“It Can Happen to You”: Rape Prevention in the Age of Risk Management


This essay provides a critical analysis of rape prevention since the 1980s. I argue that we must challenge rape prevention’s habitual reinforcement of the notion that fear is a woman’s best line of defense. I suggest changes that must be made in the anti-rape movement if we are to move past fear. Ultimately, I raise the question of what, if not vague threats and scare tactics, constitutes prevention.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the paternalistic myth of women’s vulnerability donned the neoliberal cloak of risk management. It was a move befitting the new rationality of government emerging in the United States and other postindustrial nations at the time. The “new space of risk,” as Robert Castel calls it, describes the takeover of the risk management mindset in social administration (Castel 1991, 281).1 Governmental solutions imagined from within the new space of risk work neither through repression nor through welfare interventionism. Rather, they shift the appropriate site for social intervention from dangerousness to risk (1991, 282). As a result, responsibility for a wide range of social, health, and environmental problems gets personalized. The method of risk assessment can be and has been applied to almost every aspect of modern life, from drug use to unwanted pregnancy, from violent crime to child maladies preventable with vaccination, and from car accidents to chemical spills. Translated into the language of risk, these wide-ranging problems become like so many accidents that the individual should try to avoid. Castel’s analysis of the new space of risk is useful for understanding rape prevention in the wake of the feminist antirape movement. He describes a
Hypatia vol. 19, no. 3 (Summer 2004) © by Rachel Hall

or more precisely. it is that her subjectivity momentarily collapses into her sexual anatomy.2 Hypatia rationality of government that belongs to the larger project of neoliberalism (shrinking government in terms of social services while expanding its law and order functions) against which feminist activists in the movement must struggle. Once the notion of risk becomes autonomous from that of danger. 288). becomes one risk factor among others. any type of difference amongst members of the population in its quest to file and profile them (Castel 1991.” Risk assessment works by objectivizing. as a practice of risk assessment. In other words. surveillance can be practiced without contact: “To intervene no longer means . 295).2 Public campaigns for rape prevention actually reinforce essentialist treatments of difference. The treatment of women’s bodies as threatening because reducible to their (vulnerable) sexual anatomy revives treatments of women’s sex as property that must be protected because it is capable of being trespassed upon. 399). Following from her work. She is addressed by prevention discourses not exactly as less than a subject. her sexual anatomy. statistical correlations of heterogeneous elements. Gibson-Graham . one attempts to anticipate and then prevent an undesirable event such as rape. Instead. Within this schema.” The new space of risk implies a new mode of surveillance that Castel names “systematic pre-detection” (1991. taking as one’s target an individual in order to correct. 288). Prevention in the new space of risk plays into the realignment of agency in the postmodern era. absolutely. It does not require the mutual presence (or even the illusion of mutual presence) of watcher and watched that was a requisite of the classic disciplinary and therapeutic techniques. . instrumentalist approaches to rape find a new stronghold in the governmental strategy of prevention. J. Consequently. Sharon Marcus has criticized the use of property metaphors that construct women’s sexuality as inner space and rape as both invasion of that space and theft of sexuality-as-space (1992. Castel argues that the new preventive policies of the 1980s and 1990s primarily address not a subject. and reconstruct a combination of factors liable to produce risk” (1991. 79). As a result. It is the effect of a combination of abstract factors which render more or less probable the occurrence of undesirable modes of behavior” (1991. Castel argues. They deconstruct the concrete subject of intervention. Gibson-Graham claims “woman is necessarily rape space in the phallocentric discourse of gender” (1996. In the new space of risk. 287). 288). care for a dangerous person or the individual in danger becomes preventative education for populations thought to be “at risk. a woman’s body. . but “factors. encourages the metonymic treatment of women as “rape space. rape prevention. K. it is possible to dissociate the practice of caring from the administration of care. punish or care for him or her” (1991. In Castel’s words: “A risk does not arise from the presence of particular precise danger embodied in a concrete individual or group. rather.

