Rape and personal responsibility- why rape victims are not iPhones.


When addressing rape myths with groups time and time again the following analogy will come up:

“If I walk down a street waving my iPhone (or other expensive gadget) about then if I get mugged it is partly my fault”

ie. a female* bears part of the responsibility of being raped if she was dressed “provocatively”/drunk/walking alone at night.

Today I asked twitter for help with responding to this victim blaming analogy and people had some great responses so I thought I would blog about them here to help others who maybe addressing rape myths with young people or other groups.

Firstly as an analogy it is flawed from the outset- the motive to commit theft is often poverty/wanting something for nothing/funding substance abuse/gang violence. The motive to commit rape is about power, control &violation of another human being. Different motives = weak analogy.

More importantly the analogy is flawed as it is equating a human being with an object ie. it considers both an iPhone and a woman* to be “desirable objects”. A rant about the objectification of women is beyond the scope of this post but simply put: parting a human from an expensive piece of equipment is not the same as violating an individuals bodily autonomy.

As @langtry_girl pointed out so powerfully:

Thus equating a rape to theft of an iphone is useless as the two are not really comparable. Phones are just fancy electronic pieces of plastic, getting it nicked would be annoying but they are replaceable. A persons right to bodily autonomy and their feelings and reaction to such a violation might have potentially much more traumatic long lasting physical and mental effects.**

Secondly it minimises the blame that the perpetrator should hold for committing the offence. In both cases of muggings, physical or sexual assaults the blame lies with the person carrying out the crime- the criminal, not the victim. Likewise it puts responsibility on possible victims to not get raped/mugged/assault rather than where it should be with the perpetrator not to rape/mug/assault. It is also incredibly offensive to the majority non crime committing population as it is working on an assumption that muggers or rapists are in the majority rather than the tiny minority.

The law relating to rape and sexual assault is complicated (see comments for a nice clarification re. Male and female perpetrators) it is often considered that only men can commit rape so whilst the following image does not take into account that men can be victims too and women can commit sexual assaults I still think it is definitely worth sharing

Also some other things to think about when this analogy is used to discuss rape and personal responsibility:

If we alter the analogy to get rid of the “iPhones/women are desirable objects” metaphor and instead replace it with someone getting senselessly beaten up on their way home after a night out (ie. also a physical (but in this case not sexual) violation of another human being). Do we blame the victim in this case for their behaviour? We might if there was drink fuelled aggression involved by both parties but if the victim was a truly innocent party and the perpetrator a mindless thug then I think there is a sexual dichotomy here in that in this case if the victim of the physical assault was male- he wouldn’t get blamed for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” whereas a female victim of physical (not sexual) assault might be?

Also would anyone ever tell a mugging victim “You really wanted to be parted with your expensive electronic gadgets“? How comes it is somehow acceptable to effectively tell a rape victim “you were asking for it”?

Crime prevention and victim blaming need to be separated out very clearly. Whilst you can take some steps to reduce the likelihood of a crime happening to you, the scenarios of getting mugged for an iPhone versus getting raped are very different. The iPhone mugging maybe preventative in some cases. The police might say “In this area, people are looking out for phones to steal, you should probably not show that you have one publicly.” because their crime statistics show that muggings maybe more likely in this area but likewise no-one would expect you to never ever use your iPhone ever in public in case you get mugged as that is just not workable, you might as well just have a landline! However despite people calling certain paths in their local area “Rape Alley”- the statistics of possible rape locations just don’t exist, rape doesn’t only occur at night down dark alleys committed by violent strangers (66% of recorded cases the victim knew the attacker) given that a victim can be raped anywhere and at any time, wearing anything, sober or drunk, then the only crime prevention advice to truly avoid being raped is to “never speak or interact with anyone ever ever again because you might be raped” which is obviously completely ludicrous advice not least because the vast vast majority of humans on this earth are not rapists!

The best preventative advice is to live your life by the maxim “everyone should be free to behave as they want without impinging on the rights of others to do the same”.

