Rape Prevention for Girls and Women

When I address high school girls and college women I begin by telling them about male socialization. Most haven’t heard the truth about male socialization, especially from a male. Very often as I talk, some cry, most get very quiet. Previously they have been taught to ignore their instincts; not to identify abuse that they have suffered as abuse; that the greatest danger is from a stranger; and that it is nearly inevitable that they will be assaulted. Their only hope, they have been taught is: 1) to dress differently; 2) to drink less; 3) accept the protection that a male relative or partner offers (no matter that statistically he is most likely to assault them); 4) blame the victim and otherwise distance themselves from other survivors who they believe to be weak; 5) continue to believe that it is hopeless—that there is nothing that a “mere” girl or woman can do to avoid sexual assault. 

It would be wrong to leave them feeling hopeless, so I read aloud from the following stories I have collected. I suggest to them that many females have “success” stories, stories where they (or other females) have avoided sexual assault. Sharing these stories and supporting survivors is definitely part of rape prevention for females. But, I don’t want to victim-blame inadvertently. I include the following “disclaimer.” There is no 100%, fool-proof method of rape avoidance. The research of Dr. Pauline Bart suggests though, that when women employ one rape avoidance strategy, they successfully disrupt 75% of rape attempts; and when two strategies are employed, women successfully disrupt 85% of attempted rapes! (NOTE: There are survivors present. There are girls or women who have employed any number of “proven” avoidance techniques, and were still assaulted. You weren’t assaulted because you did something wrong or because you didn’t do the right thing. Someone else chose to assault you. The perpetrator is completely responsible for committing the assault; someone who has been assaulted is in no way at fault because they didn’t avoid being assaulted. And, even if you do all the genuinely right things, you can still be assaulted—there are no 100% prevention techniques yet. Additionally, we need to support those who, trusting their instincts and fearing for their lives, choose to submit to the person intent on assaulting them. Submission is not consent.)

  1. In a town in Canada, a woman came up to me to say that she hadn’t been able to get off work to attend my session for high school girls. I had spoken to all the boys and in a separate session I had spoken to the girls. So, she was there for my evening session for parents and other adults. Her daughter had had a very positive response to my presentation in the high school. “My daughter said that there were similarities between the things you tell students and the things I tell students. I speak to all the high school girls too,” she said. She said she became motivated to talk to her daughter differently than she had been spoken to as a girl, which initially was how she spoke to her daughter. How? “Wait for marriage to engage in sex.” She said, “As I was saying to my daughter I realized that I was not remarried and I was engaging in sex.” So I thought about what no one had said to me, what I wish I had heard at that age. I told my daughter some things. At first she said that she didn’t want to hear it. But then she brought all of her school friends home and asked if I would tell them that “sex stuff” that I had told her? First I called all the mothers to make sure they were OK with me talking to their daughters. All of the mothers gave their approval and then asked if she would talk to them about sex afterwards as well. The woman said that she didn’t think there had been an orgasm in that town until she talked to people. “Wow! Amazing work!” I said. Word got out and now “I share some of my dating and relationship stories and experiences when I speak to the girls.” “My session is about to start, can you tell me one thing you tell the girls?” “I tell the girls that if you are making love with a partner who doesn’t care as much about your pleasure as his own, you can stop him even in the midst of things and tell him ‘I like masturbation as much as the next person, I just don’t want you doing it inside of me.’” I am still in awe of this woman. 
  2. In the early 1970s, I was visiting a friend in “safe,” rural Connecticut. His younger, 14 year-old sister would regularly travel into New York City alone. Her parents were leery about this. They made sure she knew how to read maps and carried enough money to make emergency phone calls. One evening, I was eating dinner with the family. “How was Manhattan today?” her mother asked her daughter. “Oh, there were a lot of weird people,” she replied. “Anything in particular?” “Yes. There was a man sitting in a parked car. He had his head and arm stuck out of the car window waving a map and calling out to me pointing to the map. Assuming that he needed directions, I walked over to see if I could help.” “What happened then?” her mother asked. “When I got to the car, he pulled the map inside. I stuck my head in the window to see the map.” “You stuck your head into the car window? What happened then?” “I looked down at the map which was in his lap and asked him what he was looking for. He pulled the map away. He was masturbating.” “What did you do then?” her mother asked faintly. I will never forget the look on that girl’s face. She answered very matter of factly. “I looked down at his penis, looked him in the eye, told him ‘I’ve seen better,’ and walked away.” 
  3. High School Girls Pummel Flasher

