Chryssie Hynde (whose music I love) has set off a bit of a kerfuffle by suggesting that, sometimes, women are to blame for being raped. She says, in an interview with the Sunday Times, of an incident in which she was assaulted when she was 21 by a member of a motorcycle gang:
“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t fuck about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do. You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.” She continues, “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?”
The kerfuffle is predictable, of course. No one ever deserves to be raped, a woman has the right to wear whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and to say “No” to anyone, at any time, for any reason. And she has the right to expect her “no” to be honored. And Hynde is wrong. What happened to her wasn’t her “fault.”
The problem is, while this all is true, it’s also true that sometimes we do stupid things.
I was mugged when I was much younger. It was late. I was ridiculously, visibly, intoxicated. I was walking down a dark, abandoned street.
Did I “deserve” to be mugged? Of course not. Were the muggers within their rights for what they did to me? Of course not.
Was I stupid? Of course.
I’m a huge fan of the idea that rape prevention starts and ends with men, that women (have to) have the right to walk anywhere, at any time, dressed however they wish, in whatever state of inebriation they may find themselves.
That doesn’t mean it’s not dumb to put oneself in a position in which it might reasonably be understood, by anyone paying attention, that bad things might happen.
As a political question (and, as a criminal question, ideally), there is no question. Rape is always wrong, always the perpetrator’s fault, never the victim’s.
But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t feel retrospectively that she did something dumb. I wish Hynde had shown more nuance in what she said. The limits to what one can say and not be pilloried on this subject are stringent – and with good reason. But while she didn’t deserve what happened to her, it’s too bad that the way she articulated her regret obscured the point that, however much we might wish it were otherwise, a woman is in peril if she puts herself in certain situations.
Let’s all work to make that not be so.