When the NRA’s Wayne La Pierre made this statement at the recent CPAC conference, the women in the room stood up and cheered. You might think that, as a rape survivor, I would share their enthusiasm. But instead, I was thinking that if I had a gun the night I was raped I might be dead.
A rapist relies on two primary weapons: surprise and force. If the attacker is a stranger, a woman rarely sees or hears him coming. If the perpetrator is someone the victim knows, chances are she is disarmed by trust. Once in a rape situation, a gun or any external weapon is most likely not going to help you. It’s too late to grab your gun when you unexpectedly find your hands pinned down to your sides.
The night I was assaulted, I was walking down a city street. One moment I was checking out house numbers and the next someone was choking the life out of me. My attacker dragged me off into an abandoned garage where I was so shell-shocked and disoriented I could barely talk, much less take aim. I shudder to think that if I had a gun in my purse, my rapist—who continually threatened me with a gun he never produced—would have actually had one: mine.
After I was attacked, I took a self-defense course. I learned how to watch my surroundings carefully. I also learned how to kick an attacker in the groin, make his shins burn if he restrained me from behind and gouge his eyes out. I can’t say for sure that my outcome would have been different if I had such knowledge beforehand, but when I replay that night over in my mind, as I have too many times, I suspect it would have.
According to the 2006-2010 National Crime Victimization Survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, a woman is raped every two minutes in the United States. Considering that rape can, and in some cases does, escalate to murder, it’s not surprising that the thought of arming women would receive a receptive audience. But, unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for the epidemic of violence against women in this society.
However, there are steps we can take to reduce sexual assault. For one thing, we could arm women and girls not with guns and ammo but with knowledge and skills, making self-defense classes part of girls’ physical education. Educating boys about rape and consensual sex is also crucial. And catching and prosecuting rapists should be made a priority. Throughout the U.S., rape kits (physical evidence taken from victims) are routinely left untested by law enforcement. In a recent article in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof reported that in Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor was shocked to discover more than 11,000 rape kits lying around untested—some dating to the 1980s. “The bottom line,” said Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, “is that “sexual assault is not taken as seriously as other crimes.”
It’s obvious that we’re not doing enough to prevent the crime of rape from occurring. But to say that guns will prevent it is a cheap shot. And one that misses the target. There are a myriad of ways to deter rape. Let’s start taking aim at them.