A bunch of really creepy assaults or attempted assaults have been reported to police by women in North Seattle lately. The police blotter is littered with them:
• A report of a woman sexually assaulted near Northgate Mall on February 9
• An attempted abduction of a woman in Greenwood on February 10
• A woman attacked while walking home from a Green Lake/Wallingford neighborhood bar in the early hours of February 11
• Another woman attacked while jogging around Green Lake later that morning.
I came across this crime roundup in this post about the attacks on PhinneyWood, the Phinney Ridge/Greenwood neighborhood blog. The post includes a long message from SPD's North Precinct crime prevention officer, Terrie Johnston, recommending that readers "please review these personal safety tips." The tips, of which there are a dozen, include things like:
Do you know your location? Do you know the street names, hundred block? East, South, West, North? Could you tell the 9-1-1 call taker to where they need to dispatch responders?
Try to get good descriptions of anyone acting suspiciously or threatening. Start from the head and work down. Most likely you know your height, so use this to gauge theirs.
If traveling alone, take a charged up cell phone with you if possible. Know what is available to you along your route. What time does that store open or close? Does that apt.bldg. have a security guard? Is there a payphone?
Ipod earphones, etc. may prevent you from hearing someone approaching. As does texting while you are walking, waiting for the bus, etc. You need to be aware when out if public spaces.
Wear appropriate clothing for the street. Shoes that are comfortable and allow you to run if necessary. Choose clothing that allows you to move, and does not block your vision.
The list also includes the tips: "Stand tall, walk confidently with your head up, eyes open and constantly scanning the surroundings" and "Try not to show fear. Keep a neutral face that shows you are 'in charge.'"
So, to review: Seattleites—and let's be honest, we're talking mostly to women here—as you go about your business, constantly scan your surroundings, memorizing detailed physical descriptions of people you encounter. Always know, down to the exact block, where you are and where the nearest security guard is and the hours of nearby businesses. Wear running shoes and loose, appropriate clothing—aka clothing appropriate for running away in. Bring your cell phone, but don't use it to listen to music or text. And as you walk through the city like a human danger-scanner, walk confidently and keep your face neutral. You're "in charge"!
WHAT THE FUCK?
I'm sure the police department is working to solve these crimes. I'm sure they just want to remind people that we live in a city and crime is real and it can happen to you. But this is exactly the kind of shit that we are talking about when we talk about women being raised in a culture of fear and conditioned to certain behaviors and expectations—like the expectation that we're the ducks in a giant game of Duck Hunt™.
Here's just one rape statistic: One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That's scary. That's too common. But also too common, when we talk about rape, is the message that unfortunately, it's women's responsibility to keep themselves safe from rapists, not society's job to deal with why this happens and what, systemically, we might be able to do to change the culture that encourages that behavior.
Here, as a refresher, are the best rape prevention tips I've ever read:
8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.
That is the conversation I would like to see happening at the Seattle Police Department, and not just among women on women's blogs. Not a convoluted and ever-growing list of how to prevent your own rape by wearing the right non-rapey hairstyle or crossing the street in the most anti-rape fashion or sleeping in past the raping hour.
That is not helping women and, obviously, it is not ending rape.