As @WarrenNiblock pointed out:

Finally as my friend @AdventuresJapes pointed out:

The analogy is more like inviting someone to batter your face into a pulp by using a mobile phone in public. … as in… not an analogy at all.

Thanks to @langtry_girl @WarrenNiblock, @adventuresjapes @Gaving2x @Ljmckeever @veganben @frothydragonMN and @Glosswitch for your blogs, thoughts and help on clarifying this post for me.

*I put female here deliberately – I do recognise that males can also be victims of rape and it absolutely is not my intention to minimise their traumatic experiences however the vast majority of rapes (and the English&Welsh legal definition of rape) are carried out by someone who is male and I feel that in cases of personal responsibility and victim blaming it is often females who are blamed for their behaviour. I don’t feel society would necessarily blame a male rape victim in the same way for being dressed “provocatively”/drunk/walking alone at night, however they might apply victim blaming in a vile homophobic manner e.g. “he was acting gay”. Rape victim blaming in all forms is wrong and completely unacceptable, but this post is focusing on the specific type of victim blaming relating to female victim behaviours that don’t apply necessarily apply in the same way in cases of male rape victims.

**amended this paragraph to clarify further thanks to John’s comments below.

9 thoughts on “Rape and personal responsibility- why rape victims are not iPhones.

  1. Currently in England & Wales (it is slightly different in Scotland) legally only men can commit rape (women can commit sexual assault)

    Not quite – the most serious offence a woman could be charged with under SOA 2003, as an individual perpetrator is ‘assault by penetration’, which is effectively rape with anything other than a penis and carries a maximum life sentence – this is not the same offence as a sexual assault, which carries only a 10 year maximum tariff. However, a woman could be charged with rape under the doctrine of ‘common purpose’ if she were part of group of people who committed a gang rape, so its not quite true to say that women cannot commit rape in law, even if the legal definition of rape would appear to preclude that possibility by explicitly referencing the use of penis as a defining characteristic of the offence.

  2. I must take issue with this:

    “Thus equating a rape to theft of an iphone is useless and in some ways offensive as the two are not really comparable. Phones are just fancy electronic pieces of plastic, getting it nicked is a pain but it’s not the end of the world, the victim probably has insurance, any bruises sustained during a mugging will probably heal, whereas rape is an extreme emotional and physical violation with potentially much more traumatic long lasting physical and mental effects.”

    What’s offensive is trivializing the effects a violent crime like mugging can have on its victims as a mere inconvenience. Being suddenly being ripped from the normal routine of your life and placed in potentially mortal danger can cause severe psychologically trauma, as can being helplessly under the the power of someone who wishes you ill. Being beaten or attacked or threatened with a weapon can have serious psychological effects. (And, even in purely physical terms, can be considerably more serious than a few bruises.)

    Being mugged can and not infrequently does cause severe trauma, with its attendant effects for the victim- emotional numbness, traumatic flashbacks, recurring nightmares, loss of interest in their friends or things that gave them happiness, severe anxiety, fear of circumstances that remind them of the attack, and so forth- that can last for years, or for a lifetime. Go to a support forum like https://www.ptsdforum.org and search for the word “mugged” or “mugging” if you want to see what you reduce to the loss of “pieces of plastic” can mean. Seeking or accepting help is already hard enough for sufferers of post-traumatic stress as it is, without being told that what happened to them was no big deal because there were no sex organs involved.

    • Thankyou for your comment. It was not my intention to offend or upset and I do recognise that victims of crime may experience far reaching effects. I think I expressed it clumsily- the point I was trying to make is that loss of a gadget cannot really be compared to loss of bodily autonomy. However where muggings or assaults also include violating a persons bodily autonomy the subsequent trauma levels the victim feels might be similar. Although individuals all respond to traumatic situations very differently so hard to compare, I will try and clarify my post better later, I’m speaking as a PTSD survivor myself, I never want to minimise an individuals reaction to their own traumatic situation.

      • I suspect that the point being raised here in regards to loss of bodily autonomy may be best addressed by reference to a couple of recent epidemiological studies which look, for the first time, in detail at the long-term prevalence of serious mental health problem in rape survivors.

