A few weeks ago my bike was stolen from in front of my house. It was locked with a very good lock, but unfortunately not locked to anything. The thieves came to the house in the night, picked up my bike and left.
Obviously I was upset. My bike was my main mode of transportation and it was a huge inconvenience to have it stolen. Not to mention the sense of violation I felt from having my property stolen from right out of the front of my house. While I was asleep. My husband was outraged, expressing his anger in some choice words at the thieves. We called the cops who logged the theft, although they conceded there wasn’t much they could do.
Colleagues and friends were equally sympathetic. What struck me through this ordeal was how supportive everyone was. Friends promised to keep a lookout on online reselling platforms for my (quite distincitve) bike and they checked in regularly to see whether the police had been able to do anything.
I can’t help comparing this outpouring of support from friends, family, colleagues and the police to what their reaction would be if this was a rape instead of a theft. Let’s take a look at a few areas here.
Credibility – When I told people about the bike theft, no one asked me “are you sure you locked it”? No one questioned that there had been a theft, I hadn’t left the bike unlocked with an invitation for it to be stolen. I hadn’t “asked for it”. If someone had raped me, many people – colleagues and friends included – would ask questions like “Are you sure you didn’t send the wrong signals?” Or, “Was it really rape or did you go to his hotelroom and then had second thoughts?”
Victim blaming – As I said, and as I told everyone who asked, my bike was not tethered to anything, even though it had a lock on it. In the days after the theft, I kept sayng, “I should have locked it to something.” Clearly if it had been tethered, the thieves would have had a much harder time stealing my bike. While I certainly could have done more to prevent the theft, no one blamed me for the theft. No one said, “Well if you didn’t tether it, then you practically asked for your bike to be stolen.” Had this been a rape, all of my actions would have been examined closely and I would have at least been partially blamed for the crime. “You shouldn’t have walked home that late at night”, “You shouldn’t have worn a skirt that short”, “You shouldn’t have drunk so much.” Somehow some of the blame would have been shifted to me.
A clear crime – No matter who I told the story to, people never brought into question that the theft of my bike was a crime. There were unnamed perpetrators who had come up our drive in the middle of the night and stolen my bike. No one said “I am sorry this happened to you.” Instead, people condemned the thieves, whoever they were. They didn’t offer imaginary mitigating circumstances – “You tempted them by not securing your bike to something”. Even the language around rape takes the perpetrator out of it. “You were raped” puts the focus on the victom, not on the perpetrator violating the victim.
We need to treat rape the same as any other crime. When my husband called to cops to report the theft, they never questioned the fact that there had been a theft, even though they didn’t investigate the incident at all. No one accused me of lying about my bike theft. No one questioned that I was a victim. In fact, people were outraged and sympathetic. Had I told my colleagues that someone raped me (and particularly if I could tell them the name of my rapist), I can guarantee you that the reactions would have been quite different. People would twist themselves into knots in order to avoid calling it rape. Look at the media coverage of almost any public rape or sexual assault case and you know I am right.
Let’s do better, please. Let’s believe rape victims. The percentage of false accusations of rape are the lowest of all crimes. The amount of abuse a rape victim receives in court, from the media, from their own friends, family, colleagues, is astounding. I don’t have time to address why this may be. I only want to use this as a call to do better. Rape is a crime. A horrific crime that should at all times be treated like a crime. With a victim and a perpetrator. It’s time we put an end to this crime.