Philadelphia—A man described as a known sexual offender was chased through the streets of South Philadelphia by an angry crowd of Catholic school girls, who kicked and punched him after he was tackled by neighbors, police said Friday. The 25 year-old man, who had exposed himself to teenage girls on as many as seven occasions outside St. Maria Goretti High School, struck again on Thursday just as students were being dismissed, police said. But this time, a group of girls in school uniforms angrily confronted the man with help from some neighbors, police said. When the man tried to run, more than 20 girls chased him down the block. Two men from the neighborhood caught him and the girls took their revenge. “The girls came and started kicking him and punching him, so I wasn’t going to stop them,” neighbor Robert L____ told The Philadelphia Inquirer. The man was later treated for injuries at a local hospital. Police said he would be charged with 14 criminal counts including harassment, disorderly conduct, open lewdness and corrupting the morals of a minor.

  1. “Gynecological” centerfold-type posters and pin-ups of women that male first-year students would display in their dorm rooms offended many female first-year students at a school. Whenever women would walk past men’s open doors, they were affronted by these images which they felt cheapened and commodified their sexuality. The women’s appeals to the men fell on unresponsive ears. Many males belittled the women’s efforts to communicate as “censorship” and further defended the posters as art, insisting that as such they had first amendment protection. They refused to listen to the womens’ desire to discuss how they felt about the one-dimensionality of the depiction of women and how they felt stripped and misrepresented by the depiction of women solely as male defined  sex objects. Instead of doing nothing out of a feeling of helplessness or appealing to residence life professional staff to arbitrate for them, (as if they would or could do much), the women came up with their own plan; an “art show” of their own. They went to a local porn shop and purchased an armful of gay male porn magazines. They carefully cut out hundreds of photos of penises that they displayed artfully in a “tasteful montage.” They invited the men to a showing of their “First Amendment Art Show.” The men showed up, took one look, probably at least subconsciously clutched their genitals and were outraged. “This is really harsh, it totally objectifies us,” the men declared. Heated discussion ensued. But the point was effectively made. After the men took their posters down, the women followed by removing their penis display. [Thanks to Dr. Ault for this inspiring item.]
  2. Years ago, at the University of Illinois, there was a group of activist women called “Sluts Against Rape.” They dressed similarly to how Madonna dressed at that time (in fishnet stockings, high heels and bustiers). When they went to march in the Take Back the Night march dressed like that, some other women felt that they were trivializing the message. The activist women disagreed, insisting that they had the right to be safe from male violence dressed any way, at any time. They said “Girls and women should have the right to be safe dressed like this or as you dress or in any clothing.” When I first heard the name “Sluts Against Rape,” I’ll admit I had questions about what they stood for. “Self-hating performance artists?” I wondered. “Ladies Against Women?” The woman who told me about them said that she felt they were “very cool.” She showed me one of the signs they carried at marches. “YES MEANS FUCK ME—NO MEANS FUCK YOU.” (And some males complain that women communicate so obliquely.) [Thanks to Pat for this inspiring story.]
  3. A young woman recounted her story. “In my first job during high school I had worked my way up to head waiter at a local restaurant. A new chef was hired and I was introduced to him as part of the management team, since we would be working together. He shook my hand and then stepped back and carefully examined me from head to toe with special focus on my breasts. It was never flattering to me when any male did this; I was already used to it though. But as he stared longer and more longingly, it finally became intolerable to me. I asked him ‘are you waiting for them to talk to you?’ He immediately left the kitchen (and later complained to management unsuccessfully about my ‘bad attitude.’)”
  4. Two women were out walking one night. They passed a group of men who were congregated on a street corner. Several of the men became verbally abusive, harassing the women, in particular using a phrase that is often used to both reduce women to their genitals and insult women’s genitals. “We stopped and politely corrected them,” one woman responded. “You are referring, no doubt, to that space between a woman’s legs that forms a maple nest? Pungent, we agree. At times, perhaps, in need of some gentle soap and warm water. Your doorway to the world.” from Lesbian Neurotica by Meredith Rose 
  5. I have always found the following note for men from Twelve Suggestions For Men Who Want To Know How They Can Support The Women’s Movement © Sally Roesch Wagner helpful. I love how beautifully and humorously she communicates a radical consent message. I don’t know if she ever said this directly to any men or not, but the message’s clarity is laudable and many males respond enthusiastically when I read it aloud. “Think of a woman’s vagina as her home. Never enter unless you are given a warm and enthusiastic invitation. Always wash and put on your hat before you enter. Remember that you are a guest. If you don’t know the rules of the house, wait to be shown or ask. Don’t get rowdy and bump into things. You may not be invited back. And remember that the best entertaining happens on her front porch.”
  6. Every day as a woman would walk to the train station past a construction site, workers would call down at her and at other women. “Show us your legs” was the only thing they shouted at women that wasn’t purely profane. One Saturday, this woman broke into the construction site, climbed the scaffold, and spray painted “Show us your feelings” on the plywood walls.
  7. A woman and her daughters were offended by a neighbor’s “No Fat Chicks” bumper sticker on his pick-up truck. When they asked him to remove it as they were not anorexic model-types, he laughed. The women bought another bumper sticker that was luckily a similar color. They covered “No” with “I ♥ .” The “improved” new bumper sticker then read, “I ♥  Fat Chicks.” This lasted for at least 2 weeks before he noticed and returned with the original, offensive bumper sticker. The women then superimposed the letter D over the Ch in “Chicks” so this “improved” bumper sticker read “No Fat Dicks.” This only lasted several days as the man moved away. It was probably a good thing. Next, they were going to cover the “No” with I ♥  and cover the “Ch” with D. That would have ultimately read, “I ♥  Fat Dicks.”
