On Advice and Being a Child

Trigger warning for sexual abuse, child abuse, incest, rape

I was a sexual assault survivor by age seven. I didn’t start hearing the litany of Things Women Shouldn’t Do Unless They Want To Get Themselves Raped until I was twelve, right around the same time adult men decided to yell their opinions about my body from their moving cars.

Since about 1 in 5 US girls, and 1 in 20 US boys are victims/survivors of sexual assault before adulthood, and since incest is the most common form of child sexual abuse, I think we really need to ask ourselves how useful or harmful our “Don’t Get Raped” advice might be. 

Women are told to arm ourselves, preferably with less effective weapons like pepper spray. I hope I don’t have to explain why this advice is useless for children, who are not allowed to purchase or carry weapons and are most likely to be abused by their parents or other family member.

Women are told not to drink, or to keep a close eye on our alcoholic beverages. Since children are already likely to be non-drinkers, this clearly isn’t helping.

Women are told to walk in groups or drive ourselves or avoid bad parts of town. Children do not have freedom of movement, particularly from their rapist parents.

Women are told not to wear sexually enticing clothing (and simultaneously sold little else.) Children have little to no choice in what they wear.

Women are told to have short hair or avoid hairstyles that are easy for attackers to grab. Children in homes with abusive parents may be entirely unable to choose their own hairstyle.

Women are told to fight back, scream, and bite. Children being abused by their own family may be terrified of the consequences of resisting. They may have good reason to be terrified.

Women are told to avoid rape more often than men are told not to commit it, even though men, women and children are all victims of primarily adult men rapistrs. The people who are the problem are largely adult men. The people who are not being asked to do anything about the problem are largely adult men. This strategy is failing. Do better.

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