On my second day of college, I was catcalled and followed home by a man in a truck when walking about a mile back to my apartment. For the first week of school, I was alone in that apartment since my brother was out of town. A few nights later, I was half-asleep when I heard a man chatting on the phone so near to the wall that I thought he was in my living room. After that scare, I had both my brother and my dog living with me on the daily.
Later that semester, my Women’s Studies professor taught the class about something called a “rape schedule”: a series of restrictions and alterations that women place on their own lifestyle in order to avoid the constantly looming threat of sexual assault. It literally means that women form an altered schedule based on the paranoia that comes from the fact that they are often targets of sexual violence. These behaviors are altered either consciously or unconsciously, but are always driven by the fear of rape, hence the name “rape schedule.”
When I heard this term used for the first time, I immediately took an adverse position; the threat of rape doesn’t affect my life as much as some feminists like to think. But, after talking to some of my girlfriends and giving it more thought, I began to realize that the warped theory of the rape schedule was scarily real.
After I had that catcalling experience, I began to return home before sundown and make no eye contact with male drivers or pedestrians. Even before that, I made conscious choices to not wear clothing that was too showy or to talk to too many boys at parties. I traveled in packs of friends and feared being in a public bathroom alone.
It is important for both women and men to recognize the impact that sexual violence has on people’s lives, even when one hasn’t been assaulted. I’ll never forget a quote by Jessica Valenti that was shared by one of my professors: “Women do things throughout the day to protect themselves. Whether it’s carrying our keys in our hands as we walk home, locking our car doors as soon as we get in, or not walking down certain streets, we take precautions.”
For example, at parties or clubs, a woman must put her safety before her own enjoyment by bringing multiple friends, remaining in a tight group throughout the night, being extremely cautious when talking to or accepting drinks from strangers and never taking her eyes off of her drink. She may leave the party early if she feels unsafe, or not attend at all if she cannot get a group together. She may also wear more conservative clothing in order to draw less attention, and not drink heavily to avoid being taken advantage of.
Valenti adds, “While taking precautions is certainly not a bad idea, the fact that certain things women do are so ingrained into our daily routines is truly disturbing. It’s essentially like living in a prison all the time.” While the rape schedule isn’t necessarily a bad thing for women to follow, the fact that it exists is telling of the sheer amount of sexual assault cases that take place, as well as the culture that promotes it.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN for short, one out of every six American women has been affected by rape in her lifetime, and 54 percent of these victims are young women between the ages of 18 and 34. Women, especially college students, are given a list of guidelines to adhere to in order to prevent rape.
However, no matter how many precautions women take — self-defense classes, calling ride services at night rather than walking, etc. — the bigger issue of rape ultimately isn’t being solved. College orientations and health programs teach women to know that they are vulnerable at all times, that they cannot trust anyone and that they must go out of their way to prevent themselves from being victimized. Specific courses exist to teach women how to defend themselves from possible sexual predators, and there are numerous hotlines anyone can call if they have been raped, yet nothing about telling men not to rape.
There can be pages of writing found on some college websites detailing what women should do to prevent sexual assault, but most of the time, these pages will never utter a simple statement that the perpetrators must be stopped before they get the chance. Like women, men must also be responsible for their actions (not to say that the victims are always women and the perpetrators are always men).
The way that rape prevention is taught must be changed in order to ensure long-lasting positive consequences, meaning the way people learn about sexual assault, especially on college campuses, must be reframed.
The enforcement of dress codes for girls in high school and sometimes college campuses is an indirect but prominent example of a rape schedule; girls must put thought into making sure their outfit meets school guidelines and isn’t too “revealing” or “distracting” to the male gaze. While conforming to a dress code isn’t necessarily done out of fear of rape, the fact that women’s clothes are regulated and judged more than men’s behavior is one of the core reasons for the existence of the rape schedule.
That’s why in order to tackle the issue of the rape schedule, people must first evaluate rape culture, what it is and how we can reduce it. Rape culture is centered around the way sexual harassment is viewed by the general public and the norms applied to both genders that dictate what their sexual behavior should be.
In 2013, an author from Slate magazine published an article titled “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” a headline that sparked debate about victim-blaming. The truth is, blaming the victim of sexual assault is a dangerous and too common facet of rape culture.
Statements like “she shouldn’t have been drinking” or “she was asking for it,” point the fault at the target of the crime rather than the perpetrator, and are dangerous because they make it harder for the victim to follow through with the abuse report; worse yet, victim-blaming diminishes the self-esteem of the victim. RAINN says that 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide, and 13 percent of women who are raped attempt it.
Framing rape prevention as primarily a woman’s responsibility needs to change, starting with a more comprehensive and conversational sex education from early on. American culture needs to shift some of the toxic norms placed on either gender about how they should go about expressing their sexuality, and until people are aware of the true causes of rape, adhering to the rape schedule will never be enough to solve the gender violence problem.