I've posted quite a few times (1, 2, 3, and more) on why the commonly given "rape prevention" advice is mostly ineffective, sexist, and often cruel. I'm well covered on cursing the darkness. In this post, let's talk about how to light a candle.
The usual feminist response to the rape prevention thing is something on the order of this perennial list--that potential rapists, rather than potential victims, should be responsible for preventing rape. And I agree, but the message has to go beyond "hey! don't rape people!"
A certain proportion of rapists are just monsters. They've got some kind of damage way deep down that's beyond the reach of polite society and well-meaning attempts at education and rehabilitation; their behavior and thought patterns are completely beyond the understanding, much less the influence, of decent people. All we can do is lock them up. I believe that "just monsters" make up a minority of rapists. The rest are people--people who did a horrible, inexcusable thing, but not an unfathomable one. They acted for reasons that made sense at the time, and it's possible for us to suss out what that sense was, and thereby figure out how to make it not make sense the next time.
Here are some steps--they're broad and philosophical and lack "who's going to do this and how" detail, but at least they go beyond "don't leave the house after dark!" or "remember not to rape anyone!"--that make sense to me. I'd love to hear more in the comments.
Redefine "rape" in the public discourse.
Jump-out-of-the-bushes stranger rape is largely the purview of the "just monsters." But it's also far, far less common than boyfriend-won't-take-no rape. When we call the second kind "gray rape" or "date rape" or mutter even more half-assed things about how it's kinda sorta violating her boundaries and kinda sorta not very nice, we let that boyfriend feel a lot better about himself. I've heard more than one rape victim comment that her rapist felt he was doing her a favor by protecting her from all the real rapists out there.
When we treat rapes between acquaintances and in relationships as rape-rape--in the news, in the legal system, in our conversations--we reinforce the idea that they're just as wrong and shocking as jumping out of the bushes. When we can call domestic violence "violence" without qualification, we send the message that people who do this aren't just sorta criminals. "You have no more right to your partner's body than you do to a random stranger" is a message our society needs.
This PSA (note: extremely violent video) is a great example of sending that message.
What is sex, really? It's not a penis going into a vagina. Nor is it a penis going into an orifice. Nor is it the touching of sexual organs. Sex is the pleasure obtained from arousal and intimacy. Without that, it's a gynecologist appointment.
So sticking your dick in someone means nothing. Gets you nothing. Absent the arousal and intimacy, it's just an unhygienic gynecologist appointment. Not only is sticking yourself in someone not right to do without their enthusiastic participation, it's not even sex. Most of things a person would really want from sex that they couldn't get from masturbation--emotional comfort, ego reinforcement, social status, physical closeness--are not things you can take by force. I would like to spread the meme that rape isn't getting laid by unethical means, it's not getting laid at all.
Rewrite the sexual script.
The paradigm of "women trade sex to men for affection/favors/security/etc." is an extremely dangerous one. Because it posits that women never really want sex, it makes the bright line of "no, this time I really don't want it" fuzzy, as if this were merely a breakdown in the bargaining process. It makes women seem unreasonable or even greedy for refusing sex when they've been properly "compensated" (see also: PUA culture) and makes men feel that sex with a woman who doesn't want sex isn't fundamentally abnormal.
And this is why being extremely public about being an extremely horny woman is fighting rape.
Less frivolously (not that I think that's frivolous, actually) we need to get rid of the idea of sex as a tradeable commodity. Thinking about sex in terms of commerce leads to thinking about what you're "owed," and rape as a remedy for getting a bad deal. Better to think of it as an activity, a partner sport; nobody owes you the chance to be their tennis partner, almost nobody plays tennis for some secret ulterior reason besides enjoying tennis, and nobody really wants to play tennis with a partner who doesn't have their heart in it.
Stop blaming victims.
Not just because it's cruel and wrong. Because when you do it, potential rapists are listening. Saying "she was taking a big risk, being drunk and in that clothing" doesn't just hurt her and trivialize the crime against her. It also says "hey everybody, women who are drunk and dressed like this are up for grabs."
Treat men like people.
Very often, men are talked about like they're animals who can't control themselves sexually. Women are taught how to work around men like they're a force of nature, like they can never be trusted. Men are taught that it's in their nature to take whatever they can get when it comes to sex. Again, the problem isn't just that it's wrong, but that some men will take these messages to heart, and believe that decency isn't expected of them. (There's also a secondary problem that people who aren't men may believe they could never be rapists because that's a man thing.)
I would like to live in a world where rape is always treated as an exception. Where the phrasing isn't "a man lost control of himself and" but "a person decided to." Where it's believed that a man's natural instinct is to cooperate with others for mutual survival, rather than to spread the seed at all costs. Where anti-rape activism never falls into "men vs. women" but is quite clearly "society vs. rape." Where men aren't let off the hook when they rape, and also where men are credited with generally not wanting to in the first place.
There's a lot more to say on this topic. How do you convince people not to rape, without antagonizing or alienating them? How do you create a pro-man, pro-woman, pro-sex, anti-rape culture?