Democratic strategist and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell suggests that the way to prevent rapes is telling men not to rape. What happened after was ugly.
March 10, 2013

The conservatives in this country will not be happy until the entire country has turned into the fabled days of the Wild West, a literal and figurative Tombstone (like most of their nostalgia, it is rarely based in fact). It is an odd psychology, this need to blame victims. It's the poor's fault that they haven't succeeded. Those who suffer from chronic diseases and want to rely on universal health care are purposely not taking care of themselves. Those seniors should have planned better for their retirement so that Social Security benefits can be cut, for the betterment of future generations. And rape victims should most definitely be armed to prevent sexual assault.

And so it was in this looking glass world that Democratic strategist and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell entered this week, appearing on the Hannity show with a radical notion: rather than tell women to avoid being raped, how about we teach men not to rape?

This is not without precedent. In Vancouver, an anti-rape campaign, Don't Be That Guy, actually saw number of sexual assaults drop the following year by 10%. And for a party that claims to be all about "personal responsibility," this would seem to be the most logical tactic to take. But then, when has Hannity been about logic?

Absolutely, sometimes the rapist is the guy with a ski mask who jumps out of an alley. And no, he doesn’t care about learning to be a better person. But Hannity’s offhand remark that “evil exists in the world” reduces the experience of rape to one particular type – the violent stranger attack. Absolutely, we need to continue to empower women to avoid high-risk situations, to get themselves out of them when they’re in them and to defend themselves however they best see fit. But when rape is overwhelmingly an act perpetrated by men upon women, we also sure as hell need to stop thinking of it exclusively in terms of what women have to do to prevent it. We need to involve men and boys. We need to remember, as a revealing Reddit thread last year proved, that a rapist can be your friend or your boyfriend or your co-worker. We need to acknowledge that a rapist can be your husband. That, as chilling as it is to admit, as Maxwell says, “Those kids in Steubenville were average guys.”

Maxwell says, “I don’t want anybody to lecture a rape survivor about anything. And I don’t want anybody telling women that if you don’t wear a skirt or don’t drink at all you’re going to be safe. That is a lie.” What she wants instead is more training, more dialogue and a process that is much longer and harder, and infinitely subtler, than just telling women to get a gun or not wear high heels. Maxwell says, “I knew that [doing "Hannity"] was going to be hard, but I did it because I knew that I wasn’t speaking just for myself. I’m not alone. Clearly, what we’ve been doing isn’t working. We’re telling women to be afraid of the person in the bushes when it’s the person in your house. We need a reality check. We’re talking about the wrong things. We’re asking the wrong questions.”

And if you're a Fox News viewer (or a reader of Glenn Beck's The Blaze, which did an article as well), you are apparently also internalizing the wrong message, because what happened to Maxwell after this appearance just proves how far we have yet to go:

In the wake of her appearance, Maxwell was bombarded with harassing messages calling for her to be raped or murdered, often in explicitly racist terms.




As a female blogger, I can absolutely vouch that there are men who feel horrifyingly comfortable telling me about all sorts of violent fantasies they wish to act upon my person because they've disagreed with something I've written. I shudder to imagine how they act towards the women in their lives. It is something very familiar to all the other female bloggers I know. When the brilliant blogger Digby revealed that she was a woman, her comment section grew so ugly and so misogynistic that she felt it necessary to close her comments. Susie Madrak, Karoli and I have noticed that we can write the same thing as a male blogger and get so much more vitriol than the male blogger, even here on this site.

But to go to a rape survivor's twitter account (looking at you, Adam Baldwin, actor and Breitbot) and Facebook account and write the kind of things like those above, is beyond inhuman. It's not only triggering to the victim of a violent assault, it sends the message to other survivors that they must keep their mouths shut, that they had no one else to blame for their attack, that boys will be boys.

And that is wholly unacceptable. I'll give Zerlina the last word:

Holding women and girls accountable for preventing sexual assault hasn’t worked and so long as men commit the majority of rapes, men need to be at the heart of our tactics for preventing them. Let’s stop teaching ‘how to avoid being a victim’ and instead, attack the culture that creates predators in the first place.

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