Telling women to be careful gets men off the hook
Men must accept that most violent crimes perpetrated against women are by men, and that they have the power to stop this
“Some 69 per cent of victims of sexual violence do not report it, according to 2011 figures from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland. Under-reporting is not surprising given the stigma that is still imposed on victims of sexual violence, and the apathy with which the judiciary treats them.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s message was loud and clear. Potential victims: be vigilant. At the time of writing, we still don’t know what happened to Elaine O’Hara that led to her body being found in the Dublin mountains. Gardaí are examining her computer records, investigating whether she was interacting with someone online. It’s on that basis that Callinan made his warning. Potential victims: be vigilant.
Societies are in crisis over how men treat women. It is a crisis that representatives who are in charge of protecting citizens, such as Callinan, still expect the victims to solve. Potential attackers are rarely instructed to exercise vigilance. Police don’t say “don’t be violent”; they say “protect yourself from violence”.
Internet dating is not the slightly seedy underground it was generalised as in the early days of the web, when people perceived to lack the real-life social skills necessary to find a partner took to chat rooms to shack up.
What isn’t internet dating now, when so much of our communication has migrated online – when we google potential suitors, trawl through their Facebook friends, see photos of them on holidays and on nights out, cross-reference their Twitter handles with their LinkedIn profiles, and email or text to arrange a drink before we’ve even spoken to the person in real life, never mind seen them face to face?
The problem is not the internet. And even if the internet is perceived as not an entirely safe space for interaction, where is a safe space for women? A house party? A crowded bar? A romantic restaurant? A dark laneway? A family home? A bus stop? The problem is not where women interact, the problem is who they interact with – men. It’s not nice to hear, but it’s true.
Men, don’t rape
Instructing women to be careful gets men off the hook. The potential perpetrators of attacks are seldom asked to be as conscientious, apart from occasional innovations such as the Don’t Be That Guy campaign. So, women, be careful? How about men, don’t rape? Men, don’t murder your exes or partners. Men, don’t beat up your wives or girlfriends. Men, don’t assault someone you’ve just met that night. Men, don’t shout at women across the road just because you can. Men, stop hanging your threat of rape over dark streets.
Men, of course, argue that this generalisation is unfair, that it demonises blokes who are non-violent and deplore such behaviour. Yet every group of guys has a buddy who is a little wayward, and whose behaviour towards women is dubious. Many men remain silent when the lads suggest a strip club on a stag night, even if they are uncomfortable with it. Most guys probably have a suspicion that a male close to them has bought sex.