THIS week Joanna Lumley made some remarks with ludicrous implications. These careless comments are bound to delight misogynists who believe that women who are raped are always secretly to blame.
Joanna, whose champagne-swilling character Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous was the very model of doing what you please, had this message for young women: “Don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.
“Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight.”
Lumley no doubt meant well - safety is not aided by recklessness - but nevertheless, there is a staggering implication here, namely that women who get drunk and wild are partially responsible if they are raped because they have not been good-as-gold little prim angelic ladies at home in bed having completed their needlepoint and finished their warm milk by 10pm.
Lumley’s words play to the sadly endemic chauvinistic attitude of intolerance and derision levelled at women who are the victims of sexual assault.
What we need to say loudly and clearly is this: Men who rape women are entirely responsible for their actions, and this holds whether a woman is assaulted while drunk or wearing skimpy clothes or being sick in a gutter or, to use Lumley’s regrettable classist phrasing, while looking “like trash”.
We as a society with woeful conviction rates for sexual assault need to be very clear: When a woman is raped it is entirely the fault of the perpetrator. Being drunk is not an invitation to abuse. Wearing revealing clothing is a woman’s prerogative. If certain men are incapable of restraint they are solely and completely to blame.
Men get drunk and lose control all the time. But if they were raped while in this state would anyone dream of blaming them? Would anyone dream of saying to a man: “Well, you were wearing those tight jeans and that tight top, and you were drunk, and you were acting provocatively, so you have only yourself to blame”?
Yet women are frequently vilified and held responsible for the abuse they suffer. Many seem, outrageously and unforgivably, to believe that a hedonistic lifestyle and a short skirt or low-cut top is opening the door to sexual assault, is tantamount on some level to ‘asking for it’.
Let’s not forget the damning results of a 2008 Amnesty survey which revealed that almost half of our university students believe that a woman is in some way responsible for being raped if she has ‘behaved in a flirtatious manner’, while one third say she is ‘partially or totally’ responsible for being raped if she is wearing ‘sexy or revealing’ clothes.
This despicable attitude of woman-blaming and victim-shaming lurks toxically behind every comment which equates provocative dress and being drunk with giving a man the green light to commit a heinous crime.
Let’s not add to the pain of women who are sexually assaulted by blaming them too. Let’s level the blame entirely where it should lie, with the men who have freely chosen to exercise their hatred by raping and abusing vulnerable women.