A lot of people say “why can’t we criticize rape victims’ behavior? I mean, I agree that no one should commit rape; it’s a horrible crime. But you have to admit that there are some things that can increase your risk of being raped.”
I certainly agree.
For instance, 27% of perpetrators of rape are a spouse or romantic partner– a statistic that is particularly startling given that most people only have one spouse or romantic partner at a time, while they generally have several relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers they see in passing. Of the people you interact with in your day to day life, your spouse or romantic partner is by far the most likely to rape you. And no wonder! Most people regularly put themselves in a vulnerable position around their spouses and romantic partners: they sleep next to them, spend time around them naked and unarmed, and even have sex with them.
And it’s easy enough to avoid the risk, isn’t it? You have essentially complete control over whether you have a romantic partner. All you have to do is be celibate and not have any romantic relationships; to be on the safe side, you should probably also avoid platonic primary relationships, because most of the being-in-a-vulnerable-position-around-others concerns still apply, even though those are rare enough that they don’t show up in the data. Surely that’s a tiny price to pay for a reduction in your risk of getting raped, right?
(And there are other benefits! Current research suggests that it is very uncommon to be a victim of intimate partner violence if you don’t have an intimate partner.)
And, hey, how come these helpful people never talk about men? If you include men who are forced to penetrate women, year-to-year, men are as likely to be raped as women. Therefore, no man should ever get drunk or high unless he’s alone in a locked room, because a woman might rape him while he’s intoxicated. We should probably close down bars altogether. Or maybe they should be gender-segregated? We can have a heterosexual female bar and a heterosexual male bar, all flirting strictly prohibited. (Sorry, LGB people, you’re out of luck. It’s locked rooms for you guys.)
That doesn’t make any goddamn sense? I agree! For a lot of people, a primary relationship is one of the most fundamental sources of strength and happiness in their life, and sex and romance are really fun for most people. It’s smart to take reasonable precautions– don’t fuck people who violate small boundaries because they might violate big ones– but ultimately you just have to accept that dating people does increase your risk of being raped, and that you’ll take a small increase in your chance of being raped in exchange for not coming home to an empty twin bed for the rest of your life. Similarly, many men enjoy getting drunk with their friends; they don’t want to decrease their risk of getting raped at the cost of all their drunken half-remembered camaraderie.
The same thing is true of any other behavior people criticize in rape victims. I occasionally walk alone at night, because I did the cost-benefit analysis and decided that the low risk of being raped by a stranger on a street corner was outweighed by being able to get snacks at 2 am when I want them. Other people get drunk in public because, for them, the risk of being raped when drunk is outweighed by the enjoyment of getting drunk at bars.
(You might argue that perhaps these people are making an incorrect tradeoff. But in my experience there is not exactly an absence of the message that rape sucks really hard and you are more likely to be raped if you are drunk; I suspect all women who go out drinking are fully informed of the risks.)
This is, I think, a taboo tradeoff. Rape is the Worst Thing In The World. You’re not supposed to make reasonable cost-benefit analyses about the Worst Thing In The World and decide what is an acceptable risk to run. There is no such thing as an acceptable risk of the Worst Thing In The World! Can’t you read? It’s the Worst Thing In The World!
So here’s the corollary: If a person takes a calculated risk, and they get the bad outcome, they didn’t do anything wrong– even from a prudential perspective. If I offer to give you a thousand dollars if the coin comes up heads if you give me fifty dollars if the coin comes up tails, and it came up tails, this does not magically make the bet a bad bet. If I die in a car crash, that does not magically make my decision to ride in a car instead of taking a bus everywhere a bad decision, even though buses are safer. And if I decide that I really like partying and I’m willing to take a risk of being raped, and then I am raped, it does not magically make my decision a bad decision.
(The thought that it does is called hindsight bias, by the way.)
The rape victim did not make an unwise decision; they made a wise decision that, unfortunately, due to circumstances outside their control, turned out poorly. They are not at fault and should not change their behavior. The only person in this situation who ought to change their behavior is the rapist, on account of they violently attacked someone.