Let’s face facts, people: if you get assaulted, or worse, it’s your fault. You shouldn’t have been walking in that area. You shouldn’t have been out at night. You shouldn’t have been alone. You shouldn’t have worn that dress or those shoes, or been wearing such an expensive watch/handbag/ribbon.
You can, of course, ignore this information. But once you know that certain behaviours increase your risk, then choosing to express that particular behaviour… Well… That’s all on you. We, by which I mean society, are going to blame the victims, and we are right to do so.
Studies like these get kicked around, and (I’m sure) are great science. Good methodology, good math, careful controls. All that good stuff with dotted ‘i’s and crossed ‘t’s that is the core of Good Science. But it’s really shitty Philosophy: a study with a massive conceptual error is going to be a crappy study regardless of the rigour of everything else. And these studies do have a massive conceptual error at their core.
So let’s talk about Crommunist’s favourite topic:
When are you responsible for your own problems? Conversely, when are you not responsible? And is this different from being morally blameworthy?
For the purpose of this article, when I say ‘responsible’ I mean ‘your action is the trigger for certain consequences, which inevitably follow from your action’. ‘Moral blameworthiness’ only comes into the picture once responsibility is established, so I’m shelving that for now.
An ‘Agent‘ in this article is a being who is capable of impressing their will upon the world. An ‘Agent’ is a being who can (but may not) make choices regarding their life and the lives of other folk that fall within their purview. Rocks cannot be Agents due to a complete lack of sentience. A dog or dolphin may be considered an Agent, but probably isn’t. A human below the so-called ‘age of reason’ is, by definition, not an Agent, although certain individuals may demonstrate that they are. This is a fuzzy term.
Furthermore, it’s necessary to discern whether an Agent has created/setup a system such that the decisions of other Agents will lead to harm. An example would be a Loan Shark setting up a loan system that inevitably traps any other Agent who enters into a contract with the Loan Shark. In this case, the consequences (destitution) do not “inevitably” flow from the actions of the Agent, but from the actions of the Loan Shark who crafted the system to act in this fashion.
Let’s start with a couple of examples. Unless stated otherwise, all “person”s are in complete control of their faculties, and have whatever information you feel is necessary to the situation.
Example A: a person walks to the edge of a cliff. They are in full comprehension of how gravity works in these situations, and it’s clear that there is nothing but rocks (jagged and many) at the base of the cliff. It’s a clear 500 metre drop, and death is certain. The person hurls themselves over the edge, knowing all of this. They die on impact.
Example B: a person takes a boat out to ‘piranha-infested waters’, and locates a school of piranha. They are in full comprehension of how piranha feed, and they hurl themselves into the water. The piranha feed, and they die.
Example C: A person talks a stroll down a street, after dark, that is known to be a haven for thugs and gangs. They are well-dressed, wearing obviously expensive clothing, and habitually jingle the money in their pocket as they walk. They are wearing an ipod, frequently close their eyes to listen to the music from time to time, and occasionally sing out loud. They are aware that the area is known to be dangerous, yet broadcast “I’m not paying attention” signals constantly. They are subsequently assaulted, robbed, and left for dead.
Example D: a person who is a woman dresses extremely provocatively and goes to a bar that is known (to her and in general) to be frequented by people with a penchant for assault and rape. She drinks heavily, flirts shamelessly, and indicates sexual interest with any man who happens to glance her way. As a matter of fact, she’s not at all interested in having any relationship (of any duration), but enjoys the feeling of being desired. She is subsequently raped shortly after leaving the bar.
Example E: a person who is a woman dresses extremely conservatively and goes to a high-end bar, where she is extremely careful about who she drinks with, what she drinks, and what signals she sends to the men in the room. She arranges for a friend (who is a woman) to drive her home. She is subsequently raped by a neighbour whom she had known (and trusted) for several years.
I think that it’s safe to assert that everyone would agree that the person in Example A and Example B are wholly responsible for their situation. They knew the risks, and indulged accordingly. Quite simply, if the people in Example A and Example B are not held responsible, then ‘responsibility’ is a meaningless expression: neither rocks nor piranha are Agents, thus the only being capable of exerting their will on the situation is ‘the person’ indicated in the example. The death of the person inevitably follows from the jumping off a cliff, ditto swimming with hungry piranha (note: I am not a marine biologist. It may well not be the case that piranha ‘inevitably’ eat people, but I trust that ye get my point).
