Belfast Telegraph

Chrissie Hynde's opinions are as depressing as they are wrong

By Fionola Meredith

Chrissie Hynde, the 63-year-old lead singer of the Pretenders, has got in big trouble for saying she was sexually assaulted and it was all her own fault.

In her new memoir, she describes how she was 21 and high on drugs and drink when she was forced to perform sex acts, under threat of violence, by an Ohio motorbike gang. Hynde thought she was getting a lift to a party, but the gang members drove her to an empty house, where they attacked her. "This was all my doing and I take full responsibility," she said. "You can't paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this?"

That was sad enough, but Hynde's further claim that women who dress provocatively are to blame for getting raped was the real clanger. "If I'm walking around in my underwear and I'm drunk? Who else's fault can it be?" she said. "You know if you don't want to entice a rapist, don't wear high heels so you can't run from him."

It was reminiscent of Joanna Lumley's advice to young women a couple of years ago, which resulted in similar accusations of victim-blaming. "Don't be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home," she said, "because somebody will take advantage of you, either they'll rape you, or they'll knock you on the head or they'll rob you."

Do we really have to spell it out, yet again? The person who bears the full moral and legal responsibility for the attack is the attacker.

Full stop.

End of story.

It doesn't matter what the woman is wearing, how much or how little she has on, how "enticing" she may appear - and what a loaded word that is, with its coy, come hither connotations. It doesn't matter what state of sobriety or otherwise she may be in. If she didn't give consent, then it's rape.

Consent is often portrayed as a grey area, but in actual fact, it's not. Consent is clearly defined in law. It must be given fully, knowingly and freely. It is self-evidently clear that if you're not in a fit state to say yes, then the answer must be no.

In 2008, Amnesty published a survey which has stuck in my mind ever since, because the results were so horrifying. Amnesty found that almost half of local students believed that a woman is in some way responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner. Almost one-third considered that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she is wearing "sexy or revealing" clothes. Brutal, ignorant, savage views - I hope these young idiots have grown up since then.

Because once you start diluting responsibility for rape, where do you stop? If you start factoring in short skirts, or drink taken, or any other variable in the woman's appearance or behaviour, then before you know it she's the prime cause of the rape and the man was simply unable to help himself, poor baby.

Too often, however, we see a pitched battle between those who say that women have the right to wear whatever they want, and get as hammered as they like, without regard for any unwanted actions on the part of predatory men, and those who say - get real, women have to modify their behaviour if they don't want trouble, in the same way that you don't leave the key in your front door when you go away on holiday. A hyper-emotional slanging match between the two polarised camps frequently ensues, which basically gets us nowhere.

How about looking at it this way? Yes, the attacker is the only one responsible, each and every time. (I've already said that, but it bears a heck of a lot of repetition.) Yes, women have the right and the freedom to dress and do whatever they choose. And yes, it makes sense for women to take precautions to keep themselves safe, such as sticking together with their friends on a night out and sharing a taxi - that way you can drink whiskey and dance on the table in your skimpiest top, if you so desire, and still get home safely.

None of these statements contradicts each other. None of them involves victim-blaming. The world can be a dangerous place, yet women must be free to act without being forced to shoulder responsibility for the criminal actions of others. Instead of screaming at each other, let's concentrate on ways to make this the reality.

Belfast Telegraph


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