This picture has made the rounds in social media for a while now. Recently it has surfaced pretty strongly in my circle of Facebook friends, and has produced something of a contention among them. The argument seems to be over the degree to which someone should take responsibility for their own safety and not engage in risky acts. One guy even went so far as to edit the image so that instead it read, “Still nutso. Asking for it.” Not only does this diversion miss what I think is the central point, I don’t see how the notion is defensible when we reward people like extreme sports athletes for taking big risks with their safety.
The first time I ever heard the phrase, “She was asking for it”, in connection with sexual assault against women, I balked. I still do. Not for any really noble reason. What boggles me about such a statement is that it is literally impossible. This is one of those things that people say that make me wonder where they learned their language, and if they actually know the meaning of the terms they are working with.
Let’s be clear: we are talking about rape. One of the most explicit definitions of the word that webster.com gives is this, “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.”
I take issue with that definition, as I don’t see rape as a sexual act, but rather as a violent act. However let’s leave that point aside and deal with the definition as given. (I also don’t like the words, “usually female” in there because I think making this an issue about women is a case of extremely muddled thinking and victim shaming.) Note the phrase, “against the will.” For me this is where the boggle comes in. If something is against someone’s will, they cannot possibly ask for it. The two statements are contradictory. They cancel each other out. The sentence, “She got raped, but she was asking for it”, is nonsense.
There may, or may not, be a valid conversation to have about being aware of ones environments and acting in a way that is more likely to keep one safe. I am a martial artist with two and a half decades of training in self-defense. There are certain situations and settings I avoid because I don’t relish the idea of having a violent encounter. That being said, if I did go into those situations and I did get victimized I would not be at fault. I would not be to blame. It is never possible to ask for a violation of one’s person or property. Period. In my book, anyone who thinks that such a thing is possible is operating under the weight of insanity.
Now, I am a man, and am not enough of a fool to think I am completely free of the influence of rape culture in the modern world. I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. I invite anyone who wants to offer a refinement, or refutation of what I have said to engage me in conversation. I want to learn. I think we have a real problem with this subject in the modern world and I would like to be further educated on it. I know I have blind spots.
That being said, it is simply not possible to “ask for it” when it comes to rape. The definition of the term does not support such a view. Any conversation about safety and awareness needs to be free of the phrase “asking for it” to avoid confusion and to have a chance of being at all helpful. That’s my opinion, and I don’t see how the matter can be seen any other way.