The nice thing about helpful advice, in general, is that you can refuse to take it.

Consider the case of the helpful person who says to me “Ozy, if you ride in a car, you’re significantly increasing your chance of dying in a car accident. You should only take buses.” I would respond with “thank you, but I don’t want to spend hours of my life waiting for the perennially late bus to arrive; I will take a car.” No one finds this a strange conversation.

Or consider the person who observes me leaving my bike unlocked. “If you leave your bike unlocked, it might get stolen!” they say. “Yeah, I know,” I say, “but the bike lock hasn’t come from Amazon yet, and I need to get dinner.” Again, this is not considered a strange conversation.

Now, imagine the case of the person who helpfully informs me that walking around alone late at night in the sort of semi-gentrified neighborhood I tend to live in increases my risk of getting raped. I reply, “Yes, I know, but I enjoy the peaceful feeling I get when I walk alone late at night when the stars are shining and the world is quiet. So even though it increases my risk of getting raped, I am going to continue to take my long walks.”

Or imagine someone who isn’t me having a conversation with a friend about the risks of getting wasted in public. The friend says, “you know, if you get wasted, you might get raped.” Imagine if that person replies “I’ve thought about it, and actually I’ve decided I care more about being able to get wasted sometimes than I do about getting raped.”

If you are like most people I’ve talked to, the latter two conversations sound really weird. Those people sound careless, like they’re taking pointless risks with their safety, like they fail to understand how horrible rape is, and it is quite unlikely that their friend will go “yeah, that makes sense” instead of “but you might get raped when you walk around late at night!” Rape risk is just not the sort of thing you make tradeoffs about.

Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with how objectively bad the consequences are. Most people agree that being a rape survivor is less bad that being dead (otherwise, rape survivor euthanasia would be a much more popular program than it actually is); nevertheless, the risk assessment is done much more sensibly for car accidents than it is for being raped.

What this means is that saying “this thing increases a woman’s risk of getting raped” essentially means “no woman should ever do this thing ever again, no matter how good a reason they have for doing it.”

Furthermore, for things that are not rape, how much you get condemned for doing something tracks pretty well with how important it is to the average person to do that thing. For most people, leaving their bikes or houses unlocked is not particularly important, and so you get criticized pretty hard for leaving your bike unlocked; however, for most people, riding in a car is a pretty important part of their lifestyle, and so you don’t really get criticized for riding in a car if you have a car accident.

This is, incidentally, why “I don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods late at night waving my wallet stuffed full of cash around!” is a terrible analogy. Most people have no reason to walk around in bad neighborhoods late at night waving around a wallet stuffed full of cash, while many people do have perfectly good reasons for going on late-night walks.

For rape, how much you get criticized for doing something does not necessarily track with how much it interferes with your life. In a study of which rape prevention tips are the most common, several were things that wouldn’t interfere too much in the life of an ordinary person (“communicate sexual limits”, “leave unsafe or uncomfortable situations”, “lock your doors”). However, many would limit the lives of the average person: “be aware of surroundings” (whoops, so much for playing Pokemon Go or listening to podcasts while you walk home), “avoid secluded areas”, “walk in well-traveled areas”, and “avoid being alone.”

(There is also the separate issue that, due to the undercounting of male victims, this advice is provided almost solely to women, and therefore circumscribes women’s lives while leaving men’s untouched. Men may very well be as likely to be raped as women, and are certainly as likely to experience violence at the hands of men, so there is no reason to direct this advice solely to women. Everyone must avoid secluded areas!)

So let’s assume that you’re an average introvert for whom “avoid being alone” is advice about as good as “consider doing surgery without anesthetic on your own foot.” In what way can you respond to this advice?

Well, for rape, you can’t say “I value being alone and thus am willing to take the increased risk of getting raped.” Indeed, the thought might very well be unthinkable. Rape is something you’re not used to thinking of in terms of acceptable risk and reasonable tradeoffs; that’s utterly taboo. Deciding to increase your risk of being raped is just not a thing people do. But, naturally, you also have no desire to be around two or more people every day for the rest of your life. You can’t say “I want to make this particular tradeoff,” and you certainly can’t say “I am part of a culture in which it is unacceptable to say I want to make this particular tradeoff”; like a lot of reasoning, avoiding cultural taboos happens on a subdeliberate level and you don’t have access to exactly what your brain is doing.

So what do you say? “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

Which is usually cunningly disguised as the phrases “don’t blame victims” and “teach men not to rape.”

Which seems super-offputting to people who just want to give useful safety advice. Of course you agree that people of all genders shouldn’t rape, and of course you agree that it is insanely douchey to tell a rape survivor that they should have stayed sober, and so you don’t see how those topics have any relevance to the thing you’re saying. And some people seem to imply that no one should ever talk about reducing one’s risk of rape– which is an attitude we don’t have about any other issue.

Well, here’s the problem: You functionally cannot have a discussion of sensible risk management if other people can’t respond with “having thought about it, I am totally comfy running this particular risk”, and particularly if the subject is so taboo that they can’t respond with “fuck you, I get to make risk tradeoffs that make sense to me.” If hopping on one foot reducing your risk of rape means that all women everywhere are going to be hopping on one foot next week, then women are going to do some hella fallacious reasoning about why they shouldn’t have to hop on one foot.

If you want to be able to have sensible conversations on avoiding rape, start by making rape risk something it’s acceptable to make tradeoffs about. Doing it the other way around won’t work.