Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Advice vs Victim-blaming: a proposed study on #safetytipsforladies

So there has been a lot of noise about whether giving women 'safety tips' to avoid being raped is a form of 'victim blaming'.

Don't get Raped (source)
This culminated in a great hashtag (as many things do). Follow #safetytipsforladies to see some lovely tips for avoiding rape.

For example:

Others suggest simply not being a woman, not ever drinking anything, not ever wearing anything (but not being naked either), not ever leaving the house (or since many rapes happen inside the house, not ever being home). And so forth.

The main point is that it's absurd to tell women to not get raped. Rape by definition is NOT under the victim's control.

Yet people still tend to blame the victim in rape cases. An interesting study was published in 2011 showing that people were more likely to blame the victim in a rape case than in a robbery case. The authors gave people short vignettes describing either a rape or a robbery, and had these participants fill out a perpetrator blame scale and a victim blame scale.

Bienek and Krahe 2011 Figure 4
Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, rape always had more victim blame and less perpetrator blame than robbery and this difference increased with how close the victim and perpetrator were to each other (stranger, acquaintance, ex-partner). 

Now some people say 'hey, I'm just trying to keep women safe by telling them to avoid dark places, and not take drinks from strangers.' But here's the thing, maybe the mere suggestion that women can do something to avoid being raped is enough to subtly nudge one's opinion toward thinking that if a woman got raped, she should have done something to avoid it and is therefore somewhat to blame.

So I propose the following study:

Have one group of people read a short article on tips for women to avoid being raped (a serious and well meaning one), and one group of people read some unrelated article. Then have both groups read rape vignettes similar to the ones described in the Bienek and Krahe study and fill out the victim and perpetrator blame scales. They would also fill out a scale for how much punishment the perpetrator should get in a court of law.

I hypothesize that simply reading a list of well meant tips for how women can avoid being raped would increase victim blame and would make people more lenient in their prescribed punishment for the perpetrator.

Somebody please do this experiment!

© TheCellularScale

ResearchBlogging.orgBieneck S, & Krahé B (2011). Blaming the victim and exonerating the perpetrator in cases of rape and robbery: is there a double standard? Journal of interpersonal violence, 26 (9), 1785-97 PMID: 20587449


  1. Let me get this straight: You're saying that it is wrong to give women sound advice, because that advice could be construed as meaning that rape victims are responsible for their plight?

    Should we also stop advising people to lock their houses, test their smoke alarms, wear cycling helmets, keep medicines out of the reach of children, read contracts before signing them, quit smoking, and ignore unsolicited emails from Africa offering a cut of a US$5,000,000 money laundering operation? Of course not.

    So why is rape widely considered different from all these things? Because the feminists are a campaign movement, and as such need things to complain about, for the sake of their own sense of self-worth.* So they've somehow managed to convince some other people that this is actually an issue. Somewhat ironically, the main people to suffer from their misplaced sense of duty are the genuine rape victims.

    * (Don't get me wrong, they do also have genuine reasons for complaint.)

    1. The anti-rape advice given is not sound.

      Since most rapes are carried out in the woman's home, by someone she knows, telling her not to go out at night and monitor her drink in bars won't help at all.

      The difference between rape and all the other crimes you mention is that those who commit them stand a greater than 0.1% chance of being locked up for it. I suggest we start there.

      Percentage of rapes caused by feminism = 0%. Caused by rapists = 100%.

      Most rapists don't think they've committed rape. We'd prevent far more rape with advice like "If someone is passed out drunk, they can't give consent: having sex with them will be rape".

    2. "telling her not to go out at night and monitor her drink in bars won't help at all." That's a classic defeatist argument. You have to admit it will help a little bit, and the harm it would supposedly cause is greatly exaggerated in my opinion.

      "I suggest we start there." I never said we shouldn't try to prosecute criminals. Why can't we do both? Having said that, there may well be good reasons why the conviction rate for those accused of rape is so low. From what I hear, a surprisingly large number of accusations are fabricated. I read of a study which suggested that women who have made rape accusations are more likely to make stuff up than the average woman. Even if the accused is guilty, there may not be enough evidence to convict. I wouldn't want to live in a world where men can be locked up and put on the sex offenders' register at the whim of an alleged victim.

      "Most rapists don't think they've committed rape..." If it makes you feel better, maybe we could have a disclaimer with anti-rape advice explaining that this advice does not constitute endorsement of rape.

