Last week, a freshman at the University of Florida rescued another woman from a man trying to rape her. The freshman saw the crying woman walking down the street, trying to get away from a man following her. The student pulled the other woman into her car, locked the doors, rolled up the windows and sped away. The other woman had managed to escape from the car of the man after he attacked her, but no one else had intervened to help her as she tried to get away.
Impressive and quick thinking action on the part of the freshman, the sort of bystander behavior that should be celebrated as heroic and a model to emulate, right? And I’m pretty sure that’s how it would have gotten talked about if she had been a man.
Now turn to the actual article. It does pretty well for most of the first two pages, recounting what happens and giving voice to the heroic freshman. Then you hit this quote from the university police:
“Her actions contributed greatly to minimize the threat that was posed by this individual,” Barber said. “Individuals who provide assistance of this nature certainly need to bear in mind the potential dangers that they face when engaging in that activity.”
Well, yes, helping somebody out always has risks, but the freshman was in her car and had her wits about her, so I’m not sure how high the risks really were. More importantly, is that what you would have said if the freshman was a man, Mr. Barber?
Then you hit page three of the article, which is all about how women should know better than to drink or talk to strange men, and blaming a culture that encourages women to drink too much. Really, if you had to take the article to a blaming place, how about blaming the four other people who were on the street when the freshman noticed the woman needed help, and did nothing? How about asking what the patrons of the bar could have done differently to intervene when the woman appeared too drunk to make it home safely by herself? How about blaming the attacker and the culture that says it is ok for him to take advantage of someone’s drunkenness to rape them, a culture this article encourages by putting all the blame on her?
Or how about staying in a place that focuses on women’s strength. Acknowledge the power and strength of the woman who was initially attacked, but who, despite her trauma and her inebriation, succeeded in fending the attacker off, getting out of his car, and making it to a place public enough that people were around who could help her. Acknowledge how awesome the freshman rescuer is – her willingness to risk her own safety to help another, her knowledge of the importance of getting the woman to a hospital, her thoughtful and well-phrased attempts to control the narrative of the event against our cultural narratives of victim-blaming, her commitment to doing the right thing as a bystander. Talk about how other women (and men) could step up to help when they see sexual violence or potential sexual violence happening in front of them. Remember that women are often the knight in shining armor who comes to someone else’s rescue, and celebrate their heroics the same way you would a man’s.