Through this combination of new and old ways of imagining female sexuality.” His description of this dream is particularly apt for women’s safety: a “vast hygienist utopia” that plays alternately on fear and security (1991. 289). In rape discourse. and discipline their habits and behaviors becomes high tech in the 1980s. it is almost as if the goal is to become physically impenetrable. The familiar threat of rape long used to terrorize women. “ ‘Prevention. it is that rape is rendered virtual by prevention discourse. Under the influence of the new space of risk. if you will. then his potential victims are the embodiments of risk. For women living in the age of rape prevention. While rape in these discourses is not exactly the “always-already inevitable. prevention discourses render rape virtual in women’s lives such that no social experience seems to escape the ever-present possibility of rape. the shift from dangerousness to risk entails a move from intervention at the site of the rapist or sex offender to intervention at the site of women and children as the potential victims of sexual assault. understood as the irruption of the unpredictable.” it becomes something perhaps just as pernicious (Marcus 1992).3 While it’s true that rape has long been treated as a defining limit of women’s experience. she has too many orifices. In Western cultures. but the practice of reasoning in terms of risk is not new in this case. Castel’s analysis of the new space of risk helps us to understand many aspects of rape prevention since the 1980s. curtail their movements. we might approach it instead as a revised version of older understandings about the role of fear in women’s lives. Rather than understanding the embodiment of risk as a radically new development of the 1980s. This does not represent a recent development in our thinking about rape. and its new credibility as a phenomenon worthy of study by social scientists. If the rapist is the embodiment of dangerousness. It enters into the information age. “in effect promotes suspicion to the dignified rank of a calculus of probabilities” (1991. the naming of date and acquaintance rape. 76). rape’s entrance into the ranks of “hard facts” (that is social phenomenon supported by statistics). “The modern ideologies of prevention are overarched by a grandiose technocratic rationalizing dream of absolute control over the accidental. If a marked shift occurs in the socialization of women in the 1980s and 1990s. rape’s status as a virtual threat in women’s lives was energized in the 1980s and 1990s by several developments: rape’s increased presence in public discourse. the threat of male bodies or dangerous men has always been secondary to a fascination with the risk and vulnerability embodied by women. According to Castel. it is as if what is objectionable about being a woman is her multiplication of spaces to be invaded: quite literally. On the contrary. rape has long been imagined in terms of women’s bodies understood as risky spaces. a woman becomes reducible to her sex as violable space. 288).’ ” writes Castel.Rachel Hall 3 goes on to suggest that popular understandings of rape depict women as inert spaces waiting to be “invaded/taken/formed” (1996.4 .

270). some organizations seized the opportunity to profit from women’s fears by commodifying safety in the form of gadgets. “White men used their ownership of the body of the white female as a terrain on which to lynch the black male” (Carby 1985. 269). 1989. the fact that women who work the third shift do not have the option of staying in at night. his analysis does not help us to explain how rape prevention treats (or ignores) differences among women today. alarms. black men were most often lynched not because they had actually raped a white woman but because. In response to mainstream acknowledgment of rape’s prevalence in our culture. middle-class women as uniquely vulnerable has worked in tandem with two other fictions: the myth of the black male rapist and the stereotype of the sexually voracious black female. rape prevention reifies race and class-based myths about rape. The metonymic treatment of some women’s bodies as rape space builds on an American tradition in which the politics of race and sexual violation are inextricably linked. prevention discourses reinvest white and middle-class women with a sense of preciosity. as rape prevention policies suggest they do). Historically. Articulated by Ida B. the treatment of white. they posed political and economic threats to white supremacy.7 Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall concurs that “lynching served primarily to dramatize hierarchies among men. According to Wells.6 By silently ignoring race and class differences among women. “attempted to place black males ‘beyond the pale of human sympathy’ ” (1985. which pleaded the necessity of revenge for assaulted white womanhood. the myth of the black rapist is rooted in Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction Southern cultures (Campbell 1989. statistically speaking. Whites terrorized black communities by falsely accusing black men of raping white women and then publicly lynching them. and workshops that socialize women to be ever more fearful. At the same time. 385–419). it fails to account for significant racial and economic differences among women. While rape prevention essentializes sexual difference.” writes Hazel Carby. Although Castel roots the “new space of risk” in the sociological imagination of the nineteenth century and in the eugenics policies of the early twentieth century. while ignoring the particular concerns of working-class women (for example. private security firms began to capitalize on women’s fears in an unprecedented fashion. particularly in the wake of black male suffrage (Campbell. “The cry of rape. Rape prevention discourses ignore the fact that all women are not.5 There is another limit to the usefulness of Castel’s analysis for feminists working in the antirape movement. as men.” but it was carried out in the name of protecting white womanhood . Wells (1892) in her powerful writings against lynching in the late nineteenth century. equally at risk. 401–402).4 Hypatia What is more. Any trend in social policy toward objectivizing differences amongst women operates in tension with a long history of rape mythology in the United States that is rigidly codified in terms of race and class.

” white women were repeatedly positioned as objects and never as agents of their sexuality (Hall 1983.9 In the case of “women’s safety. According to Cindy Patton’s analysis of the Safe-Sex campaign of the late 1980s and early 1990s. you’re a lost cause. Concurrently. Prevention rhetoric addresses her as a conglomeration of risk factors. the rape script has always also been a fantasy about race and property relations.8 In the United States. however.” women’s bodies are brought into a position of vulnerability that becomes constitutive of their identity as women. We do not know how to connect them and so we continue to be caught in a mode of perpetual preparation. A veritable chasm exists between the two stages. To ignore the symbolic power of race in the rape script is to nourish present-day stereotypes by allowing them to remain part of the implicit—the fantasy material animated around what we explicitly say when we discuss rape and its prevention. women’s safety education programs hail her. if there is an “accident. the vulnerable white woman as victim. to the position of feminine vulnerability. the passionless lady arose in symbiosis with the primitively sexual slave” (1983.Rachel Hall 5 (1983. “the concept of national pedagogy suggests that powerknowledge is not statically held in a state comprised of both brute and sublime apparatuses. it supplies the information about sexual violence necessary to support rape prevention in its current form.” white women were chaste and sexually frigid. this means a plethora of mixed messages. I call this form of rape pedagogy “women’s safety”. not all women are hailed to . Hall argues. 333). This complementary ideological couplet kept both white and black women in check to white men. The Lessons of Women’s Safety Prevention discourses have been extremely successful in capturing the American imagination because they play on our popular faith in information (that is. White women’s freedoms were curtailed and the systematic rape of black women by white men was implicitly condoned (Marcus 1992. The articulated myths of the black man as rapist. afterward. and the black woman as sexually inviolable continue to exert their influence today. This is particularly true in discursive situations where their legacy goes unacknowledged. For the individual woman. then information collapses and we are back on the ground with material violence. As “forbidden fruit. the risk of having/being rape space.” if the system breaks down. illness. it’s all information. 9). If it doesn’t. then. information will save you). and other tragedies. 338). According to the Victorian “cult of true womanhood. At the same time. Up to that point. 334). as a modern subject. “the fear and fascination of female sexuality was projected onto black women. 332). most notably. whereas black women were said to be sexually voracious and animalistic. but it is a procedure for bringing bodies into positions of duty and obligation that are constitutive of identity” (1996.