    3. Since David Knipe is not the one being asked to give up socializing like a normal person (i.e., a man) in return for a totally unproven and statistically unlikely reduction in the risk of sexual assault, it's pretty easy for him to say that the harm in telling women to restrict their movements and behavior is "overstated."

    4. No one is forcing women to give up socialising. I'd advise them to consider the risk of rape when deciding where to go, how late to stay, how much to drink, what to wear, etc. But they're adults -- if they decide it's worth the risk I'm cool with that, and I wish them luck.

      "totally unproven and statistically unlikely reduction..." Are you seriously disputing that a woman's behaviour can affect her chances of being raped? You don't think that walking alone at night in a dark alleyway is a risk factor? I don't care whether anyone has proved this or not, it's pretty obvious. In the unlikely event that someone proves that it's _not_ a risk factor I'll change my mind. But until then I'm sticking by my advice. Stay safe!

      By the way, when I said the harm to women from the advice was overstated, I meant the harm that results when would-be rapists supposedly infer that it's OK to rape women if they haven't followed the advice.

    5. Are you seriously disputing that a woman's behaviour can affect her chances of being raped?

      Yes, you rapist apologist, I am disputing that women are partially to blame for getting raped.

    6. Do you realize what an evil person you are, David Knipe?

    7. You haven't answered my question, you've just replaced it with a different question and answered that one instead. Do you believe a woman's chances of being raped are affected by decisions she makes? Do you agree with Anonymous's contention that "Since most rapes are carried out in the woman's home, by someone she knows, telling her ... [to] monitor her drink in bars won't help at all"? Would you take a shortcut through a dark alley at 2am?

      Rapist apologist? How do you work that one out? This discusion is primarily about what we should or shouldn't say to women, rather than the morality of rape itself. Here is an exhaustive (I believe) list of all the things I've said so far which _genuinely_ touch on the question of whether rapists are guilty:

      - 27 March, 5:51am, para 2: We should prosecute rapists, but only if the evidence is strong enough.
      - 27 March, 5:51am, para 3: I wouldn't mind adding a disclaimer to anti-rape advice clarifying that rape is bad.
      - 27 March, 9:26pm, para 3: If men read advice to women and infer that rape is OK, this is a bad thing. (I did say this problem was overstated. But I didn't mean that it's not very serious when it does happen; I meant I didn't think many men would make this bizarre logical step when considering rape, hence the word "supposedly".)

      If you find any others feel free to point them out. But I suspect you'll find rather a lot of them reading through the goggles of feminist dogma.

    8. I agree with David on his points.

      Let's not act all righteous here, rape has gone up considerably since moral standards have gone down. Sexualisation of society is rampant, women don't dress moderately anymore, men don't want to take responsibility, both men and women sleep around with multiple partners, no one tries for love, keeps their vowels, or works through the rough, and porn usage has gone up considerably and is considered an acceptable thing among the male population. Lest we forget the selfishness attitude many women have today in their relationships because of feminist propaganda, they don't want to take any responsibility in a relationship, they can't do the dishes, cook the food once lest they feel they are being treated inferior; yet they expect the man to pay for the meal every single time. Men have been emasculated, women have given themselves to whoredom, and the world is royally screwed up.

    9. David is probably just mad because he's such a nice guy, but no girls will date him. They only date assholes. That's why he needs to come here and mansplain... you know, basically spout shit he has no clue about.

    10. "spout shit he has no clue about"? Look who's talking. You don't know anything about me, yet you're drawing conclusions about my private life. Which, by the way, is irrelevant to the discussion anyway. It also doesn't make sense: I have expressed little or no ill will towards women, apart from extremist feminists. So let's try to keep the ad-hominem attacks to a minimum, shall we?

    11. Nevermind, he's just a troll. Totally fake google account.

    12. I admit I'm not the kind of guy who tones down his views just because they're unpopular. What's wrong with that? And, yes, sometimes my annoyance at this whole ridiculous concept of "victim blaming" gets the better of me. I'm only human. And I think this is the kind of issue where people often take offence where none (or not very much) was intended.

      It may look like a fake account from where you're sitting. That's because I normally only use it for email. Whether it's fake or not, I hardly think you're in a position to criticise, unless of course your parents really did Christen you "Anonymous".

