Women, Rape, and Responsibility
July 11, 2017Categories: Logically Fallacious,
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A question was asked recently about women, rape, and responsibility. Paraphrasing, the argument went something like this:
Women have some responsibility in doing things to prevent rape. Women are (or at least should be) responsible for doing things that make them less of a target (being out with friends instead of being alone, not wearing extremely revealing clothing, etc.).
To which the response was:
If "hanging out in groups" or "dressing more conservatively" helped to prevent rape, explain why children get raped. Explain why women dressed modestly or who are covered head to toe get raped. Rape happens to the elderly, too. Explain that. No one, regardless of dress, gender, age or behavior, is asking to be raped. Predators are the problem, not the behavior of potential victims.
This exchange is ripe with fallacious reasoning—at least the response is. This is often what happends when emotion or idiology trumps reason and critical thinking, which is not uncommon with politically-charged issues such as rape and responsibility. First, let's consider the initial argument:
Women are (or at least should be) responsible for doing things that make them less of a target (being out with friends instead of being alone, not wearing extremely revealing clothing, etc.).
There is an implied claim in here: that women can do things to lessen their chances of getting raped (as indicated by "less of a target"). This claim is either true or false—so it would not be fallacious, but a factual error (for the record, it is true—I have linked to research on this in my article on blaming the victim). Now this person turns this "is" into an "ought." It is the case that women can do things to be less of a target for rape, therefore, they should (ought to). This might be a bit nit-picky, but one could say this is the Naturalistic Fallacy. The naturalistic and moralistic fallacies, in general, are controversial because many people agree that going from an "is" to an ought—especially in examples like this—is perfectly justified without further argumentation. It should be clear to most people that less rape is a good thing. So in summary, as for the initial argument, I don't think it is problematic—although a little more explanation would make it "less of a target" for fallacies.
Now for the fallacy-ridden response:
If "hanging out in groups" or "dressing more conservatively"helped to prevent rape, explain why children get raped. Explain why women dressed modestly or who are covered head to toe get raped. Rape happens to the elderly, too. Explain that.
Oversimplified Cause Fallacy. This is the big one. The person is erroneously reasoning that "the cause" of rape is lack of personal responsibility on the part of the victim (e.g., being alone, dressing provocatively, etc.).
Strawman Fallacy. The person could be deliberately misrepresenting the claim of being a deterrent as a claim of causality, thus creating a strawman argument.
Political Correctness Fallacy. The idea that women bear some of the responsibility when it comes to the chances that they will be a victim of sexual assault is politically incorrect, therefore, it must be false.
Argument from Ignorance. Just because the arguer cannot explain why elderly people get raped, this does not mean that his or her initial argument is false.
Non-sequitur. The person is asking to explain why the elderly and children also get raped as a response to provocative dress and not being in groups. This doesn't follow since children and the elderly can also not be in groups, and can dress proactively (less so for really old people or really young children).
No one, regardless of dress, gender, age or behavior, is asking to be raped. Predators are the problem, not the behavior of potential victims.
Strawman again. The arguer never claimed that people are asking to be raped, nor suggested it.
Political Correctness Fallacy again. The line "predators are the problem, not the behavior of potential victims" might get a standing ovation, but my guess is that everyone who cheers at this who has a teenage daughter wouldn't hesitate to instruct her how to be safe.
Strawman again. By asserting that "predators are the problem," the person is ignoring the valid claim of lessening the chances of becoming a victim and attempting to reframe the argument as "solving the problem." This would be like arguing that we shouldn't have to wear seat belts; cars are the problem (of why people die in auto accidents).
This boils down to confusion of blaming the victim with the victim sharing some of the responsibility for the situation. It is incredibly important for people to understand because we cannot control the behaviors of every person in the world, but we can alter certain behaviors to increase our chances of not being victim. I am not to blame if a member of ISIS cuts off my head, but it would be wise of me not to march through Syria wearing a "Born Again Atheist" t-shirt. ISIS is still the problem, but I can certainly take actions to avoid the problem.