Over the summer, we were privileged to spend a few weeks in Europe studying, traveling, worshiping, enjoying God’s creation and marveling at the creativity mankind is gifted with. A week of our time was spent in Paris. Part of the fun of traveling (for us) is the anticipation and preparation, so we spent a fair number of hours ahead of time planning out where to stay and where to go and what to see while not trying to overextend ourselves.
Numerous online and print travelers guides warned about Paris and the notorious pickpockets that work the popular attractions singly or in groups. One person even described how a group of children surrounded them and placed a baby in their arms so they couldn’t protect their wallet or purse, robbed the person and took off. Part of me wondered what about the baby? Was it a real baby? Was this just cross-cultural confusion about adoption processes? If a live human baby is your means of stealing, how do you get the baby back after you’ve escaped?!?! The mind boggles.
By and large, the guides suggested common sense. Don’t flash your valuables. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, and keep your valuable documents in a special travel belt or pouch to make it less likely they will be pilfered. Be careful in certain areas of town after dark. All common sense stuff, right? We would tell people the same thing when visiting our town, despite our town being relatively safe and a lot less crowded than Paris.
We were in no danger of being mistaken for a jet-set couple, and never felt at risk from pick-pockets. But imagine if things were different. What if we were fabulously, blindingly wealthy? What if my wife wore large diamond ear rings and necklaces and bracelets? What if we wore expensive designer clothes and carried shopping bags full of designer parcels from the swankiest stores in the City of Lights? What if we then decided to take a stroll at 1:00am in some of the seedier neighborhoods of Paris, laughing gaily, not trying to blend in but in fact making every effort to have people look at us and see our ridiculous wealth? What if, as we rounded the corner, we were forced into an alley and relieved of our prized possessions – the diamonds and the fancy clothes and the shopping bags full of treasures.
Then we came home and complained loudly about how unsafe Paris is, how outrageous it was that we were robbed. Those who know us would likely be aware of our propensity to flaunt our wealth. They might ask us to tell them the story of what happened and when and where. And most people would nod sympathetically – being robbed is truly a terrible event! But what would they also be thinking? You two are a couple of grade-A idiots. What did you expect strutting through the ghettos flashing your cash and jewels? How could you not have more sense than that?
The thieves remain culpable. Robbery is a choice that someone makes and that choice is always wrong, without a doubt. The robber bears responsibility for their actions. But we would bear responsibility for providing them with an opportunity to rob us, and for encouraging them to think that such an illegal action would be rewarding for them. They are guilty of robbery. We are guilty of, at the least, being naive fools or, at worst, encouraging someone else’s worst traits by our refusal to use our own common sense.
This is the analogy I’ve come up with for the sexual assault/rape argument that rages in our culture. Chrissie Hynde, the lead vocalist of the great rock group The Pretenders, has generated criticism for taking responsibility for her sexual assault that occurred when she was a young woman. Her statements that she was to blame for her assault because of her foolishness and poor decision-making has some people riled up.
They have a point, to a certain extent. The perpetrator of rape or sexual assault is the guilty party, just as the robber in the above example. Their actions are inappropriate and wrong – morally and legally – always. It isn’t a matter of whether or not someone who sexually (or otherwise) assaults a woman (or man) should be held liable – they should. But as in the example above, women (and men, most likely) need to recognize that they have a role to play in all of this.
As Hynde says, this is common sense. It shouldn’t be controversial. All people need to take into account what their form of dress says about them. All people need to take into account what their decisions say about them. This does not justify or legitimize those people who will rob or assault or rape, but it recognizes that we impact one another, and sometimes the impact we have on another person is not healthy, and is actually dangerous to ourselves. It’s common sense for robbery, why isn’t it common sense for rape?