A disclaimer hovers below the surface of this subjectposition: Only you can save yourself. This workshop is designed for women. Or.6 Hypatia the position of sexual vulnerability with equal insistence. when articulated as an impossible problem. Women’s safety pedagogy produces popular notions of female agency in which women are simultaneously assigned an a priori victim-status and expected to avoid the inevitable all on their own. She must make herself un-easy through strict adherence to an elaborate regime of avoidance behaviors informed by statistics.10 While some publications have finally begun to admit that rape is out of the victim’s control. Three out of four American women will be violently. The resulting paradox is that agency is possible for women only through avoidance. To be a tough target. erases the question of how we might stop it. in your car. This informative and participatory workshop will discuss sexual issues as well as include tips on how to be safer at home. and fear. These statistics speak to the need for women to learn how to lead safer and more secure lives. A woman’s social positioning shapes both her experience of rape and her treatment as a proper or improper victim. Informational pamphlets and Public Service Announcements atomize women by encouraging each listener or reader to feel isolated and rather helpless in her fear. This is not a self-defense class. current prevention techniques privatize the woman’s body in order to refuse . or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.” A (re)action hero. obligated to limit their mobility and social relations. probability. they continue to encourage women to develop strategies to reduce their chances of being raped. and in public. that question gets deflected back onto individual women as vulnerable subjects. The subject position offered to women by women’s safety pedagogy is that of the “tough target. rather. as well as personally threatened by the dangers being suggested. just hard to catch. is specifically white and middle class. Often the probability of rape is invoked in such a way that the woman addressed is treated as guilty of flirting with the accident. a woman need not be tough.” In this way. Women’s safety pedagogy addresses the social body of women as a series of individual bodies responsible for protecting their own “stuff. Those women who are successfully brought into a position of vulnerability become the “appropriate” subjects of fear. she is stealthy and quick with an expert awareness of her own vulnerabilities.” as well as older paternalistic models of protectionism. Consider the following advertisement for a sexual assault prevention workshop held at a community college in the Southeast and conducted by a male crime prevention officer working for the city police (Edwards 1997): A woman is raped every five minutes in this country. physically. The quintessentially vulnerable woman at the heart of the conservative dream of “women’s safety. Rape.

It’s free. this advertisement. rape statistics do not factor in the influence of national and local economic trends on violent crime. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice. Or sexually abused. or someone you know.Rachel Hall 7 the responsibility for safeguarding her freedom to live. the threat of future rapes is often folded into offers of help. Take for instance.” women are encouraged to fear for their own bodies and to imagine rape as a relentless force . lending support to claims that rape is holding steady or perhaps growing more frequent while other violent crimes decline.14 The spectacular display of sexual violence statistics does not merely communicate “the reality of rape” in numbers. sponsored by the Rape. If you. the texts of women’s safety seem intent upon frightening women into facing the harsh reality of sexual violence for their own good. even though what they communicate remains up for debate. a new survey.11 Sexual violence statistics play a central role in “women’s safety” pedagogy.670 women a year are victims of these violent crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Even in those cases where women’s groups recite statistics. Abuse. It’s waiting to help. Considering all of the potential problems with quantitative measures of sexual violence. This mode of address—contrary to its avowed intent—not only holds women accountable for the crimes committed against them but also positions them as “waiting” to be victimized. the fact that rape is the most underreported crime.13 In addition to this. Abuse. 354. Or sexually assaulted. however. appearing in the May 1997 issue of Emerge magazine: Every Two Minutes. call RAINN—the Rape. is a victim. In fact. Numbers may also be skewed by varying definitions of what constitutes rape and by unreliable reporting practices of police under pressure to boost a community’s image (Friedlin 2002). move.S.12 Feminists have long discussed the particular difficulty of tabulating rape statistics. Another Woman is Raped. and Incest National Network. It’s confidential. serious violent crime levels have declined since 1993. Simply put. and socialize unharmed. Adopting a presentational style akin to the tough-love public service announcements of the 1980s. the compulsive citation and recitation of rape statistics in the name of “women’s safety” ought to be challenged. jointly commissioned by the U. namely. it is difficult to gauge what’s happening with sexual violence in our culture by looking at rape statistics. & Incest National Network hotline. found one in seven women is raped. Experts argue that the percentage of total rapes that are reported is anywhere from 16 to 37 percent. but performatively compounds it. Given the above presentation of “the facts of sexual violence.

