Disclaimer: This article deals with rape and sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
There is a huge online debate taking place at the moment in response to an article by Mia Freedman This Isn’t Victim Blaming. This is Common Sense where she argues we need to tell our daughters getting drunk could increase their risk of being sexually assaulted.
There have been a number of responses to the piece where the writers make it clear that nothing a woman does is to blame for her being raped. Smoking causes cancer. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape by Kerrie Sackville and Today in ‘What Mia Freedman has done now’ by News with Nipples both take the position that Freedman’s article was victim blaming and sending a dangerous message that if you just keep yourself sober you won’t get raped. While To the unconvinced: The perpetrators of crime are responsible for crime by Andie Fox and No Means No by Bianca Wordley don’t specifically cite the Freedman article but issue a strong message that rapists are responsible for rape not the victims.
Rapists are not usually scary looking strangers in dark alleys, they are often friendly workmates or relatives or neighbours or school friends (in 70% of sexual assaults the offender is a family member, friend, work or school colleague. Of the remaining 30% the offender is usually someone the victim meets socially or dates*).
Statistics show that one in five in women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life* and women aged 15 to 24 years are most at risk*.
So as the mother of a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old forgive me for being a bit concerned.
As a parent what is my responsibility here? If I tell my daughters that getting blind rotten drunk leaves you incapable of defending yourself or making reasoned judgements am I sending the message that girls who get drunk are asking for it? If I sign them up for a self-defence course am I telling them the world is a dangerous place and your friends who don’t learn to eye-gouge are obviously leaving themselves wide open to attack? If I suggest that wearing a skirt which shows your undies and a top which your boobs fall out of is unattractive am I telling them that girls who dress provocatively deserve to be raped?
I’m not parenting a two-year old anymore where I’m teaching them to “not touch” the hot stove, I’m not parenting a five-year old anymore where I’m teaching them about “good touching and bad touching”, I’m not parenting a ten-year old anymore where I’m teaching them about “stranger danger”. I’m parenting young adults, who I don’t supervise every minute of the day.
We are in a whole new world here. The idea of teenagers dying in car accidents is no longer a far-off, think about it later situation – it’s friends on P-plates – it’s her getting behind the wheel herself – it’s conversations about NEVER getting into the car with somebody who has been drinking and if you’ve had a drink yourself DON’T DRIVE – no matter what time it is CALL ME and I will come and get you.
Drugs are no longer worrying about if you can give another dose of Panadol before the four hours is up – it’s parties and serious stuff on offer and conversations about addiction to be had.
Sex is no longer picture books of What’s Happening To Me? – it’s boys in bedrooms and boy/girl sleepovers – navigated through conversations about safety, pregnancy and making good choices.
So why, when I’m sending her out into a world where one in five women will experience sexual assault is it wrong to outline the risk factors? Why is it wrong to say to my daughter that putting yourself in a position where you are unable to take care of yourself is making yourself vulnerable? Why is this not like the million and one other “safety” conversations I’ve been having with her since she was a two-year-old trying to touch a hot oven?
I hope that if she is drunk out of her mind she is surrounded by kind, caring friends who will get her home safely. I know the majority of men she meets will be decent blokes who would never consider harming a woman in any way.
As a mother I know I’ve raised daughters who understand that rape occurs because rapists do evil things not because a girl had a Bacardi Breezer too many or wore a sexy top. I know they know that because of the hundreds of conversations we’ve had over the years, because of the episodes of Home and Away we have watched and discussed, because of the things they have overheard their father and I talk about.
But as a mother it’s my job to make sure my daughters are capable of doing all that is humanly possible to avoid being in dangerous situations. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that somewhere in those years of helicopter parenting I have managed to instil resilience and self-awareness. That I’ve raised individuals capable of assessing a situation or a person and, if either make them uncomfortable, with the confidence and ability to GET THE HELL OUT. Sadly, as a woman I know that sometimes, despite all the precautions in the world, that won’t be possible