On June 23, 2009 the UK Telegraph published an article by Science Correspondent Richard Alleyne titled Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claimed scientists. The heading: The way women dress, how flirtatious they are and their levels of drunkenness really do have an effect on the likelihood of them being raped, claim scientists.
For starters, the article presents rape and sexual violence in a heteronormative way. Women are not the only ones who can be victims of sexual violence – men can be victims as well. And men are not the only ones who are perpetrators – although most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators.
But generally, WTF?! This is victim-blaming blasphemy that maintains and bolsters rape culture. These nonsense claims – that women who dress more provocatively, who are more flirtatious and consume more alcohol and therefore are more drunk, are more likely to be raped than women who dress more modestly, are less flirtatious and less drunk – take the attention and accountability off the perpetrator and instead focus on the female victim and her actions.
Rape is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, how drunk they are, or how flirtatious they are. Nothing a person does makes him/her more deserving or likely of being raped. Rapists should be held accountable for their mis-actions, but we live in a rape culture (Exhibit A: the Telegraph article) that completely eliminates the perpetrator and focuses all the attention on the victim and what s/he did wrong to get him/herself raped.
But of course if the scientists say so, then it must be so, right? Nope. Ben Goldacre at Bad Science contacted University of Leicester’s MSc student Sophia Shaw, who is cited in the article as one of the expert scientists alleging that women who dress more provocatively are more likely to be raped, and reports back:
I rang Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester. She was surprised to have been presented as an expert scientist on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, as Sophia is an MSc student, and this is her dissertation project. It’s also not finished. “We are intending on getting it published, but my findings are very preliminary.” She was discussing her dissertation at an academic conference, when the British Psychological Society’s PR team picked it up, and put out a press release. We will discuss that later.
But first, the science. Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with various situations around being with a woman, and asking them when they would call it a night, in order to explore men’s attitudes towards coercing women into sex. “I’m very aware that there are limitations to my study. It’s self report data about sensitive issues, so that’s got its flaws, participants were answering when sober, and so on.”
But more than that, she told me, every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph is a flat, unambiguous, factually incorrect misrepresentation of her findings.
That sentence is worth repeating – “every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph is a flat, unambiguous, factually incorrect misrepresentation of her findings“. Just so we’re all on the same page, what were the Telegraph’s first four statements?
Psychologists found that all three factors had a bearing on how far men were likely to go to take advantage of the opposite sex.
They found that the skimpier the dress and the more flirtatious the woman, the less likely a suitor was to take no for an answer.
But, contrary to popular opinion, alcohol consumption did dampen their ardour with many men claiming that they were put off by a woman who was drunk.
Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester said that men showed a “surprising” propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous.
All that? Complete and total bullshit. And that’s coming from the source – the scientist. So the Telegraph is misrepresenting and misreporting preliminary scientific findings, and furthering victim-blaming rape myths. Goldacre continues:
Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “We found no evidence that that women who are more outgoing are more likely to be raped, this is completely inaccurate, we found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”
And what about the Telegraph’s next claim, or rather, the Telegraph’s reassuringly distant and objective assertion that it is scientists who are now claiming that women who dress provocatively are more likely to be raped?
“We have found at the minute that people will go slightly further with women who are provocatively dressed, but this result is not statistically significant. Basically you can’t say that’s an effect, it could easily be the play of chance. I told the journalist it isn’t one of our main findings, you can’t say that. It’s not significant, which is why we’re not reporting it in our main analysis.”
Wow. Way to fail Telegraph. Misreporting facts to write a misogynist story. Shaw said:
“When I saw the article my heart completely sank, and it made me really angry, given how sensitive this subject is. To be making claims like the Telegraph did, in my name, places all the blame on women, which is not what we were doing at all. I just felt really angry about how wrong they’d got this study.”
These kinds of bullshit articles make me feel ill. Contact the Telegraph and tell them that this article was not only factually incorrect but also misogynist and completely unacceptable.