As a result. Instead. assimilate them to numbers accumulated. not only omnipotent but also inevitable. soap operas.8 Hypatia that merely shifts its location from one woman’s body to another’s. the AMA portrays women and their bodies as the locus of trouble. the first and most essential layer of the truth of her suffering (the body of all women). in retrospect. Older. rape is positioned syntactically as the self-perpetuating subject of its own acts. Current norms for the presentation of sexual violence statistics empty individual rape cases of their specificity. masks the particular contexts of certain rapes—actual rapists and their very specific motivations. Women’s safety pedagogy is perhaps most insidious when it borrows from women’s culture a feminine address historically deployed in popular texts such as the woman’s film. or women’s magazines. Each woman is afraid of becoming the next body in line. The utter absence of the rapist and his actions from the AMA’s discussion of rape (in the form of a medical report. The language is reminiscent of outdated euphemisms for pregnancy insofar as it renders rape mysterious. This. always already victims. over which the actual experience of the rape and its representations are written. And. so. therefore. each “fact about sexual violence” we hear is located at the site of the womanas-victim’s body after rape. overwhelming in fact. the real body of a woman who has been sexually assaulted becomes. no less) makes rape seem like something a woman might catch if she is not careful. In the mid-1990s. the American Medical Association referred to rape as a social virus. premodern understandings of rape and the victim also cling to medical discourse about sexual violence. As we circle around her wounded body to discuss “violence against women. and employ them as generic models with which to threaten other women into practicing “healthy caution. emptying rape of action and agents so that it becomes purely phenomenal. the way that the general holds within it all possible instances of the specific and the set contains a particular number. We address the problem through the bodies of women. because they propagandize rape as pure effects. Rape seems. rape is positioned as a prediscursive flow of violence that precedes not only the victims of rape but the rapists themselves. It is as if the abstract figure of woman-victim holds within her feminine body the totality of all rapes committed against all women. this is true even when we speak of the prevention of future rapes. prototypical victim and the rapist fades into thin air.S.” she becomes the highly visible. Due to the fact that medical interventions take place after rape. erase the particular stories of the women who have been raped. instead of addressing potential victimizers. Feminine modes of .”16 Here. we begin with the end. calling it the silent-violent epidemic: “Rape is the fastest growing crime in the U.17 The multiplicity of actual women who have been violated becomes proof of their primordial difference from men. in turn. As a result.”15 Public information and statistics on sexual violence like this are dizzying.

but man is everywhere around. as a gynoecium: a term that refers to the female reproductive organs of a flower. . unimaginable. Elle. 51). ladies. Barthes’s description of Elle captures the conservatism and heterosexism implicit in women’s safety discourse: “Man is everywhere and no where like the sky.v. it comes from the Latin. and within the rape script specifically. he presses on all sides. while the world is open to you as never before. the popular “no means no” poster campaign that saturated college campuses in the 1990s. meaning women’s apartments (American Heritage Dictionary. “women there are always a homogeneous species. Rape demarcates its own discursive reality by seeming larger than life and therefore beyond representation. Consider. “gynoecium”). While I am deeply sympathetic with the project of teaching women that it is okay for them to say no to sex. 51). powerful. Vulnerable Subjects It is my contention in this essay that we must stop privileging the experience of rape over and against the experience of fear. I believe that the “no means no” campaign is misdirected. Ultimately the “no means no” campaign reassigns women to a reactionary position within the field of sexual relations generally. an authority which at once determines and limits a condition” (1972. free. still more enamoured of the burdens that go with them. this slogan paradoxically highlights the limits of the power of “no” as a speech act. it becomes next to impossible for us to recognize the importance of both at once. he makes everything exist” (1972. Second College Edition. men are introduced and allowed to move within a discursive space that remains decidedly feminine. for example. because of the rapist. In other words. In this way.” writes Barthes. your presence in public and semi-public spaces is a luxury. femininity is pure. this slogan locates women’s bodies and their power to refuse sex within the all-female space of “women’s safety” where everything exists because of him. and to expect their “no” to be honored. Man is never inside. the horizon. “Such is the world of Elle. Roland Barthes (1972) has described the women’s magazine. Not unlike the discursive space of women’s magazines. While these texts often feature male characters and heterosexual romance. and to a certain extent. gynaeceum. Women’s safety pedagogy addresses women with the following message: Remember. When rape and women’s fears are set against one another. s.Rachel Hall 9 address offer women the fantasy of a woman-identified story world in which to imagine themselves. rape is rendered both the worst imaginable. its reason for being is the periodic performative failures and the inability of “no” to guarantee its own success. an established body jealous of its privileges. Through its insistence on securing the meaning of “no” and its desire to guarantee the effects of “no” in the world. while the slogan explicitly communicates that no means no.

