If you’ve been tuning into the right-wing media this week, you might be startled to discover a seeming concern about preventing rape. But don’t get too excited: It’s nothing but a gambit to persuade the public on issues of gun safety.
It all started in Colorado, where the legislature is debating whether to ban concealed weapons on college campuses. One of the favorite arguments offered by gun advocates for concealed carry on campus is that arming college women prevents rape. On the floor of the state House, Democratic representative Joe Salazar addressed this claim:
It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. ... You don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop a round at somebody.
Admittedly, it was a badly worded response—one that inadvertently played off the stereotype of women as irrational. But what he intended to say was clear: There are many incidents in which people, armed and feeling threatened, mistakenly shoot an innocent person. Salazar later apologized for his comments, but in our gaffe-obsessed era, the words had already kicked off a feeding frenzy.
Republican state representative Polly Lawrence crowed on Twitter: “Rep. Salazar says women may not know when they’re being raped.” Another Republican state representative, Lori Saine, said of her daughter, “I can’t imagine her only option’s going to be to outrun her attacker to a call box.”
The controversy took on another dimension when Democratic strategist Bob Beckel made a legitimately offensive remark during a Fox News debate on concealed-carry on campus: “When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?” His co-panelists correctly pointed out that campus rape is “rampant,” but their prescription remained the same: put a holster on every college girl.
For the right-wing media, these incidents have become evidence that “both sides” say stupid stuff about rape. While Beckel's remarks are clear evidence of that, one must remember that only one side backs ending anti-rape legislation. Conservatives have momentarily struck a pose when it comes to rape prevention, but dig beneath the surface and it’s clear they neither understand nor care about rape.
Most campus rapes don’t resemble the kind of rape that involves call boxes or could theoretically be prevented by concealed carry—e.g., a stranger leaping out of the bushes so that a ready and armed woman could pull and shoot. In the real world, at least 80 percent of victims of campus rapes know their assailant. The standard strategy of rapists is not to jump a stranger who could, after all, fight back. Research shows rapists prefer to attack women they’re on dates with or at parties with, situations where the victims have their guard down. Rapists almost always prefer to attack women who have been drinking, in part because it makes it easier to overpower them without too much force and makes it hard for the victim to press charges without being accused of making it all up to cover for a drunken mistake. The only way that guns could prevent the vast majority of campus rapes is if women carried them at parties and on dates—a questionable proposition.
In case there was any doubt that the conservative outrage over Salazar’s comments were anything but a ruse, one can simply look at the meme that spread online after the representative's comments. Shortly after the Colorado debate, right-leaning Twitter users began cracking jokes using the Twitter hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape. While the comments are supposed to be funny, just beneath the surface is a palpable sense of anger with and resentment toward women generally and feminists in particular. They also perpetuate longstanding myths about women and rape.
There is, for instance, the claim that only pretty women get raped:
The usual comments about women’s dress and reproductive freedom:
And, naturally, the old canard that victims simply didn’t work hard enough to defend themselves:
The misogyny is surefire evidence that the fuss over Salazar’s remarks has little to do with concern for rape victims and everything to do with gun advocacy. There are legitimate ways to prevent rape on campus: Improve law enforcement and campus response, stop victim-blaming, educate college students to keep an eye out for each other, and reinstate the Violence Against Women Act. Letting conservatives hijack the issue to sell more guns doesn't do anything to prevent rape, and in fact, only makes the problem worse by distracting from real solutions.