My two cents on SlutWalk and victim-blaming
The recent SlutWalk event in Singapore has triggered arguments on both sides – those who oppose it and those who support it. On one side, we have those who want women to, basically, take responsibility for the way they dress, how they behave, etc. This borders on saying women who get raped or sexually assaulted have themselves to blame because of the way they dress, for getting drunk or for going out with strangers, among many other reasons proffered.
One such opponent of SlutWalk even demands “academic studies” and “scholarly” proof to show that there is a victim-blaming culture in Singapore, at least. Apparently, he fails to understand the nature of such assaults, and the psychological impact and confusion faced by victims who, more often than not – and aided by certain legislations in law which prevents them from reporting such violence, let alone subject themselves to “academic” or “scholarly” studies which the writer demands as proof – are too frightened or terrified, or too ashamed to step forth.
On the other side, the supporters say women have the right to do as they please and that it is the men, mostly, who are solely responsible for the assaults.
I stand with the latter.
On 8 December, the Pennsylvania Liquor Board withdrew an advert on drinking, targeting women who get drunk. The ad says:
“She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.”
“When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions, like going home with someone they don’t know very well… Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape . Help your friends stay in control and stay safe.”
No where in that ad does it say to the men: “Don’t rape.”
It, quite ridiculously, lays the blame on the victim, and even on her friends.
When we start rationalising and explain away the assault in such a fashion, we open ourselves up to all sorts of manoeuvres to lighten the guilt of the perpetrator of rape and sexual assaults.
To my mind, this is abhorrent.
It is not the alcohol, or the way a woman dresses, or the dark alley in which she walks, which rapes her.
It is men who rape.
It is naïve, really, to think that if a woman avoids all these potentially dangerous situations that she won’t get raped or assaulted. It is also just as naïve to think that we can reach an utopia where all women will take such precautionary measures, or that such measures are always available to them.
It is more important and accurate to get the message to men that whatever the situation, raping or sexually assaulting a woman, especially in situations when she is vulnerable – like when she is drunk – is unacceptable.
And there should and must be no two ways about this.
What we need are laws which will drive the message home and perpetrators must be punished severely.
We advocate, even those who oppose SlutWalk, freedom. And this necessarily includes personal freedom. Women, and indeed men, must be allowed to do as they want, within the proscribed limits of the law. And except for several countries, there are no such prescriptions in most countries where women are supposed to dress according to state dictates, for example, or that they aren’t allowed to drink beyond a certain limit, or that they aren’t allowed to walk in a dark alley.
Having said that, I also agree that as far as we can, we should avoid situations where we may face danger. But this is different from saying that the victims of assaults are to blame for the assaults.
One can caution without pointing the finger at the women as being guilty for the assaults.
Advising caution is different from saying the woman is guilty for the assault.
For if we accept that women are to blame, fully or even partially, for such violence carried out on them, we run the risk of women not daring to step up to seek justice and punishment for what the rapist or the assailant has done.
Indeed, Singapore’s Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act is believed to have been responsible for women and girls being afraid to report acts of such violence visited on them.
It is thus good news that the government is repealing the Act.
In short, the onus must be on the man to know when to stop, and to know that whatever the situation, a woman’s body does not, ever, belong to him.
And this is the fundamental point which opponents may have lost in their argument.
As someone said, a woman’s body is not public property.
And the message instead should be to the men: “Don’t rape.”
Yes, full stop to that too.
And no need for “academic” or “scholarly” studies before putting this message out to the men.
It is simple enough, no?