Our goal now should be to de-dramatize rape discourse. Still. too violent. evokes its own emotional and cognitive responses. In its most universal and aesthetic treatments. By the same token. Fear is marked out from the physicality and materiality of rape and thought to be less legitimate because we imagine that it exists only in women’s heads. Rape prevention must begin to deal openly with the relationship between economic strife and acts of rage against women. When we imagine fear as merely psychological or imaginary. even as we are disturbed. and rightly so. We think of fear as psychological and place it on one side of the Cartesian split—the side regarded less tangible and therefore less real. we position it outside language where it becomes untouchable. rape is portrayed as the tragic and timeless violent dance between the sexes. repulsive.10 Hypatia Rape refuses constructivism. in defending rape against appropriation by abstraction. National campaigns must be accompanied by careful analyses of local circumstances. the antirape movement has attempted to shift public perceptions about rape from the register of tragedy to an understanding of how utterly ordinary it is. The rape script gives rise to endless reproductions of the dramatic struggle between a rapist and his victim. Such tensions become even more acute in times such as the 1980s and today. yet absolute. Since the 1970s. Hence our current intervention policy (fear and avoidance) is exempt from critique. we must hold ourselves back . It’s just common sense. we expel women’s fears from the really real. it is too physical. Within the universe of rape management. which are characterized by the consistent redistribution of wealth upwards. We also mask the actual historical processes by which women become marked as vulnerable—processes that normalize women’s fears. To admit that rape is ordinary in the United States is depressing. It is beyond us—a detestable practice that we accept by abjection to the extent that. while building the wealth of a few on the exploitation of many others. by how ordinary rape is in our culture. The only problem is that this “common sense” is shot through with racist and classist ideologies and informed by the particular complex of paranoia and guilt born of private ownership and access to wealth in a culture that claims equal access for all. not only because it is our “only” option. we deny the extent to which women’s fears are embodied and social experiences. Of course this lesson has its own drama. but also because it seems entirely appropriate. But the energy of that drama is misused if it sweeps us back into older sexist and paternalistic modes for dealing with rape. performances of diligent fearfulness grant some women access to good citizenship and all the rewards (psychic and social) that ensue. the depressing and disappointing ordinariness of rape need not support a public imaginary wherein rape’s commonness is used to encourage women to live in fear of its virtual possibility. too real to be made or made up. Admitting rape’s ordinariness. we are told: Don’t go out at night. and to be fair.

unable to deal with the particular. the goal of the antirape movement (see Berlant 1997). Happily. Strikwesden. Encouraging young women to fear rape as a form of good citizenship is not and never was. it creates a culture of fear in which women are encouraged to resign themselves to the inevitability of sexual violence. Addressing rape pedagogy to women does not stop rape.Rachel Hall 11 from the dramatic pull of treatments of rape as virtual and women as virtually vulnerable. I want to offer three ways in which feminists might make rape prevention reinforce a woman’s right to freedom from fear and abuse. several volumes about sexual violence have been published that are written by and for men (see Schact and Ewing 1998. I want to suggest that it is possible to admit rape’s ordinariness and for women to exercise a modicum of self-protection in their everyday lives without ceding rape and masculinist violence more broadly the power it currently holds in the public imaginary. as Carol Bohmer and Andrea Parrot (1993) convincingly argue.” now shares space in public consciousness with a very different message: “Only men can stop rape. and gender politics of their local communities. as I understand it. Thanks to the cooperation of these men. Organizing along gender lines should not be achieved at the loss of a nuanced understanding of how race and class play into particular scenes of sexual violence. Fear is appropriate and even helpful in particular situations. Those working in rape education must know the national statistics but also be versed in the racial. some men have joined the antirape movement.18 Rape Prevention Otherwise By way of conclusion. Kimmel and Mosmiller 1992. Porter 1992. and the continued work of women struggling to shift the address of rape prevention discourse from women to men. they risk becoming rigid. economic. The first is to shift the site of social interventions against rape from women to men. Kimmel and Messner 1989. . Kimmel 1987. but it need not be perpetual or vigilant. rather than teach her to fear assault. Dispelling the myth of fear as responsible citizenship will also require identifying and challenging the ways in which dramatic and fearful discourses about rape reinstall race. and Beneke 1982). the central slogan of the 1990s antirape campaign. May. Buchwald. The problem with national education campaigns is that they tend to make and then disseminate generalizable knowledge and information.19 And in the last few years. Women are not the appropriate targets for governmental interventions against rape. and therefore.and class-based discrimination.” We should be attentive to the potential drawbacks of this approach. and Hopkins 1996. “Better safe than sorry. Men’s groups organized to fight sexual violence are springing up on college campuses around the country. As such. Fletcher and Roth 1993.

