Via Feministing, Ben Goldacre provides an anatomy of how unpublished scientific research has once again been used to promote sexist ideas through newspaper headlines.
The offenders put out a piece in the UK's Daily Telegraph suggesting that wearing provocative clothing makes women more likely to be raped. Only now, it's not just a nervous elderly relative or skeezy Bill O'Reilly saying it, but 'scientists.' As Goldacre was able to gather from talking to the dissertation candidate involved, her research showed nothing of the kind and the conclusion in the headline wasn't going to be reported as a finding because the evidence didn't support it.
But who wants to let facts and evidence get in the way of a little harmless slut-shaming?
Indeed, the research the paper was supposed to be reporting on seems not to have been focused on criminal behavior, and the researcher herself says that the survey structure wouldn't likely be suitable for answering the question assumed by the news article. But there has been research done on what marks people out for being crime victims, conducted by observing the responses of actual criminals, and the conclusions were very different than the prejudice-laden assumptions of the Daily Mail article.
|From Marked for Mayhem, an article appearing in the Feb, 2009 issue of Psychology Today:
... In a classic study, researchers Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein asked convicted criminals to view a video of pedestrians walking down a busy New York City sidewalk, unaware they were being taped. The convicts had been to prison for violent offenses such as armed robbery, rape, and murder.
Within a few seconds, the convicts identified which pedestrians they would have been likely to target. What startled the researchers was that there was a clear consensus among the criminals about whom they would have picked as victims-and their choices were not based on gender, race, or age. Some petite, physically slight women were not selected as potential victims, while some large men were. ...
Turns out they zeroed in on people with disjointed or odd walks, the distracted (including people on cell phones,) the shuffling, the less self-confident and the submissive. The one exception to the overall theme of weakness was that they were more likely to target flashy, condescending-seeming people. But let's go back to the submission angle, and how it blows apart the usual assumptions that callously hold women responsible for their own rapes:
... The same team also found that rapists tend to be more able than average to interpret facial cues, such as a downward gaze or a fearful expression. It's possible this skill makes rapists especially able to spot passive, submissive women. One study even showed that rapists are more empathetic toward women than other criminals-although they have a distinct empathy gap when it comes to their own victims. A highly attuned rapist and a woman who's oblivious to hostile body language make a dangerous combination.
Even personality plays a role. Conventional wisdom holds that women who dress provocatively draw attention and put themselves at risk of sexual assault. But studies show that it is women with passive, submissive personalities who are most likely to be raped-and that they tend to wear body-concealing clothing, such as high necklines, long pants and sleeves, and multiple layers. Predatory men can accurately identify submissive women just by their style of dress and other aspects of appearance. The hallmarks of submissive body language, such as downward gaze and slumped posture, may even be misinterpreted by rapists as flirtation. ...
An illuminating quote from a convicted rapist known to have attacked 75 women drove the point home, saying that he never bothered messing with women who seemed like they'd be a hassle.
A rape culture that blames women who step out of line as 'asking for' rape would in fact create more victims by this sort of evaluation. It would create more women whose body language suggests that they're afraid of being looked at, whose posture is fearful and cringing, who are afraid of the negative judgment, keep their heads down and shuffle meekly along.
As the authors of the Psychology Today article pointed out, responsibility for crime falls entirely on the shoulders of criminals. Yet as individuals, it's reflexive to want to know what we can do to avert disaster, and if we can't do so through the mentally lazy route of slut-shaming, what are we left with?
Could we really create a society that instilled such confidence in young women that they would legitimately be less likely to be attacked? For that, perhaps counterintuitively, I'd look to the Amish to say it can definitely be done.
Taking away the issue of dress, the Amish have a physically active culture that downplays the value of appearance and prizes measurable contributions that depend on a person's effort rather than inborn traits that the individual can't do much about. Teen Amish girls don't simper. They may be covered from neck to ankle, but it isn't because they're afraid of anyone, as is more likely to be the case with women in the general population whose dress is extremely conservative.
It isn't in the clothes.
It's about a society that creates victims and encourages their predators through an obvious lack of commitment to egalitarian ideals.
So, and I'm saying this as a representation solely of my own opinion, if we want a society with less rape and bodily crime, I think we should stop encouraging people to feel lousy about themselves for no particular reason. You didn't cause the world financial crisis, so walk tall, and encourage others to do the same.