        The history here is that the early studies that established the existence of ‘rape trauma syndrome’ (only in quotes because RTS is, today, treated as a subset of complex PTSD) were conducted on women who had already sought psychiatric help and so exhibited extremely high rate of illness. in some cases 90%+. This gave rise to a rather stereotypical view of rape survivors as long-term trauma victims which campaigners, certainly in the US, allowed to ride without question because of it politically useful and elicited considerable public sympathy. Over the years, however, that stereotype has proved to be counterproductive in some contexts, particularly within the criminal justice system where it creates somewhat unrealistic perceptions of how rape survivors ‘should’ behave – juries, for example, may expect a victim to exhibit clear signs of trauma when giving evidence in court and doubt their testimony if the victim fails to behave in line with their stereotypical expectations, etc.

        What the newer epidemiological studies are showing is:

        a) only around a third of rape survivors exhibit long-term serious mental health problems, e.g. PTSD, major depression, etc. – so the good news is that women as, psychologically more robust than the trauma stereotype suggests, and

        b) that the risk of serious mental illness is closely linked to the circumstances under which the rape occurred – the highest rates of mental illness are found in survivors who were subjected to extreme levels of force/violence during the rape, intoxication produces lower long-term rates of mental illness, perhaps because memories of the event are less clear/vivid, etc.

        So what the evidence indicates is that not only does the violation of bodily autonomy matter but the manner in which it occurred also makes a significant difference in terms of the subsequent risk of developing a serious, long-term, mental health problem.

        So, even amongst rape survivors, where the nature of the offence itself gives rise to an elevated risk of trauma and long-term mental health problems, the degree of force/violence used in committing the offence appears to be an independent risk factor for long-term trauma, etc. and from this we can infer this is also likely to be true for other non-sexual offences.

        Although the real value in these studies is likely to lie in countering stereotypical beliefs about how rape survivors should behave within the CJS, they nevertheless and some valuable nuance to the wider debate surrounding bodily autonomy, not least in terms of the interminable ‘rape-rape’ where the evidence that the degree of violence used is an independent risk factor demonstrates that the continuum of severity isn’t one that runs from ‘not really rape’ to ‘rape-rape’ but rather one that runs from rape to rape plus extreme violence, i.e. that rape is rape, violence is an independent aggravated factor.

    • Ok, so mugging *can* be a serious assault. Rape is always a serious assault.

      No one says “you totally asked for that”, especially when they have been beaten or traumatised, to a mugging victim. That’s one difference.
      No one says “you will be beaten to a pulp/traumatised if you flash your iphone around”, they say “you might LOSE your iphone if you flash it around”. That’s another difference.

      • Any type of victim-blaming is wrong, regardless of the crime. I am a male rape survivor. I can talk all day long about victim-blaming. I’ve gotten bucket loads from men AND women. The fact that I was drugged, raped and blackmailed by a woman only amplifies that ugliness as it then becomes sport to minimize and mock. Also, as someone who has been physically assaulted repeatedly while growing up, I can tell you from FIRSTHAND experience that male victims of violent crimes are routinely victim-blamed. “You should have fought back harder.” “They wouldn’t have been able to do that to me.” “What, are you a wimp?” Etc. It goes on for days. I was even told by a school administrator that fighting back CAUSED the assault that I was defending against. Try making that logic work for you!

        I’ve experienced victim-blaming and denial as a rape survivor and as someone who has been repeatedly physically assaulted by other males. Victim-blaming is the problem. Claiming that other crime victims don’t experience it is a compassion fail. Let’s cut that out. Stop the victim-blaming, but ease off the minimizations and ignorant assumptions about the experiences of other violent crimes as well. Why is the latter necessary in order to fight the former? It isn’t.

      • I agree. Victim blaming is the total worst and that’s why we should stop preemptively doing it by comparing rape “because” someone looked nice to a iphone theft “because” someone took a call in public.

        Because that “because” is totally specious. Victims do not cause crime, criminals do.

        I am sorry you were raped.

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