  8. I heard this story from a friend who had heard it when she participated in Chimera a women’s self-defense class. One of the instructors was coming home from work on a crowded, rush-hour bus in Chicago. She was sitting and wool-gathering, going over the events of the day. She was startled when she felt a hand on her breast. As she put it: “It was my breast, I recognized it. It wasn’t my hand, I would’ve recognized it. I grabbed the man’s hand and yanked it off my breast, but didn’t let go of his hand. Still not letting go, I thrust his hand into the air, and shouted ‘Look what I found on my breast…Did anyone lose a hand?’ The perpetrator frantically pulled his hand free and flew off the bus at the next possible stop.”
  9. I was sharing several of these stories with some high school girls. One girl said “Oh, I did something like that…but I never thought of it as rape prevention.” Here is her story: “I was at Arby’s, waiting in line. I noticed an older man, staring at my butt. I felt uncomfortable; he was creepy. I moved to stand in front of my boyfriend to put him between me and the man. The man stepped out of line, craning his neck and continued to stare at me around my boyfriend. I stepped out of line and went right up to the man and said to him, ‘It’s disgusting that you’re staring at me. Do you know that I am 15 years old? You should be ashamed of yourself. Stop staring at me.’ The man left the restaurant immediately.” The other girls present in the class cheered for her when she finished telling her story.
  10. A female friend in Chicago was approached on her way to the train to work every morning. Like clockwork for several weeks, a car full of young men would pull along side her and drive slowly, matching her walking pace. Eventually one would roll down his window and ask, “Hey lady, do you want a ride or what?” She would square her shoulders and ignore them and eventually they would drive off. “One bad morning,” as she described it, “when my usual car full of escorts pulled up I was in no mood for their usual stuff.” “Do you want a ride or what?” they asked.” “Listen,” she said, “I am late to work, pre-menstrual, tore a run in my panty hose and generally am not looking forward to work—let’s forget the ride and go right to the ‘or what.’” They drove off, wheels screeching and never showed up again. 
  11. One woman writes: “My best friend is a very straight-forward and assertive woman. Though she has had her struggles with men in the past, she has grown to a place where she accepts nothing even remotely disrespectful of anyone—especially men. The best example of this was an evening last year where she and I were getting ready to leave [a local brewpub] and happened to ask a man if he had the time (our ride was coming at 1:00). He took this as an invitation to ogle and ‘flirt’ (in a very vulgar manner) with my friend. Without hesitation she said to him, ‘I feel so bad for you.’ He looked surprised (and hopeful?) and said, ‘Why?’  She replied, holding up her left ring finger, ‘I used to be a real slut before I got married two years ago’ and casually walked out the door. His reaction was one of stunned silence. As women, I think we are taught to expect and accept that men will hit on us every time we walk into a bar. I have never been able to go into a bar by myself to have a drink and watch a basketball game or even to wait for a few minutes until my friends get there without it being assumed that I am waiting for a man to come up to talk to me. It appears that men feel they are entitled to hit on women anytime they are alone…and frequently in vulgar and insulting ways. 
  12. A woman wrote: “I have a personal story for you regarding assault avoidance. Let me preface by saying that as a survivor (and this is true of other survivors I’ve spoken with who’ve repelled an attack) an attempted assault or near assault is extremely traumatizing. I’ve seen the response of friends as… ‘Well, you kept him from doing anything. What’re you so upset about?’ It’s worth including that caveat. I felt just as assaulted. While living in a small town (population in the winter, 63) I rented a room in a house where the other room was rented to the town drunk. He and I had one previous experience after a party where he pressured, begged, and cajoled me to have sex with him. It ended with him licking up the side of my face and I threw him out of my truck. With this memory behind me, I was not thrilled to be sharing a house. Bygones, though, right? When there’s only one place in town to rent, you do what you can. One night we were drinking over at the neighbors (small town, remember) and started dancing. I enjoy dancing and was in a fun and active mood. After heading back to the house, he still wanted to party and was showing signs of becoming amorous. I came up with a plan to drink him under the table and broke out the bottle of Jim Beam I had stashed away. Between episodes of him grabbing hold of me and rubbing his nasty boner up and down my leg and me pushing him away, I got him to consume a fairly large quantity of whiskey. I was drinking too, but in very small quantities for show more than anything. It took a while, but he did pass out. Calling for help didn’t seem an option for a couple of reasons… Mainly, he was dating my landlord who lived nearby and I didn’t want to upset her by seeing his antics or put myself in a position to be judged by her as hitting on her boyfriend. Else, be out on the street in the middle of winter with no where to go. In the end, I still didn’t feel safe in the house and headed over to another buddy’s place. Unfortunately, I got my truck terribly stuck when I slid off the snowmobile trail that led out to his camp and had to hike two miles in the rain and snow.  Bad decision making there, but the overall tactic was effective.”
  13. YOUR story here. It has been noted that most of these stories involve girls or women facing the menace of strangers. As most perpetrators are known to the victim, these stories might inadvertently reinforce the myth that most perpetrators are strangers. For a variety of reasons, I have not heard as many stories from girls or women who dealt with perpetrators or attempted perpetrators that they knew. Please send in your stories to me via email, snail mail or fax. With your permission, I will gladly add them to this list which I will keep current on my website. I will absolutely respect your wish to remain anonymous should you so desire. 

