I recently saw a picture online of a woman who, though her nipples were covered, was topless. Written on her torso were the words: “Still Not Asking For It.”
For years, I have been saying this, outraged. Usually during episodes of Law & Order. A woman can pole dance up and down a deserted street at midnight, clad only in a belt and . . . tassels . . . and she is no more or less asking to be sexually assaulted than a nun in a cloister.
Dancing, even if it involves grinding (what else is there? Ballroom dancing?), is not an invitation for sexual assault. Nor is it permission to have sex with you while you sleep.
The same goes for lap-dances. For being naked. For grooming yourself. For wearing a shirt that frames your figure. For wearing a top that exposes your cleavage. For leaving your door or window unlocked. For asking someone to help you to move something. For accepting a drink from a friend, a coworker, or even a stranger. For smiling at someone, or talking to someone. For existing. For going inside with him or inviting him into your place after a date. For each and every conceivable human activity on the planet that is not explicitly consenting to a given sexual activity, you are not “asking for” that given sexual activity.
Can we use the “house” analogy for a moment? Even though, obviously, while a burglary is a violent, traumatic, and intimate invasion, it does not really come close to a sexual assault.
Whether you let your lawn and your home’s exterior deteriorate and age like a neglected grandparent or you have a carefully manicured lawn and are fastidious about your home’s upkeep, you are not asking for your home to be burgled. Because . . . obviously. You just have a nice home and yard, you are proud of it, and want to show it off.
But there is more to it than that. Leaving your doors unlocked or a window open? That is not an invitation for a burglary. There are places where it is dangerous to do so, but you are still not inviting the danger. I think that most people understand that.
Unfortunately, society has a tendency to treat potential victims of sexual assault (that’s women and men, by the way) as the ones who need to do all of the work. As if avoiding sexual assault is like avoiding frostbite or mosquito bites.
That is not the case. Even if we ignore everyone who thinks that people are “too sensitive” about rape jokes, the pernicious lies that try to mitigate the culpability of rapists, or vicious attacks upon those who have been assaulted—as if it were possible for them to be at fault for someone else’s actions. Even if we ignore all of these elements that come together to form rape culture, there is still something severely wrong with a world in which we teach people to not get raped, but do not teach men to not rape.
That might sound absurd. I mean, I never had to be taught to not commit sexual assault. It should be obvious to everyone. But, since there are still rapists out there in the world, it is not. To a lot of people—people who operate in social circles in which survivors of sexual assault are very unlikely to report it or tell their friends and families, especially if the rape was committed by an acquaintance—rape is a hypothetical crime, like mugging. And surely there must be something that those targeted for sexual assault do to attract people. There must have been a misunderstanding.
There is not. The culpability lies with the assailant, and not with the victim. The culpability in crimes like this lies with the person who committed the rape. There are cases in which accomplices are also responsible, but ultimate responsibility belongs to the person who ignored the word “no” or never even allowed for an opportunity for an answer.
Unless they are literally asking for it, no one is “asking for it.” No matter what.