The article Attracting Assault-Victims Nonverbal Cues (Grayson, Stein) is my target for Example C. Example B serves as a contrast against Example C: in Example B, piranha react as a force of nature to the introduction of food into their eco-system. Piranha are, as per the above definition, not Agents. They have no ‘choice’ about reacting to attack, or not.
Are “thugs” and “gang members” Agents? Are they capable of exerting their will upon the situation to alter the world? Absolutely.
In the absence of piranha, would the piranha-infested waters be safe to swim in? Absolutely.
In the absence of thugs, would the thug-infested streets be safe to walk in? Absolutely.
Do the piranha choose to dwell in the piranha-infested waters, to prey on whatever comes their way: No.
Do the thugs choose to dwell in the thug-infested streets, to prey on whatever comes their way: Absolutely.
Here we can see the immediate and readily-apparent difference between the two circumstances: the area is made dangerous by a choice that is being made by a group of Agents. They choose when and where (and why) they attack the victims that they do. The victims choices do not inevitably lead to their mugging: the choice of the thug does. The thugs are in control of whether or not the area is dangerous, and it’s from the choices of the thugs that danger flows.
Now, let’s imagine a world where every single human being magically stopped generating those ‘I’m a victim’ signals that Grayson and Stein so helpfully went out of their way to identify. Would the muggings stop? Would crime (that is currently “triggered” by those signals) suddenly cease to exist?
I find it difficult to believe that anyone would argue that “yes, all that is necessary to reduce the incidence of assault is for people to stop issuing these particular signals”. What would happen, of course, is that those thugs and gang members would start to differentiate ‘potential victims’ and ‘not-victims’ by a different set of signals. In short, what makes these signals dangerous is not the signals in and of themselves but the choices of the thugs and gangs (i.e. what they have chosen to interpret those signals as representing). Again: the danger flows from the choices made by the thugs and gangs.
What if people stopped walking in those areas? Surely then all crime would magically stop? Of course not: the thugs and gangs would start to roam farther afield in search of victims, or change their approach from simple assault to some other form of violent crime (house-breaking, for example).
Fundamentally, the responsibility for these assaults are the thugs and gangs. There is zero causal responsibility to be dropped at the feet of the person dancing through the ‘dangerous’ area jingling money in their pocket. (Of course, I’d argue that the system that generates thugs and gangs is ultimately responsible, but that’s beyond the scope of this essay)
Example D is, frankly, entirely identical to Example C in all meaningful ways. As such, my conclusion is the same: the responsibility for the rape lies entirely with the rapist.
Example E is, again, entirely identical to Example C and Example D in all meaningful ways. The only difference here is the action of the victim, which in no way entails the necessity of the crime. The crime occurs if and only if the would-be criminal chooses to enact the crime.
Let me spin this around a little, as I’m sure that (to some) I’m articulating a controversial position: imagine that you’re sitting in a bar, people-watching. Riddle me this: what action is necessary for someone in that bar to take for you to say “well, their action has indicated their consent to be raped/assaulted/mugged”? If the answer is “there is no action which would indicate that”, then we’re done here: the responsibility is entirely at the feet of the attacker.
(incidentally, if you feel that there is some action a person can take that would legitimise your attack of them: please seek psychiatric assistance as soon as possible, your choices here indicate that you are currently a danger to the people around you)
To pull ‘moral blameworthiness’ back into this: as there is no responsibility on the part of the victim, the victim cannot be considered to be morally blameworthy. Agreeing that they are not responsible, but nonetheless attempting to consider them morally blameworthy is to exhibit your confusion on these topics.
Now there is a common counter-argument to the position that I’m articulating, and that argument is that none of the actions of any of the Agents are necessary in and of themselves to cause the rape to happen ergo the rape is due to a combination of choices. Since the rape is due to a combination of choices, responsibility should be doled out in proportion to the level of choice involved. Insofar as “dressing provocatively” and “flirting shamelessly” influenced the probability of the woman being raped, the woman is responsible to that degree.
