Is There a Gender Gap in Safety?
“I’ll hold your drink for you while you go to the bathroom.”
It is likely that you have said this to one of your female friends while out at a party or at a bar. You both understand what is implicit in the statement: “I’ll watch your drink, so no one slips a roofy into it and then later tries to rape you.”
If you offer to hold the drink of a male friend, you are more likely to be reassuring them that you wont let anyone sneak a sip of the drink they paid for.
Most (if not all) young women have been warned not to accept drinks from people they do not know, not to walk alone at night, or leave doors unlocked. Parents and administrators seem especially concerned about women’s safety and talk to young males and females differently about crime.
Two violent occurrences with female victims caught DC’s attention this week. Georgetown University students woke up Sunday morning with an email from the campus police informing them about a sexual assault that occurred earlier in the weekend. The report seems to imply that the victim was alone when it happened. The weekend before, there was another attack in a Bethesda, MD Lululemon Athletica store on a female victim, who unfortunately did not survive. Originally, authorities thought that there were two victims: the murder victim and another female employee who suffered injuries and claimed she was sexually assaulted. The search began for two male suspects. However, according to the latest news coverage, in a strange twist, the injured employee now faces murder charges.
The first crime might serve as a reminder to follow conventional safety tips like staying in groups at night or locking your doors. However, even if some might think of these measures as “common sense,” it is important to remember that there may be a fine line between using instances of crime as warnings of the need to be cautious and blaming the victim. For example, police statements about a sexual assault that occurred this past summer sparked a debate in the Georgetown community. An official had labeled the assault “a preventable crime” and simply advised students to lock their doors and windows before it was revealed that the perpetrator had actually removed an air conditioning unit from the victim’s window in order to gain access to her home. Yet, even if she had left her home unlocked, just as a woman is not deserving of sexual assault just because she wears short skirts, a woman who forgets to lock her window does not deserve to be raped for her mistake.
However, the murder at Lululemon is a reminder that not all crimes can be prevented and the perpetrators might not be whom you would suspect. Perhaps some men were involved in the murder, as originally presumed, but the one suspect in custody is female. Women are capable of crimes, even violent ones.
So, is there a gender gap when it comes to the gender of crime victims? Inside Higher Ed reports that college female and male students face similar crime rates, citing The Journal of Adolescent Health. This would seem to run contrary to expectations of the more active, stronger, and more violent stereotypical man and the more passive, weaker, and less violent woman. These stereotypes in themselves have an impact on how we think about crime. In a report from The American Sociological Association, Karen Snedker writes:
“In the fear of crime literature there is a consensus that female gender is the strongest predictor of fear of crime and that, despite their lower objective risk of victimization, women consistently report higher levels of fear.”
What does all of this mean? Follow the conventional wisdom about safety, but also remember that not all crime is preventable. If you are nervous, check out videos to learn self-defense techniques on YouTube. Look for organizations in your area that hold self-defense classes. Many universities (like this one at Georgetown, promoted on Facebook) also have programs that train students how to protect themselves. Search for a program run by RAD, the organization that Georgetown is currently hosting.
And perhaps the next time your male friend decides to leave a bar or party alone at night, you should lend him your mace.