Written with guest contributor Joneka Percentie
Just over a week ago, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) began an investigation of an alleged rape in Uptown. The suspect in the incident was quoted as telling the victim, “This is what you get for walking alone.” While the claim was later recanted, it wasn’t before the CMPD released “personal safety tips” including:
- Be alert! Know who is near you and what activities are going on around you.
- Walk with authority, look ahead and scan your surroundings
- Do not walk in poorly lit areas.
- Avoid standing at a bus stop alone, especially at night.
- Carry a cell phone and some type of safety device (i.e.: flashlight, whistle, pepper spray, etc.) when walking at night.
- Be alert to someone who asks for directions and/or continues to engage you in conversation.
- Obey all of the robber’s orders. Keep all communication with the robber short and simple. Don’t argue!
- Be identification conscious. Observe your attacker’s personal appearance, type of weapon used, and type of vehicle so you can accurately describe them to police.
The UNC Charlotte Police Department expressed similar sentiments after an incident of sexual assault against a member of our student family in the spring. An area advisory was sent to all students with the following suggestions:
- Walk/jog/bike in groups in clear, well-lighted, well-traveled area.
- Avoid using headphones or cell phones, which distract the listener and are popular robbery items.
- Avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry; wait until you are inside a safe place/event to put it on.
These tips and suggestions contribute to a culture of victim blaming that is rampant in patriarchy and racism that perpetuate rape culture on our campus and in our city. Rape culture places responsibility time and time again on the victim of an assault. If the victim had changed an aspect of their behavior, it would have prevented the assault; meanwhile, the aggressor is absolved of any accountability. It relies on a faulty premise that one wills violence against himself or herself.
This brings to mind the recent vicious and criminal leaks of celebrity photos last week. The hacker committed a crime when they found, obtained and distributed hundreds of nude photos of female celebrities without their consent. Reactions to the mass leak of photos ranged from the disgustingly sexist to the seemingly innocuous: “By taking those pictures, she was asking for them to be leaked.”
But that’s not true. No, celebrities who take nude photos aren’t asking for them to be distributed to the public, just as an ex-girlfriend never consented to being involved in “revenge porn.” No, Jordan Davis wasn’t “asking for it” when he was shot and killed for playing his music too loud in his car. And no, survivors of rape and sexual assault weren’t “asking for it” by wearing short skirts or walking alone. People of privilege often look at people of color profiled by stop-and-frisk policies, or Muslim congregations spied on in their mosques by the NSA and say, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
Consent and a basic respect for privacy are central to all our interactions as human beings. So when the NYPD spies on Muslims in prayer or when NYPD stops and frisks black youth or when misogynistic hackers toss leaked nude photos, it reveals oppression for what it is: the denial of recognizing, yes, all black people and, yes, all women, as human beings.
An end to victim blaming means that no Muslim should have to apologize for praying to Allah. No celebrity, or any woman, should have to apologize for their photos. No UNC Charlotte student should have to apologize for wearing expensive jewelry.
Society should stop blaming the victims of breaches of privacy – appreciating each other for what we choose to share rather than condemning one another for what we do not. Placing onus on perpetrators of sexual crimes instead of victims means no more tips and suggestions. Whether someone is walking down a poorly lit street or using their headphones, they do not deserve to be attacked. We should be teaching consent and respect for boundaries. And when that happens, it means no longer fearing walking down the street alone.