Rape in public places: when are we ever safe?

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from globetrotting feminists Elin and Hennie Weiss. Elin has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. Hennie is currently finished up her Master’s Degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. They are both very interested in women’s studies, feminism and the study of men and masculinities, especially so gender role expectations and the representation of women and men in media. 

*Trigger warning: the content of this piece discusses rape and sexual assault, and may be disturbing to some readers.

A nineteen-year-old Swedish woman was raped during a soccer match in the Swedish capital of Stockholm last week. An unknown male attacked the woman in the bathroom stalls at the arena while 11,959 fans occupied the bleachers and surrounding areas. Present were also police and security guards, around 200 of them. The man was able to rape the woman and keep her in the bathroom until she managed to call for help. The man left, pushing the woman to the ground in which she suffered bruises and injury to her face.

This rape is one of the most public ones we have ever heard of and it is a horrible example of how women can be under constant threat, even in the most public of places. Sadly, there are plenty of examples of other very public sexual assaults. Most of us remember the brutal beating and sexual assault of American CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Egypt last year. Logan was in a large crowd at Tahrir Square when a mob of around 200 people was formed and Logan became separated from her group. She was beaten and sexually assaulted by multiple men until she was saved by a group of Egyptian women and soldiers. In 2009 a young girl from Richmond, California was robbed, beaten and gang raped by a group of boys and men after she attended her Homecoming Dance. There were approximately 20 bystanders watching as the girl was brutally assaulted and raped. No one came to her aid, called the police, or tried to help the young girl.

No wonder many women are in fear, even as they are visiting public spaces. “Tips” are often given to women on how to stay safe or protect themselves from potential perpetrators. Common advice includes not walking home alone at night, not to take a taxi home alone, or not to accept drinks from strangers. This advice suggests that women are most at risk when they are alone or in an isolated area, such as when walking through a park on their way home. Not only does the advice on how to minimize the risk of rape do little to actually prevent rape, but they also inadvertently blame women who somehow “failed” to protect themselves.

But what about these public places? How are women supposed to “protect” themselves when the threat of rape and sexual assault can be everywhere? Where can a woman ever feel safe, and most importantly, where can a woman ever be safe?

The police have not yet arrested anyone for the rape in Stockholm and it appears unlikely that they will. The fact that there were so many people attending the soccer match makes it even more difficult as police stated that it was impossible to keep all visitors when the match ended. Instead, the soccer clubs security advisors helped the police by filming and photographing the audience as they were leaving. Is it ironic (in absence of a better word) that the fact that this was such a public place makes it even more difficult for the police to catch the man responsible for the rape.

Rape and sexual assault is extremely common and we feel confident to state that probably most women have faced uncomfortable or scary situations, some of these resulting in harassment, sexual assault and rape. The horrible facts about rapists are that they can be strangers, acquaintances, relatives, family members, lovers or friends. There is no space or no place in which you appear to be completely safe. Rape can occur in one’s home, in public among people, or when a woman is on her own, no matter how careful she is. Younger women are overrepresented as victims of rape but rape and sexual assault also affects children, middle-aged women and senior citizens. Rape also affects women all over the world, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or social class.

The old and tired tips and advice given to women are just not working. It does not matter if you drink alcohol or not, how you dress, if you are with friends or on your own. If a woman can be raped in a public bathroom, with her friend waiting outside, surrounded by 11,959 people and 200 police officers and security guards, the advice women have been given is proving useless.

So how can we prevent rape? By targeting the men who rape. Raising awareness that targeting women is pointless; it is men who must change. Rape is about power, dominance and hatred against women and there is little that women can actually do about it. There is, however, plenty that men can do. There are groups of men who definitely support women, such as Men for Women’s Choices. But, where is the public outcry? Where are the protesters and demonstrators? Men should be more concerned and enraged when it comes to rape. The women who are raped are not statistics or simply numbers; they are someone’s sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, aunt, friend or lover.

Comments

  1. Yes!!!

    >>But, where is the public outcry? Where are the protesters and demonstrators? Men should be more concerned and enraged when it comes to rape. The women who are raped are not statistics or simply numbers; they are someone’s sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, aunt, friend or lover. <<

  2. Men do need to speak up, protest and demonstate and target those men who rape. Your post is so clear and succinct. What we have done to address this terrible scourge on human society has not been working. Time to change tack and men have to be the ones to do that. Once the men start decrying rape and holding men who rape responsibile for their crimes, the world will get safer for everyone

  3. The Problem with that article is that it is…it is not biased but it shows a more fundamental problem when talking about rape and sexual assault from the feminist perspective. Let me extrapolate. You can find in the article no mention of men doing anything positive. They are depicted either as a) clueless b) cruel and brutal and sadistic c) impotent in helping women d) in need of awareness because they are too stupid too ignorant or too indifferent concerning the plight of women.

