one in five australians think a woman is “partly responsible” if she is raped while intoxicated
Last week shocking and shameful statistics emerged from a survey conducted by VicHealth.
The results showed that one in five Australians believe that if a woman is raped while drunk or under the influence of drugs, she is partly to blame.
One in Five. Duck, duck, duck, duck… Goose.
Although the majority of those 17,500 individuals surveyed regard rape as being the sole responsibility of the rapist, unfortunately we’re not talking as though it’s a bulk saturation of 99.9%. With just 81% reacting against the statement, ‘if a woman is raped while drunk/affected by drugs she is at least partly responsible’, the uncomfortable stats for those agreeing with it are huge. This is what makes the topic such a big issue.
The reason articles and outcry on this controversy are surfacing isn’t because feminists have manipulated the media, but because the results are – frankly – fucked up. The fact that one in five people in contemporary Australia consider physical abuse and objectification a part-fault of the victim herself needs serious addressing.
One in five. That’s the point guard in a basketball team, the politician on a Q&A panel, the baby-faced one in a boy band or even the top tier in a human pyramid. That’s one too many Australians who aren’t respecting a woman’s personal space or the boundaries of her consent.
Blind drunk or not, there are no blurred lines (thank you very much Robin Thicke for your insightful input into the act of nightlife courting) when it comes to sexual compliance, and despite the surprising number of individuals who believe this to be the case, I’m disappointed, yet not convinced that one in five people effectively stand as pro-rape. This survey doesn’t so much suggest that there is evil amongst us, but instead, it highlights that far too many Australians are misinformed about rape.
In my opinion, this misinformation is driven by the way society views women’s bodies. I live in a culture where pissheads chant ‘any hole’s a goal!’; where people joke about period blood ‘gushing out’; and the worst, where a co-worker once called a slotted spoon “The Woman Spoon”, as it’s ‘the one with all the holes in it’.
This casual and immature vernacular not only dehumanises women, but gives the wrong impression about their anatomical make-up. Women don’t have a gate between their legs with a flimsy hatch, nor are vaginas an open hole that uncontrollably lets things in and has stuff fall out. When contemporary discourse describes a vagina as though it’s an empty bucket, it undermines the biological agency (both physical and mental) that women actually have that keeps them secure, and makes them active sexual subjects.
In regard to rape culture, this attitude ascribes concepts of accessibility and straightforwardness to a woman’s body, rather than allowing for an understanding of the difficulty and violation of rape. It’s these incorrect assumptions around the passiveness of the female anatomy that raise the primary issue: rape is not an extended branch of the sexual intercourse family tree.
If women are reduced to a “hole”, the socially constructed roles that male and female genitalia play (“penis-in-vagina”) will harmfully blur the distinctions between what sex is, and what rape is.
This fundamental problem with the distinction between rape and sex is revealed not only by the answers of the respondents to the VicHealth survey, but the questions themselves (and here, I’ll give a special shout out to Richard Dawkins and his recent moronic opinions on sexual consent).
Along with “if a woman is raped while drunk/affected by drugs she is at least partly responsible”, the survey listed neighbouring questions linking circumstances that are typically connected with sex (such as alcohol and partying) and attributing them to circumstances of rape. For example, “if a woman goes to a room alone with a man at a party, it is her fault if she is raped” (12% agree, by the way). These questions highlight the association between rape and sex that pervades the public narrative.
When these questions are already loaded and wrongheaded, it’s hardly surprising that the feedback is so damning. The questions in this survey, and the questions we often ask about rape, erroneously view rape as an extension of sex, rather than an act of violence. Rape shouldn’t be placed in the same context as a drunken hook-up. If it belongs anywhere, rape is akin to other acts of abuse and the disruption of personhood.
One in five people conveyed the belief that there are cases of rape in which ‘she was asking for it’. This justification completely misconstrues the problem at hand and perpetuates the idea that sex and rape aren’t mutually exclusive. It is impossible for a person to “ask” to be raped or for a victim to be at fault for the incident. Any argument that positions the two acts of sex and rape as equivocal is fundamentally at odds with reason. Rape is not simply “sex gone wrong” and that’s where we need to start the conversation.
Sophie Verass is a radio presenter, writer and hardcore feminist. From pop-culture to politics, she has an interest and background in media theory and sociology and enjoys discussing issues of everyday life. Follow Sophie @sophieverass
Claire Capel-Stanley is a writer, curator, critic and feminist. She is still recovering from Catholic education and writes about art, life and politics. She enjoys asking questions and changing her mind. Follow Claire @Capelstanley
I think the end point of this article, a distinction between sex and rape, is such good framing! Consent is such a murky issue, and it’s important to differentiate between the two. I wish that discussions of consent were part of sex ed in high schools.