As I have tried to show here. She justifies heterosexual family and marriage. she sometimes also revives the old cultural feminist belief that women are morally superior to men. For conservatives. not to mention racial segregation. so that she comes to embody suffering as female. they reflect the broad administrative trends and techniques of the times. she functions to sanction the authority of law. she symbolizes the necessity and moral bedrock of the women’s movement. We cannot continue to let the imaginary figure of woman as victim bear the brunt of representing the problem of sexual violence to the American public. a container to be filled. routines and rights—all in the name of protecting them: “Trust me. the mythical moral clarity of an absolute distinction between good and bad men. Antirape policies are not simply a matter of battling ideologies about how to deal with the problem of sexual violence. She makes overprotective fathers seem cute and affectionate as they limit their daughters’ freedom. thereby pleasing everyone. necessary. Her power to move us to pity and anger not only fuels public awareness of sexual assault.” She makes men feel needed. this resistance to change is not merely due to the recalcitrance of particular forms of sexism in our culture. it gives that awareness its form. The prototypical woman-victim is hard to get rid of because she signifies in several ways at once. we have to let go of the abstract figure of woman as victim. In order to challenge the rationality of rape prevention in the new space of risk. we have to reopen the question of what social intervention should be and do. Second. mainstream America continues to assume that rape prevention is the responsibility of individual women. habits. a nightmare. She makes us believe that the movement for women’s equality is meaningful. As such. She signifies an entire history of injustices committed by men against women. the necessity of order and protection.12 Hypatia Despite recent efforts to shift the target of intervention from women to men. at the expense of acknowledging the specifics of actual rapes. She reinforces a belief in the natural goodness and moral purity of suffering to which Christians and Jews alike subscribe. Instead of ceding the power to define intervention to administrators caught up in the culture of risk management. and important. Never mind that woman-as-victim is an abstraction. a cultural transfer point. Her emptiness renders her more appropriate for the task at hand: we fill her up with cultural ideals of feminine suffering. She justifies endless interventions into women’s lives. Woman as victim is: a fantasy. honey. She portrays feminine suffering as that which endures. we risk reproducing . feminists might practice publicly perverting and mocking that language in a manner that highlights how nonsensical it is to socialize women to stop rape. For feminists. it’s for your own good. As long as we continue to be enamored with an image of woman as victim. a signifier beneath which chains of complementary and contradictory signifieds endlessly slip. “Rape prevention” and “women’s safety” are programs born out of a particular historical era in the art of government. Unfortunately. thereby motivating us to continue our struggle.

thereby opening new possibilities for critical and practical interventions against rape. on the one hand. To be real is to be marked: woman. In the American imaginary. threatening. stubbornly refuses denaturalization because the apparent obviousness of sexual violence and the female bodies upon which it is committed are both reinforced in turn by modernity’s engendering of material reality as feminine.20 At its worst. apocalyptic narratives of rape as a fate worse than death. we may begin to shift the discursive terrain of rape prevention and women’s safety pedagogy. I also suggest that we intervene into speech situations where the figure of woman-as-victim is hailed through discursive abstraction. and the fatalistic belief that violence inheres in sexual difference. Through these practices. “Sexual violence. If we are to struggle against rape as a product of gender socialization more effectively. hence. rape prevention leads to the everyday mistreatment of men of color as menacing. The potential woman-victim addressed by women’s safety pedagogy is most often white and middle class. and as a discursive reality on the other.Rachel Hall 13 racist stereotypes of perpetrators and victims in the public imagination. It should also be said that resistance to momentarily and strategically giving up the figure of woman as victim is caught up in feminists’ theoretical commitment to securing the division between rape as a material reality. our unwillingness to give it up. taken out of context or treated in an overly sentimental fashion. the figure of woman as victim also reflects her inverse or negative image: the rapist as monster. Rape prevention continues this tradition by encouraging (white) women to be suspicious of men’s appearances even as it admits that appearances sometimes lie. We must stop allowing the spectacle of women’s suffering to eclipse the cultural factors at work that make rape thinkable and doable by some men. intimidating. (m)other. rekindling older fears of men of color as “suspicious persons” harboring dubious intent. the negative ideal of the rapist is most often played by a stereotypical man of color. In light of this.” even as I place it in quotes. the ideal figures of victim and rapist are often racially coded. Women of color have repeatedly made the point that not all women are considered equally violable. Here I refer to: spectacular presentations of sexual violence statistics. While I wholeheartedly support the . we should challenge a public mode of representation in which the performative recurrence of horror secures a sense of rape’s naturalness. Third and most difficult. I suggest that some feminists working in the antirape movement momentarily and strategically focus our speech about sexual violence on rape as a cultural practice in which some men repeatedly engage. and scary (see Williams 1995 and Staples 1994). It is this paradoxical relationship between seeing and knowing that lends rape prevention its racist edge. Inversely. we have to acknowledge how much sense rape makes in a (hetero)sexist culture such as our own. This is one legacy of modernity that feminists have learned to subvert and celebrate. Within a historically racist culture such as our own. victim.

