America is a blame culture. We obsess over assigning blame for situations that really have no one to blame. We direct blame not based on the facts but based on our prejudices, our politics and our selfishness. Anyone who does not subscribe to your exact point of view is not you, and thus, them, and so, are to blame.
Take the current discussion on rape, rape culture and slut-shaming. There are two sides, on the same side. One group is comprised of those who wish to protect women through punishment of those who commit sexual assaults, and to promote an attitude adjustment in men (and boys) about sexual boundaries and consent.
The second group are those who wish to protect women by making them more aware of how they can protect themselves and minimize risk.
Both groups want the same thing: the elimination of sexual assaults. Both groups are correct. They are in fact one group.
There is another blame game and it is arbitrated by insurance companies; automobile insurance companies. I was once involved in a traffic accident and by the time I arrived home to report it to my insurance company the wife of the other driver had already called my insurance company telling them it was my fault, and she wasn’t even at the scene. Auto insurance companies are in the middle of a blame game, and for them punishment and restitution are important, but prevention just as much so.
The concept of defensive driving is quite simple. Avoid being the victim of someone else’s reckless driving. Learn to recognize situations and circumstances that increase the risk of a vehicular collision, and drive in such a manner to mitigate the risks. You are certainly allowed to drive with confidence in all the locations in which you have the right of way, but that does not preclude someone hitting you. Defensive driving is about prevention, not blame.
I have a right to walk down the street. But I know, we all know, there are certain streets you don’t want to walk down. Even more so at night. Each and every one of us knows that if we walk down certain streets, or go to certain locations, we are increasing the risk that we will be mugged, assaulted or even killed. Defensive living is to recognize the dangers and to adapt your behavior to lessen the risk of you being the victim of someone else’s violence. Yes, I have a right to walk down that street. Yes, I have a right to be here or there. But that doesn’t preclude someone hitting me. Defensive living is about prevention, not blame.
Anyone who suggests women should practice defensive living in order to reduce their risk of being sexually assaulted are instantly decried and ridiculed for blaming women. They are accused of contributing to rape culture and slut-shaming. There are certainly those who think some victims of sexual assault are “getting what they ask for.” These people are insensitive, selfish and cruel. But they do not invalidate the concept of defensive living.
Any sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. However, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of being sexually assaulted by recognizing the risks. Be aware of the situations and circumstances that increase the risk of sexual assault. Adapt your behavior. Practice defensive living.
Forrest is an assistant registrar for the university.