    13. I and many others will be anonymous because people like you who come to comment threads specifically to rage about how unfair it is that women don't share some of the blame when they are raped tend to be abusive stalker trolls who can dish it out but can't take it. Your "views" are little more than a series of crude ad hoc justifications for your initial dumb-assery where you made a bunch of spurious comparisons to someone mansplaining rape danger, which you capped off neatly by declaring feminism to be something other than a desire for equal rights for women and a masterfully weaselly "genuine rape" comment. Whether your'e just trying to get some kind of sick jolly off of trolling or you're just that desperately misguided, I pity you.

    14. "to rage about how unfair it is that women don't share some of the blame when they are raped": When did I ever say women are partly responsible for being raped? All I ever said was that giving advice is a good thing, which would be a totally uncontroversial position in any other debate. If my views are so "crude" and "ad hoc", then wouldn't it be easier to attack them directly instead of trying to psychoanalyse me? What, precisely, is the (relevant) difference between this issue and warning people to check their smoke alarms, etc?

      "declaring feminism to be something other than a desire for equal rights for women": I didn't mean to imply that all feminists are bad. I agree that a job should go to the most capable/reliable/whatever candidate, even if they're a woman. I'm not familiar with the details of the feminist movement or what all the hot topics are, but it's probably safe to say that this is the most perverse doctrine in the faminist canon. Not only is it a convoluted argument that applies in no other aspect of life; it's also diametrically opposed to the interests of women. In that sense, I suppose I am saying that (radical) feminism is something other than a desire for equal rights for women. Whether many women/feminists actually see things this way I have no idea.

      I can't remember what was going through my head at the moment when I typed "genuine rape victims". Perhaps I was inwardly fuming that these feminist do-gooders may not be as representative of the opinions of victims as they'd like to think they are. Or something. As it happens, I had decided in hindsight that the word "genuine" was misplaced in that sentence. But equally, I don't see how it could be interpreted in a particularly bad way, except as an implication that some alleged victims are liars, which wouldn't exactly be weaselly because I said it explicitly in my next post anyway. In any case it's not a slur on all of womankind or even all alleged victims, just a few bad apples.

  2. "Oh those poor boys, they robbed that unlocked house and now they might have to spend time in JAIL! Don't people understand how this will ruin their football careers? The house should have been locked in the first place. You can't blame them for robbing it because it was unlocked at the time."

  3. Ugh. Women are not houses. I really don't like those analogies. I am not a house, I am not a wallet, I am not any sort of inanimate object. I am a person. If you want to analogize rape to something that's illegal, analogize it to torture, because that is what it is.

    1. Those situations are examples of applying indiscriminate helpless-victim fallacies, not comparisons of the crimes. Since you are a person, you have a certain degree of control over your life, and bad decisions (abusing alcohol in an uncontrolled environment) carry risks. This isn't victim blaming, because a victim doesn't exist yet. We're in the stage where an opportunistic rapist is looking for women who are impaired because it makes them easier to rape. He might rape anyway, or maybe not, we can't be sure because he is the one who makes that decision. What we can say is that predators prefer prey that doesn't put up a fight.

      If you're still willing to socialize in a way that makes you at times unable to deal with immediate problems, that is absolutely your choice. You shouldn't be raped. The rapist doesn't feel that way. That is who decides to rape, and it is you who decides if it is more important to follow abstract and politically-motivated principles instead of avoiding predictably hazardous behavior patterns.

  4. For the study TheCellularScale suggests, rather than comparing rape advice vs. an unrelated article, why not do this: compare "rape advice" to "crime advice", which would be exactly the same, but it wouldn't mention any particular crime.

    Now I suspect you'd find that whereas rape advice causes victim-blaming attitudes, the very same recommendations given as generic advice would not.

    In which case you could safely do a trial of giving out the generic advice, to see whether such advice actually helps prevent crime (which I find very doubtful but that's another story.)

  5. That's a great idea, Neuroskeptic. I was trying to think of a good control article. I wouldn't be surprised if the 'crime advice' had some effect though. 'lock your doors, so you don't make it easy for robbers' might nudge my opinion when reading a house robbery situation with an unlocked door. But who knows? That is why we need SCIENCE.

  6. "Don't be anywhere. 100% of rapes happen in places and locations." This is such a stupid over-the-top comment. That's like saying never drive a car because car accidents happen to cars.

    I agree with David Knipe. I'm a woman and I won't walk down a dark alley at 2am just as I don't leave my house unlocked to get robbed.

