  But as it stands, I’m afraid the results were pretty accurate about people’s attitudes and understanding of abuse.  We as a society need to realign our thinking and stop blaming the victim so that the focus can be on the abusers and making sure that they, not the victims, are held accountable.

Trying to Understand Abuse

“Why didn’t she just leave?” “How could she stay with him?” These are the kind of questions that one hears when someone admits to being in an abusive relationship or when someone hears about a woman who wasn’t able to leave and either she or her abuser ended up dead. Understanding why women stay in abusive relationships or marriages can be hard. To many people it seems as simple as making the choice and walking away. But more often than not, the case is not that simple.

According to Psychology Today, 1 out of every 2 women will be in an abusive relationship at some point in her life. Think about that. That means that half of all women will experience abuse in a relationship. Women in abusive relationships can experience different types of abuse like physical, sexual, or emotional.

How is it possible that so many women find themselves in harmful relationships? The answer is complicated. Many abusers don’t show their true colors until the woman already believes they are in love. Others create an environment in which the woman feels trapped and isolated. There is no straight forward answer as to how women get in these relationships, but it happens, and it happens often.

Along with all the misconceptions about how a woman finds herself in an abusive relationship, there seem to be just as many misconceptions about the “type” of woman who finds herself in one. Simply put there is no “type”. Abusive relationships know no race, ethnicity, size, society, age, or economic status.

So it’s happening and it’s happening everywhere.  This still doesn’t explain why women stay, or why they don’t get help. If only it were simple and easy. But the thing to understand about domestic violence, or any kind of abuse in a relationship, is that it is a cycle, a cycle that is perpetuated by fear, dependence, isolation, and culture, among others. Many of these women fear for their lives or the lives of their children, they fear being alone, of being unwanted, shunned. Some women become dependent financially on their abuser and literally have no means of starting over. Sometimes their culture influences how they feel about the abuse, some cultures look the other way, and in some cultures violence is a norm and accepted. One of the biggest reasons that women stay is that they don’t realize the support out there for them and the options available to them, so they stay. While to someone who has never been in a situation like an abusive relationship, there is simply no way to understand why a woman would stay or go back, but to anyone who knows someone who has gone through abuse or been through it themselves knows that it is not simple or easy.

One way that is being used to try to help people understand the patterns of abuse in relationships and what the women go through is the Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS). BWS is a model developed by Dr. Lenore E. Walker, which is used to “describe the mindset and emotional state of a battered woman.” According to Walker’s model, and the RAINN website, there are four major characteristics of a woman who is suffering from the syndrome:

1. The woman believes that the violence was or is her fault.

2. The woman has an inability to place responsibility for the violence elsewhere.

3. The woman fears for her life and/or her children’s lives.

4. The woman has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

While the model is not fool proof and by no means explains all that a woman goes through it is a place to start and is often used as an educational tool used to help raise awareness of “the impact that domestic violence can have on women.”

The model is a good start in understanding what some people find unfathomable, staying in an abusive situation, but what really needs to happen is people need to understand that domestic and dating violence and abuse are problems and that victims need support and non-judgmental people to help them when they are ready to leave. So whether or not you can’t understand why they were in the situation or why they went back or why it took them a while to leave, the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting women out of these situations, raising awareness about the problems, educating men and women about healthy relationships, and putting a stop to abuse.

If you or someone you know is in a bad situation there is help out there. You can contact the Michelle Kroner, Victim Services Adjudication Advisor at 816-235-1652 or kronermm@umkc.edu or the UMKC Police at 816-235-1515 (or 911). Some other resources are available on our website: http://www.umkc.edu/endviolence/resources.asp