    Thus the underlying stream of arguments, the overall strategy of this article is a bit off. As a man i feel very uncomfortable reading this. It seems it is not an article aimed at ME a man to be called for help and support against rapists but more a call of battle against…whom exactly? Only rapists or all men?

    I find it also very offensive to read that the authors of this article are very clearly feminists and studies women studies but are also kinda assuming the authority to speak about men, depiction of maleness and “masculinities”. It feels even worse than the article itself. Please note how much i criticize the underlying structures and legitimization of the authors and the articles not the message it tries to convey which i find 100% acceptable and desirable.

    How to do it better? Well for instance by trying to get a MAN into the writing team to better get a grasp on the legitimization of speaking also about men! Imagine two male writers would have written an article about women and sexual assault. It would be unacceptable and justly so. This article is an arrogation a pretentiousness that must be called out. You cannot go and say what men should do or not do without sharing not only the duties but also the rights with men. Either that or you are preaching a gospel to your own private army but do not have the power to persuade and call to support the other half of the human species.

    • Elin & Hennie says:

      To Anonym:

      We are answering you here since we wrote the article. We appreciate the input because it is important to be critical and we are always looking for ways to improve our writing.

      Let us answer your questions. The main point that we were attempting to make is not that men are stupid or sadistic. We know that not all men are rapists. But, it is important to note that most rapists are men. We are concerned with the fact that so much attention is put on women in that women are supposed to protect themselves from rape, not that men should not rape.

      We also mean that the rapists are clearly at fault but also that more men should protest against rape. We do mention men’s groups that are in support of women (such as men for women’s choices) and there are plenty of these groups, so we are not trying to diminish their support.

      We hear what you are saying about our authority to speak about men’s studies or men and masculinities. However, we have written other pieces (for a website on men and masculinities) that speak about gender expectations aimed at men. Men and masculinities has also been part of our schooling. Hennie for example has written quite extensively about men and masculinities (for example her thesis) and has given guest lectures on the topic of men and masculinities.

      We would also like to see a man (or a few men) writing about rape and violence. It is however quite common for men in men’s studies to do so and there are plenty of excellent pieces on rape, sexuality and violence against women written by men.

      We hope that you can see our points more clearly and that we do not speak about all men as rapists, neither as stupid nor ignorant. We are simply stating that men’s violence against women is men’s responsibility, not women’s.

      Elin & Hennie

      • The main point that we were attempting to make is not that men are stupid or sadistic. We know that not all men are rapists. But, it is important to note that most rapists are men. We are concerned with the fact that so much attention is put on women in that women are supposed to protect themselves from rape, not that men should not rape.

        The argumentation is eerily close to the “Not all muslims are terrorists. But most terrorists are muslims”

        On the surface this argumentation strategy seems valid but it falls short because it kinda makes a whole race/religion/gender responsible for the actions of a few/many. I do not necessarily say that its not valid but it opens the box of pandora. With this argumentation strategy one could demand responsibility from large groups and large masses indefinetly.

        We hope that you can see our points more clearly and that we do not speak about all men as rapists, neither as stupid nor ignorant. We are simply stating that men’s violence against women is men’s responsibility, not women’s.

        Do you have some empiric theory on that? I mean: We are simply stating that men´s violence against women is men´s responsibility, not women`s is a theorem, a claim. Is there a theory to back that one up? That you have maybe already tested in some regard? For example you both lament that this girl was raped among so many policemen and spectators. But you only concentrate on the men/woman relation. It could also be seen as a general problem in providing security in such circumstances. The US is a dangerous place in many areas. Other countries are less so. That is why normative sentences and claims should be backed up by a theoretical model to ground it more properly.

        Because at the end it is all so arbitrary. Everyone could walk around and demand responsibility from anyone. Why should not the Gun-Owners be called to responsibility because so many people are shot to death every year? What i want to state is that i want some more scientific work in grounding the claims and demands you state. I want more science less polemic.

        Thank you.

        • I don’t understand your argument. Are you arguing that it is not the responsibility of a rapist to control his/her own actions? So it is a victim’s responsibility to control the actions of someone else? I’m trying to find clarity here. What needs to be scientific about common sense?

  4. When have women ever been safe, or had control or access to public spaces? Just look at the rates of street harassment around the world, and this story is (unfortunately) not all that surprising…

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