When do you get a free pass to rape a woman? Because we’ve all been scratching our heads about the answer to this one, Chrissie Hynde has given us some valuable guidelines in a Sunday Times Magazine interview. ‘You know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him,’ the former rock and roll star told her (presumably horrified) interviewer. If a woman is being ‘lairy’ and ‘provocative’ in the street after a few drinks, she added, then ‘who else’s fault can it be’ if she ends up getting raped? Who else’s, indeed? Not the perpetrator’s, that’s for sure.
The specific instances when rape doesn’t end up the fault of the victim are apparently confined to when a woman is ‘walking around and…very modestly dressed and…keeping to [herself].’ Otherwise, like Hynde when she was taken to an empty house by a member of a motorcycle gang at the age of 21 and forced to perform sexual acts under the threat of violence, you’re practically asking for it. In her own words, ‘If you play with fire, you get burnt.’
The idea that sexual assault is a natural occurrence, ready to engulf passing women in its flames, is one as damaging and insulting to women as it is to men. This persistent belief that men are naturally inclined towards rape, and that women have to dress or act or behave accordingly because otherwise it’ll just end up happening, is one that prevents so many assaults from being reported or prosecuted every year. Rape is not a natural disaster, and men are not prowling animals whose natural instincts would be kept under control if only women would just stop putting on fishnets or getting drunk or looking so damn sexy all the time. However, it has consistently been found in psychological studies that rapists do believe all men rape – which helps them to justify their actions to themselves.
When I was 21, I got on a night bus home after an evening spent at the pub with friends in London. A middle-aged man sat down beside me, trapped me in my seat and ran his hand up my thigh, asking me whether I was ‘one of those drunk single girls who’s been on a big night out’. I told him a catalogue of creative lies: that I was a nurse returning from a shift, my husband was at home and our baby was waiting for me. He apologised and got off the bus at the next stop. In a society that believes there are ‘certain types of girls’ who are up for grabs, perpetrators only start feeling guilt when they’re told you don’t fit into the ‘asking for it’ category.
I feel sorry for Chrissie Hynde, believing all her life that she was to blame for a vicious sexual assault because she fit into one of those categories. Chrissie, it wasn’t your fault – and it isn’t any other victim’s, either.
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