Rapists Aren’t Strangers Waiting in the Dark for Women in Tight Skirts

Why we shouldn't be teaching girls how to be "less rape-able."

Though the trial against the two Steubenville High School teens charged with raping a 16-year-old girl at a party last August ended with a “guilty” verdict on Sunday morning, the conversation is far from over.

The Steubenville case has prompted a necessary discussion about sexism, power and consent. It begs for us to dissect the ways in which our culture normalizes, excuses and condones rape and sexual assault against women.

We have to talk about rape culture. Where it exists and how it has come to be.

Rape remains one of the few instances in which the perceived culpability of the victim is given measured consideration in the discussion of the crime.

What did she do to provoke him?

A prevailing misconception is that rape is perpetrated by a menacing and violent sexual predator in a dark back alley, drawn in by “too short” skirt, “too tight” dress, or “too much” cleavage.

In reality, however, most rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, with 73 percent of sexual assaults perpetrated by a non-stranger.

Thirty-eight percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. Twenty-eight percent are an intimate.

She brought this on herself.

Women are taught not to do certain things in order to avoid what would otherwise seem be an inevitable demise. Nestled in the overarching narrative about the stranger rapist is the message that women can and should avoid being raped, as though any woman who suffers as a sexual assault does so by her own failures.

Our society teaches young women “don’t get raped,” with ominous warnings instructing them on the ways in which they should go about the world. We teach young women to avoid the night, darkness and unfamiliar spaces all in misguided efforts to keep them safe.

The price of this message is female autonomy. And safety.

Because as women and girls travel the world charged with the ridiculous task to make themselves somehow less rape-able, our society continues to validate rape culture through its men and boys.

Nestled in our cultural understandings of what it means to be men is a permissive credo that “boys will be boys,” authorizing inappropriate sexual behavior at an early age, while failing to hold men accountable for their actions and urges.

Despite all of this, there is no justification for rape.

And the failure to truly acknowledge how and where rape happens means that we will continue to teach girls not to get raped, instead of teaching boys not to become rapists.

Maya K. Francis is a writer and media/marketing consultant from Philadelphia. Her biting and insightful commentary on pop culture, race, politics, gender and sexuality has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer and digital publications including Ebony, xoJane, and The Root, a division of the Washington Post. For more, visit mayafrancis.com, or follow her on Twitter.