Rape alarms have become commonplace in modern society; I remember being given my first rape alarm in my early teens, at upper school. They were given to all of the girls, and we were instructed to only use them in emergencies or in the case of an attack.
But, of course, rape alarms became just another object that could be used to irritate the teachers and dinners ladies with. Perhaps considered even more fun and rebellious than setting off the school fire alarms, some would remove the chord of their rape alarms – causing the small box to release a high pitch siren-like noise – and throw them deep into bushes, watching on as the grown ups desperately tried to retrieve and silence the object.
Children that were found to have abused their rights to a rape alarm, who had set them off when they were not being attacked, were told off and told that if they continued to cry wolf, that they would not believed in the event of a real attack.
Though, at the time, rape alarms were seen as little more than toys, it taught me a great deal about rape and how it is viewed by wider society – it is an inevitable evil, and a woman’s duty to protect herself against it:
‘We are taught as little girls to be afraid of “strange men” who offer us sweets, lifts, anything’, ‘Everyone has a prescription for this. They range from being a karate expert to dressing “sensibly”.’ (The London Rape Crisis Centre, 1984:1).
There are many consequences of teaching young girls that it is their responsibility to deter an attacker’s attention and not to invite sexual attacks, such as the resulting victim blaming and the formation of rape myths.
These rape myths include: ‘Women who are sexually assaulted “ask for it” by the way they dress or act’, ‘Women are most likely to be raped outside, in dark alleyways late at night’, ‘Women often make up stories or lie about being raped’ (for more examples, visit: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/commonmyths2.php).
By taking all responsibility from the attacker and placing it on young girls, we also create an idea of a ‘deviant’ woman. The ‘deviant’ woman, often labelled as a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’, is considered to be overly sexually promiscuous, compared to that which is deemed socially acceptable for a ‘lady’. She may also drink alcohol or wear revealing or provocative clothing.
This process of othering is called ‘slut shaming’, and is closely connected to the processes of victim blaming; it dictates as to whether a victim of sexual violence is considered deserving of our sympathy.
By giving rape alarms to young girls, we also teach them that rape is a woman’s issue. Furthermore, by instructing them to only use them in emergencies, it gives legitimacy to the myth that women often lie about sexual attacks, despite the fact that false rape claims are actually ‘very rare’, with the Crown Prosecution Service revealing they account for less than 1% of all reported rape crimes.
The following idea might seem quite radical, but rather than teaching and expecting young girls to protect themselves against sexual attacks, wouldn’t it be less socially damaging to teach young men and women facts about rape, and how to respect one another?
For example, rather than teaching young adults ‘drunk women invite rape’, educate them into understanding that a heavily intoxicated woman is unable to give informed consent, and any sexual penetration of a woman, without having gained full consent, is rape.
When a woman openly states the issues that women face in modern society – from equal pay to simply walking alone and feeling vulnerable – she is often met by a backlash of criticism: ‘women have it a lot easier now, what do you have to moan about?’, and ‘men are also raped as well, it’s not just women’.
It is true, men can also be victims of rape. However, why is it that only women are given rape alarms?
Rape alarms could also be seen as a method for which to control women and maintain the status quo of society, which holds men as the superior and dominant gender.
Rape alarms provoke a paranoid sense of security, where the individual may feel safe while in possession of the product, but now expects danger to be lurking around every corner. Paradoxically, though rape alarms are meant to serve as objects for safety, they also serve to maintain the belief that the streets are not safe for women, who would perhaps be best advised to remain indoors.
Rape alarms, and other modern gendered products, therefore act to suggest that society is not comfortable with women’s independence and freedom to explore. Therefore, not only do rape alarms serve to justify rape and sexual violence, but also suppress women and restrict our freedoms.
Visit http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/ for more information and advice regarding sexual violence and rape.