Let me be clear: this is unadulterated bullshit.
When an assailant adopts the disposition (consciously or not) of “I’m going to rape someone today”, the actions of everyone around them function merely as a sorting mechanism. Just like I am not “responsible” in any meaningful way when I win in a raffle (by definition, someone is going to win and I have no ability to affect this, I can merely choose to be involved or not), the participants in (what is essentially) a rape-raffle are not responsible for their subsequent rape: they did not choose to participate. And while it may be true that a certain set of actions may raise a woman’s visibility to a particular rapist, this does not make her responsible for the rape. In any way, shape or form.
But let’s, for the sake of argument, examine the position that is often espoused by people who haven’t thought deeply about this issue. Let’s frame the situation as if there are certain brute facts in play, and that people who make choices in the face of those brute facts are responsible for the results of their choices. (The people who profess these arguments usually call themselves “Libertarians”, or “Mens’ Rights Activists” when really this argument neither aligns with the axioms of Liberty, nor does it support any ‘rights’ of men)
The brute facts, they say, consist of there being men in the world who will rape if certain ‘triggers’ are presented. Given that these ‘triggers’ are chosen prior to the appearance of particular women, then women need to avoid these triggers to stay safe. Should they choose to violate this warning, well… The women have made a foolish decision and must deal with the consequences of their choices.
It’s a simplistic and ridiculous argument. Why? Watch.
The brute facts consist of there being women who choose to dress in a certain way. Given that these dress codes are chosen prior to the choice of the rapist to rape (women’s fashion was set, to a large degree, several decades ago, certainly before the birth of many recent rapists). That the men chose otherwise common fashions to trigger their rape-reflex… Well, these men have made foolish decision and must deal with the consequences of their choices.
This is a (as noted above) ridiculous argument. But the alleged “Libertrarian” or MRA has two options:
- Reject the reframing of the argument: however any valid reason for rejecting the reframing will also invalidate the initial framing, thus denying validity of the original argument
- Accept the reframing, which inherently denies the validity of the original argument (multiple conclusions can be reached from the same base premises)
In either case, the validity of the argument is destroyed.
But let’s explore the idea, for a moment, that it actually is the case that there are some human beings out there who will respond sub-rationally to how people dress and walk, and attack those people. Where is the responsibility in this situation?
Dogs are intelligent animals, that are both loved and reviled by various folk in various societies. Dogs have a wide variety of personalities: some are docile, some are aggressive, some are terrified of their own shadow and some are vicious.
Knowing this, when someone is attacked by a dog, a being that will respond sub-rationally to how someone acted around them, who do we hold responsible for the attack? Assuming the person didn’t physically attack the dog, we hold responsible the person who was caused the dog to develop as it did: the owner. Should an owner fail to train a dog adequately such that it attacks a human being, then (depending on the country) the owner may be fined and (if the upbringing was sufficiently poor) that owner will be banned from raising any more animals.
Even if it were the case that rapists and thugs were inclined to act entirely sub-rationally, we don’t hold the victims of sub-rational animals responsible for the acts committed against them. Ergo it makes no sense to dehumanize the rapists and thugs in order to blame the victim of their attacks.
Rapists and thugs are not ‘animals’ in the ‘lacking rationality’ sense. Even if they were, then (just as with all dangerous animals) it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure the safety of its citizens. Just as the state would be held accountable for allowing a lion to wander the streets of a populated city, so is the state accountable for allowing (and/or generating) dangerous sub-rational criminals to wander around unchecked.
These “studies” are based on the errant notion that victims participate in their crimes, that there is some sort of unspoken covenant between people and society, that you agree that if your behviour fails to meet certain norms then the criminals are given a green-light to attack you. For which we will subsequently punish them. This highlights the bizarre hypocrisy upon which these standards are maintained.
Finally, there is simply no study that can be done that will adequately address the ‘signals’ that ‘vulnerable’ people need to stop sending, because even if those signals were changed, the criminals would alter their behaviour to seek out other ‘signals’. Researchers would serve a greater purpose by expending their efforts in identifying the systemic issues within society that drive people to commit criminal acts instead.
[This was originally posted on The Crommunist Manifesto]