There is no safe way to guard against rape – Instead of haranguing potential victims, why don’t we address the potential perpetrators?

IrmaKurtzby Rosamund Urwin

Ladies: do you want to rape-proof your life? Then good news! The armchair sages on sexual violence can tell you how. Don’t get boozed up with the boys, says Cosmopolitan’s agony aunt Irma Kurtz. Don’t wear “provocative” clothes, reckons former-Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross. Always take a taxi after dark, advises This Morning’s Eamonn Holmes.

Unfortunately, these nuggets of wisdom couldn’t have stopped every crime. I doubt the 77-year-old woman from Oxfordshire who was raped by a teenager in 2011 was drunkenly cavorting in a mini-skirt. In fact, the NIA, which campaigns to end violence against women, says most victims of sexual assault are “stone-cold sober”. And getting a cab at night doesn’t offer much protection against the majority of perpetrators who know their victims, just as it wouldn’t have helped the many women assaulted by the taxi driver John Worboys.

Kurtz gave her opinion on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday. She rightly noted that rape is not “the fault of the victim” but then added: “It’s a very good idea to keep away, [to] protect yourself … [What women] can use is self-defence and drunkenness tears that away. It is carelessness to lose your self-defence.”

This assumes that a sober woman can overpower a man. Yet when threatened, many people freeze up rather than fight. And some victims have said that they chose not to fight back because they feared that their attacker would murder them instead.

There’s a broader problem with Kurtz’s view, though. In our society, women are constantly hectored about how to protect themselves against rape — to such an extent that it feels like the onus is on them. And then any woman who doesn’t stick to these rules is deemed to have left herself vulnerable. The implication is that she’s partially culpable.

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