wrongly. 35). To illustrate how this works in practice. the figure of the rapist is rendered more monstrous. Naturalizing male violence in this manner supports the mistaken assumption that men are incapable of curbing violence and abuse. Instead. 146). bastards. that sexual violence is a cultural effect of gender relations under compulsory heterosexuality. one of the unfortunate effects of naming sexual violence is that our incessant reiteration of its reality makes masculine violence seem omnipotent (Heberle 1996. women naturally suffer the consequences. In this narrative economy. While such shows often devote an entire program to one woman’s story. The performance of horror at sexual assault is most costly when it naturalizes rape. this economy requires an increasingly hyperbolic victimization (Haag 1996. I want to contest the dichotomy between victimization and agency that sensationalistic accounts of rape reinstall (Brison 2002. and empathy at the victim’s story eclipses the relationship between sexism and sexual violence in women’s lives. even violent. Watching these programs. it has naturalized the violent practices of men and the suffering of women. the male host’s performance of horror. If. thereby creating absolute distance between him and the everyday man. sex offers a means of access “both to the life of the body and the life of the species. 12. the strategy of appealing to the horror of rape through representations of female suffering has not stopped men from raping women.14 Hypatia need for women to tell their stories and for people to learn how to listen and react to rape. as a political strategy. however. The sentimental treatment of the rape victim belongs to a particular narrative of rape as a fate worse than death. everyday women who have and have not been victimized themselves. she believes that this history has led us to assume. Much to feminists’ disappointment. According to Pamela Haag.” then we can see how rape slides into and beyond death in our discourse about it (Foucault 1978. between rape and other misogynist and heterosexist practices. rape becomes a particularly awful crime in direct proportion to the sacralization of women’s sex as precious and innocent (read: without agency). consider the recent trend in daytime talk shows such as The Maury Povitch Show and Montel Williams. 60). In these shows. she is at the same time distanced from other. shock. causing us to forget what we have learned from feminists. a woman is likely to feel gratitude at the host’s exceptional sensitivity and to conclude that because men are bastards. As Renee Heberle has noted. issues from a past in which the truth of women’s claims has been consistently denied. Heberle acknowledges that naming. the serial effect of repeated stories of suffering creates a wash of horror. namely. The host’s exceptionalism as a sensitive listener is predicated upon the assumption that men are naturally unsympathetic. To the degree that the victim is made special by tragedy. see also Feldman 1993). Likewise. which repeatedly stage the horror of gender violence as inevitable and lamentable. that “the experience of women’s suffering is or will be transparent to representation and social under- . as Michel Foucault has argued.

Michel Foucault (1991) defines rationality of government as ways of thinking about the practice of government. governing practices must be thinkable and practicable both to those who practice them and to those on whom they are practiced (Gordon 1991. If we want to challenge this effect. The rationality of government answers the following questions: “who can govern. and that there are only gains to be had in the articulation of that experience” (1996. per se. Through careful and strategic performances of “the facts of sexual violence” in our activism and our everyday encounters. and Della Pollock for their comments on earlier versions of this essay. feminists have the power to challenge a rationality of rape prevention that continues to serve male dominance and to insist instead that rape prevention uphold a woman’s right to feel at home in the world and to live free from sexual abuse. that is. including what that practice consists in and how it should be carried on. 68). Dustin Ells Howes. The performative recurrence of horror in public representations of sexual violence naturalizes rape in a manner that denies men’s ability to stop raping women. 2. Heberle wonders whether “continued insistence upon the reality or truth of women’s pain as a political strategy to authorize further action may contribute to sustaining the reality of masculinist power—rather than doing what is intuitively and understandably expected. what is governing. Notes Thanks to Lawrence Grossberg. feminists working in the anti-rape movement should focus our energies on three fronts: shifting the site of social interventions against rape from women to men. In the late 1980s. Phaedra C. We should challenge the notion that the (imaginary) figure of the rapist is the natural boundary that determines where women can go and what they can do. that is the problem. Meeghan Morris. Pezzullo. and challenging a public mode of representation in which the performative recurrence of horror secures a sense of rape’s naturalness. 3). D. We should refuse to let the horror of rape give sexual violence passage into the realm of the extradiscursive. Soyini Madison. making men stop raping and beating women” (1996. I would argue that it is not naming. rather. and what or who is governed?” In order to satisfy the rationality of government. it is the affective charge that naming takes on in public representations of sexual violence that is currently causing us trouble. One researcher constructed an interactive model meant to explain how “multiple factors . 67). In sum. we should practice narrative resistance to apocalyptic portrayals of rape as a fate worse than death. 1. letting go of the abstract figure of woman as victim. social scientists adopted the language of risk and used it to describe their statistical findings about sexual assault (Pirog-Good and Stets 1989).Rachel Hall 15 standing.

