Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center would like to respond to the well-meaning but misguided advice in “Lads and Ladies” on how women can keep themselves from being sexually assaulted. The writer indicates that women used to “know how to conduct themselves in public” and that a return to more modest and sober behavior would reduce their risk of assault. However, sexual assault is not a modern phenomenon.
Focusing attention on what women can do to reduce their risk of sexual assault misses the mark entirely. We need to change the conversation and stop excusing sexual assault as a natural consequence of men’s “biological urges” coupled with the “foolish choices” of women. Ultimately, the only choice that matters is the perpetrator’s decision to force himself upon another person. No amount of modesty or sobriety can prevent sexual assault.
Our society makes allowances for the irresponsible behavior of young men, accepting that the “development of [men’s] minds and values come[es] along later … or never,” yet we hold onto puritanical standards of behavior for women. Let us instead hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. The Rape Crisis Center believes that men and women alike are responsible for communicating clearly and treating one another with respect.
While the writer may believe that some things never change, many members of our community are working to ensure that future generations of women no longer have to consider the threat of sexual assault before deciding on an outfit for the evening or determining whether to have a drink. We encourage you to join us in these efforts.
Karen Villegas is the Community Education Coordinator at the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center.