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.

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