    Saying that good advice is victim blaming is like saying the advice to wear a seatbelt in a car is victim blaming because other idiots on the road shouldn't crash into you. If someone crashes into you it's not your fault, but then it's better to take safety precautions just in case.

  7. Having read the whole thread, here are a few various details I'd like to bring up:
    We do seem very focused on the dark alley at 2 AM scenario-statistically rare. What about the 1/6 girls under age 12 assaulted by teachers, parents, soccer coaches, etc.? What advice do we give them? To the many women raped in a 'safe' place by someone they know well? It has been said truly that rapists are often oportunistic and will use factors such as a woman's intoxication to choose a victim. But rapists also use vulnerability factors completely outside a victim's control (hence the high levels of sexual abuse we find among children, and the physically handicapped, for instance).
    In response to Mr. Knipe's claims about the 'surprisingly high' number of false rape allegations: it's a myth. Rates of false reports of rape are no higher than for any other felony.
    Finally, in response to Anonymous...what can I say? Your personal moral objections to multiple sexual partners have nothing to do with consent or lack thereof. Huge, flying leap from your personal morals to the state of crime in society, completely lacking in scientific evidence. And I suspect you meant 'vows', not 'vowels'. And while I do try to omit personal invective from a well-reasoned argument, if you must use a rape discussion forum to complain that women don't do the dishes anymore, go back to the Dark Ages where you belong.

    1. On the rate of false accusations: I don't remember where I first heard this. A cursory glance at the internet suggests that estimates vary wildly; a lot of people say 2% of accusations are false, but many say it's a lot more. In hindsight, it would have been surprising if experts could agree on a number. But I did say it was only something I'd heard.

      That said, the supposed plethora of false accusations was never a major part of my argument. I wouldn't want a woman to be punished for perjury unless it could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that she had knowingly lied about it.

      Re your personal invective against Anonymous: I assume you mean the Anonymous who claimed to be on my side (March 2013). I'd like to take the opportunity to point out that I didn't actually agree with any of that. False flag, perhaps?

  8. Also of note: why must the discussion be so polarized? We CAN'T give women safety advice because it's victim-blaming OR we MUST give women safety advice because the sole responsibility for preventing rape lies on their shoulders. How about a realistic, middle-of-the-road statement, such as:
    "Rape is never the victim's fault, and it is always the responsibility of the perpetrator to choose not to commit this crime. However, until we live in such a utopian society, we must acknowledge that rape is a reality and that there are measures that all of us can take to minimize our risk of being victimized, as we can with other crimes. We should take reasonable precautions when we can, but if these fail, or if all prescribed precautions are not taken, we must still place the blame 100% where it belongs: on the rapist."

    1. I am the moderate here. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably needs to let go of their preconceptions about the "issue" of "victim blaming" and/or read what I've actually written instead of what others have insinuated that I've written.
      - I never said that "the sole responsibility for preventing rape lies on [women's] shoulders".
      - I never "asked [women] to give up socializing like a normal person (i.e., a man)". I only ever said that giving advice is good. I didn't say they should take it to extremes.
      - I am not "evil".
      - I am not motivated by a burning hatred of women. ("They only date assholes.")
      - I'm not a troll. I just happen to have opinions that differ from those of other people in this thread. But as it turns out, it's not possible to express those opinions without provoking the ire of feminists. Some feminists, anyway.

  9. First of all, I am not the illogical, hostile Anonymous that heckled David. I am male, and recently replied to a friend's post about rape culture: "There's the aspect of "I don't like what he did, but I like these other things about him, so I won't be too hard on him" (e.g. rapists Brock Turner and probably Bill Clinton). Like other social ills, rape deserves a two-pronged attack: ostracism/shame for predators, and avoidance/martial training for prey." I forgot to say criminal prosecution. Then I added "Some good resources: • https://www.amazon.com/Strong-Defense-Sanford/dp/0671535110 • http://www.targetfocustraining.com/". The response I got from my friend's friend: "Ya know - I'm sure your a nice man and all, But its REALLY in poor taste to walk on to some's wall post about rape culture posting links to self defense books, AS IF the issue is women should fight harder to not get raped." After I defended myself without rudeness, she said " Well i definitely take back the part about you being a nice guy. Clearly i was wrong. But hey, it could be worse, i could be a walking, talking example of what rape culture looks like. Good thing your here for that." Some people are hyper-defensive and feel like everything is an attack, despite all evidence to the contrary.