I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my friend when she turned to me and asked if I had heard about the man who raped two women he’d met on dating sites. Turns out this guy, Sean Banks, met two women on two different dating sites (ChristianMingle.com and Match.com) using the alias “Rylan” and raped them in their homes back in 2009 and 2012. He’s back in the news because he was just found guilty of five counts and is facing a possible 40 years in prison at his sentencing in September. Horrible person. Terrible acts of violence. And yet, “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’m saying these women deserved it, because they obviously didn’t, but did they invited a stranger they met online back to their houses. You really have to be careful.”
Oh, honey. Just…no.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and my friend certainly isn’t the only one to have used it. This is a phrase that we hear all too often in reference to sexual assault. When people hear about someone being raped their initial reaction is usually sympathy, disgust, and understanding of how horrible the situation is. But the secondary reaction can turn into reviewing the specific circumstances and pinpointing where the victim went wrong and inadvertently displacing some of the blame onto them.
First of all, I want to lay out the facts. The women met this man on dating sites where the general goal is to met new people and start relationships. They were in communication with each other for weeks, if not months, before meeting in person. He manipulated them into thinking that he was a trustworthy, man of faith. One of the women invited him to her house to watch a movie. The other went out with him on a dinner date. Here is the most important fact: Sean Banks is a rapist.
The fact that this man was technically a stranger doesn’t mean anything. Rapist are more often than not people that the victim knows. The fact that they met online and that he used a fake name doesn’t mean anything. They could just have easily met at a bar or a coffee shop or on the subway, and people can lie just as easily in person as they can on the internet. The fact that one of the victims brought him to her house on the first date doesn’t mean anything. He could have waited until the fourth or fifth date when taking someone home is more socially acceptable. Or gotten her drunk and brought her back to her home to rape her, like he did to the other victim. Or he could have just as easily raped her in a public location.
The “mistakes” that these two women made are things that millions of women do all the time. Millions of women meet guys on dating sites. Millions of women agree to go on dates with them. Millions of women end those nights without getting raped. The only difference between those women and these two women is that these women happened to have met Sean Banks.
Just for funzies, lets skew the facts and say that they had done everything “wrong”. Lets pretend that they met him on Tinder, a phone app notorious for casual dating and hookups; that they had only contacted each other that day; that they had invited him over to their houses; that they had used winkey faces and the phrase “let’s have fun”; that they wore low-cut shirts with sexy lingerie underneath. Hell, lets even throw in that they initiated some kissing or fooling around. None of this changes the fact that when they failed to give consent, Banks’s actions became rape.
Pointing out factors that the victim had control over and linking them to causation is victim blaming. So no matter how much they might insist that they don’t think it was the victim’s fault, when someone says, “I’m not saying they deserved it, but *insert choice that the victim made*,” what they really mean is, “I’m not saying they deserved it, but here’s why they deserved it.” It’s like when people say “I’m not racist, but…” and then say something completely racist.
People like to list off ways that the victim contributed to their rape: they wore something too sexy, they were drinking, they met someone online, blah blah blah blah blah. And I think I know why a lot of them do it, why my friend did it. It’s out of fear. If you can point out what the victim did wrong, then you can understand what not to do. If you can see why they got raped, then you will understand how to prevent yourself from being raped. It’s not so much about putting the responsibility on the victim but more so about giving you back control. “It couldn’t happen to me because I would never meet someone in person that I met online”. Because if there’s nothing you can do, if that girl didn’t do anything wrong and still got raped, then anyone can be raped. Then you can be raped. And that is terrifying.
The truth is, there is no sure-fire way for a victim to prevent rape. The only person who can prevent rape is the rapist. So while these observations might make you feel better, all you’re doing is absolving the rapist of responsibility and placing it squarely on the victim’s shoulders.
It also adds to an ever-growing DON’T list (mostly aimed at women) that restricts potentially “risky” behavior in the name of personal safety:
- don’t look sexy
- don’t be flirtatious
- don’t go out alone
- don’t walk alone at night
- don’t walk alone in remote locations
- don’t walk around unarmed
- don’t talk to people online
- don’t meet people you met online
- don’t get drunk
- don’t leave your drink unattended
- don’t be antagonistic
- don’t engage with creepy individuals
- don’t engage with strangers
- don’t go home with strangers
- don’t begin to fool around if you don’t intend to go all the way
- don’t get raped
It doesn’t matter that millions of people go out drinking each night and don’t get raped. If you drink and get raped then you’re responsible. It doesn’t matter that millions of people meet their future husbands and wives online. If you meet someone online and they rape you, then it’s your fault for not being careful. I’m not going to lie; if you don’t meet people online, your risk of being raped might be lower. It’ll also be lower if you abstain from meeting any new people. It’ll also be lower if you spend your days locked in your house completely sober in a turtleneck holding a shotgun. But there is still a chance that someone could rape you anyway…and one person will say that you took a stupid risk by not having a guard dog.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s no place for caution in this equation. The world is a dangerous place, and we should all make an effort to look out for ourselves and trust that little voice in our heads if it tells us something doesn’t feel right. But when these safety suggestions trickle down into a modification of my everyday life and restrict the way I want to live, that’s where I draw the line. Rape can happen to anyone in any location around any circumstance. I like to drink, I like to look sexy, I like to chat up guys, and sometimes I just need that walk alone to clear my head, and none of these things I do will ever be the cause of a sexual assault. Bottom line, you can’t control another person’s actions. Bottom line, nobody has the right to touch you without your consent regardless of what you do. Bottom line, the only person responsible for a rape is the rapist. Period.
I don’t plan on living my life in fear. I’m not going to change my everyday behavior in the vain hope that it will keep someone from raping me. And if God forbid there should come a day when I am raped, I hope my friend won’t ask me what I was wearing, where I met the person, or if I had been drinking.
I hope that she will look at me and say, “You didn’t deserve it.” Because nobody does.