By Laurah Lukin
This past Sunday, I ran a half marathon.
It was a great day. I raced with my friends. We all ran well. I set a goal for myself and exceeded it. My husband and daughter cheered for me at the finish line.
This morning, I woke up to a notification that I was tagged in a race photo on Facebook. Interested to see how the day had been captured, I clicked it and was left speechless by several comments from a man I do not know.
“That’s because she doesn’t have any damn clothes on and she’s running for her life…No wonder joggers get raped.”
Instantly, my brain started rationalizing and justifying my race outfit.
It was a race!
They are competition briefs!
They make me cool and faster!
My legs move more freely!
Then I paused. I was immediately disappointed that my gut reaction to this man’s horrific comments was to defend my wardrobe choice. After all, there were photos from the race of shirtless men, men in short shorts, men in tight shorts; yet he did not feel motivated to comment on their potential for inviting sexual assault.
I was tempted to write an angry response to his comment to “put him in his place”. While such a retort would surely ease my ego, I knew it would probably not influence his opinions.
As a woman and as a mother, however, I feel strongly that this behavior cannot go unaddressed. I do not want these comments to simply be reported to Facebook (which they have been by the photographer) or deleted from the photo comments (which they were by the photographer). While such actions are indeed appropriate, it does not address or help change the global and persistent cultural assumption that rape is preventable if a female would simply behave or dress a certain way.
It is not my responsibility to choose a race outfit or workout apparel to deter the temptation of men. The length of my shorts is not an indication of interest, invitation or consent.
Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and control that stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another. It is an appalling crime with devastating effect on victims, and those close to them. NOBODY asks to be raped.
Yet this man’s perception persists: If women behaved or dressed differently, we would not be victimized.
How and why do these ideas still exist?
The anthropologist in me realizes that blaming the victim makes us feel safe. It is comforting to pretend sexual assault is something that only happens to people who make bad choices… like racing a half marathon wearing leopard-print competition briefs in Ohio in August. It is easier to harbor a subconscious belief that if women just did all the right things, including dressing a certain way, then we would never be raped.
This is not true.
In fact, this myth has been debunked repeatedly by the Justice Department and other reputable sources and organizations. But these facts, these statistics, this basic logic clearly have not reached the man who commented on my race photo.
For him, redirecting blame to women is easier than confronting the societal problem of rape, which is far bigger than just a pervasive cultural myth.
For him, comments such as, “That’s because she doesn’t have any damn clothes on and she’s running for her life…No wonder joggers get raped”, makes avoidance of rape the responsibility of women, and not his own.
But the truth is, such statements do not decrease the incidence of rape or make women more “safe”. These statements only provide rapists what they’re looking for: an excuse for violence. And while this man may believe his comments qualify as a lesson in how to behave, It only propagates an ignorant, dangerous agenda and further justifies this hateful and disturbing behavior.