Nothing Bad Happens to Good Girls (1997).” or “various modes of relating bodies. 223).utexas. This article also features an interesting attempt to diagram risk (1989. However. Following Patton (1996).S. 6. the Bush administration uses nonWestern women’s victimization as a rationale for U. when feminists talked about “women’s safety” and rape prevention in the 1970s they most often did so within a larger critique of patriarchy. To its credit. It is out of this atmosphere of prevention as total awareness that the women’s movement responds with activist events like the “24 Hour Rape-Free Zone”: a utopic refusal of rape’s virtual possibility. the event challenges current prevention discourses insofar as it dares to spread the responsibility for keeping the zone rape-free across the social body. The Department of Justice reports that today. The National Crime Victimization Survey found that during the period 1993– 1998. 4. The proposed DNA database. In other words. 80–90 percent of violent crimes against women are committed by someone of the same racial background as the victim (http://www. which may and often do escape the actual participants in the rape and/or murder scene and must later be decoded and understood by police. Dangerous and risky bodies are breaking down into smaller traces of code.html). 9. With recent developments in DNA testing. black persons were violently victimized at rates significantly greater than those of whites (http://www. Esther Madriz expands our understanding of the differential treatment. I am thinking specifically of how the rights of Afghani and Iraqi women were invoked in order to justify bombing both countries in the wake of September 11. In her book. There is often a borrowing of materials and mutual citation across public police forces and private securities organizations. This would have meant a return to older. I understand “women’s safety” as a particular example of what Michel Foucault (1991) calls “governmentalities. and scientists. of white women and women of color beyond black and white. Women stand to make gains in the courts at the overall cost of losing purchase on their understandings and stories of/for specific rape events.edu/research/crime_criminaljustice_research/ncvs.16 Hypatia (such as motivation. 3. reinforces the cultural belief that acts of violence are moments of truth. rape and murder are becoming more scientific.la. 9). The lines between public and private are often blurred when it comes to safety ventures. argued for in the name of convicting more rapists. patriarchal ways of imagining women’s . 220). It is likely that private sector activities such as these also influenced governmental and police approaches to sexual violence.rapetraumaservices. avoidance as a strategy unto itself was not acceptable. in safety discourse. imperialism. which is no less dependent on the dream of total surveillance than prevention discourses. space and their administration” (Patton 1996. 7. lack of inhibition and opportunity) interact to produce sexual aggression” (Malamuth 1989. 8.html). 5. The idea of rape prevention as the art of avoiding rape was present in feminist discourse from the beginning of the 1970s. 10.org/rape-sexual-assault. in the guise of caring about international women’s civil rights. doctors. Paternalistic protectionism takes on a global dimension when. It is not uncommon for women’s safety workshops to be run by former or current cops who wish to earn a little extra money on the side.

There are striking parallels between rape prevention and HIV prevention discourses.htm). Often these strategies were articulated as ways to help women challenge sex-role stereotypes. In the 1970s women’s safety teamed avoidance strategies with self-defense and assertiveness training designed to teach women how to expand the range of practices and behaviors acceptable for their gender. In the most recent literature published on rape prevention. Duke University’s Men Acting for Change (MAC). 11. University of Texas-Austin’s Men Against Sexual Assault.ama-assn. but particularly those of nonwhites who “look Arabic. many feminists are embracing this combined approach anew (McCaughey 1997. and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s N C Fellas/White Ribbon Campaign. 12.” In this way the uncontrollable threat of terror gets turned back on U. This goal has become increasingly difficult to achieve in the national climate created by the “War on Terrorism. requiring analytic tools appropriate to this layering of historical periods. rape statistics come from two primary sources: The National Crime and Victimization Survey.” The United States government has become obsessed with safety and security in a manner that compromises all Americans’ civil liberties.org/public/releases/assault/guide. This excerpt was taken from the American Medical Association’s web pages (http://www.S. 15.000 households twice each year about their victimization from crime. Bohmer and Parrot 1993). 16). 13. In addition to the new survey by the CDCP. 18. for women. 16. The following campus men’s groups have organized to fight sexual violence against women (the list is by no means exhaustive): Tulane Men Against Rape (TMAR). University of Rochester’s Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA). citizens. 19. The current climate also feeds a dangerously generic anti-Arab sentiment within and beyond the United States. I argue that women’s safety imagines mobility. ongoing since 1972. North Carolina State University’s Rape Education and Active Leadership (REAL-Men). not unlike the way women’s safety turns the threat of rape back on women.Rachel Hall 17 safety. I came up with this range after seeing how wildly the numbers fluctuate from one Web site to the next. 14.” The Women’s Law Project of Philadelphia has called for the FBI to revise its definition of rape. 20. we have come to imagine “sexuality in the shadow of deaths to be avoided” (1997. see Andrea Westlund (1999). For a thoughtful discussion of domestic violence as at once premodern and modern. So has the Stop Prisoner Rape organization. The FBI continues to use its outdated definition of “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly against her will. as constrained by a labyrinth of rapes to be avoided.000 persons ages 12 and older in 43. interviews about 80. Lauren Berlant makes the powerful argument that since the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. 17. At a university in the Southeast. and the Uniform Crime Reports collects information on crimes and arrests reported by law enforcement authorities and the FBI. I have witnessed the persistence of xenophobia in local women’s safety campaigns mounted by the university in response to two separate . For instance. Castel observes that risk assessment guides and assigns individuals without having to assume their custody (1991. 295).

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