When I relate one or more of these stories in sessions with girls or women, I tell them I assume that many females know similar stories, stories where they (or other females) have avoided sexual assault. I also validate that there are survivors present in every session. There are girls or women who have employed any number of “proven” avoidance techniques, and were still assaulted. I tell them “You weren’t assaulted because you did something ‘wrong’ or because you didn’t do the ‘right’ thing. Someone else chose to assault you. The perpetrator is completely responsible for committing the assault. The person who has been assaulted is in no way at fault because they didn’t avoid being assaulted. And, even if you do all the “right things,” you can still be assaulted—there are no 100% effective prevention techniques yet. It is not your fault even if you—trusting your instincts and fearing for your life—submitted to the person intent on assaulting you. Submission is not consent.” 

From the strongly positive response of thousands of middle- and high school girls and college women, I believe I’m on to something here. There are some girls who argue with me about using these techniques. In particular, I remember several girls at a preparatory school. In response to the story (#2 above) these girls kept repeating “I would never go up to the car in the first place.” I do not include that story to encourage females to go up to cars driven by strangers, so I agreed with them, validating their instinct not to do so. But I suggested that should they find themselves in a situation not of their making or otherwise inadvertently put themselves in a situation that grows to be out of their control, that their choice to become involved in the situation did not signal their desire to be assaulted or otherwise harmed. The reason I do include the story, is to show females that there is precedent, illuminated by these and other stories, of females who escaped.

All girls and women should be safe from abuse and however they respond is correct. I’m not evaluating or judging them. Hopefully, all possible responses to abuse are discussed in rape prevention sessions with females.