No woman should have to take preventative measures against sexual assault, but it seems as though every woman does, in one way or another. Women seek to protect themselves through measures ranging from carrying a weapon to not going out alone. Sexual assault prevention tips circulate — don’t drink, don’t go out alone, wear tight jeans to dissuade an attacker going for an easy target.
Of course, in turn, there are refutations to this advice: to suggest that the ‘right’ clothes or behavior can prevent sexual assault is essentially to suggest that victims were attacked because they wore or did the ‘wrong’ thing. Victim-blaming, obviously doesn’t protect anyone, and a sexual assault can happen to anyone.
While police departments, schools, and other organizations circulate tips to prevent sexual assault (Northwestern University’s Women’s Center, for instance, advises women to use the buddy system and never let their drink out of their sight — feminists tend to counter, saying that the person who should be preventing a sexual assault is the would-be assailant.
Sarah Silverman went viral, for example, with a post (see the full post at Qz declaring that men can prevent sexual assault by not raping, not drugging women, and using the buddy system.
While sexual assault has been a major topic of public conversation lately — with sexual assault allegations against a presidential candidate, and stories of lenient sentences for those convicted of sex crimes, for women, it’s not a new topic. Sexual assault is something that the average woman has considered virtually every day of her adult life — and too many days before adulthood.
Maybe that’s why, even though the burden to not commit a crime should be on the would-be criminal, women are stepping up to protect each other against sexual assault, in a series of acts that may boost your faith in humanity.
Maybe you’ve seen this post. It has been re-blogged endlessly on Tumblr, and screenshots, sometimes including a response, pop up on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter frequently.
“There should be a universal thing among women that if some guy is talking to you and is making you feel uncomfortable, approach another girl as if you know them. This gives you an excuse to leave the creepy guy, and sit in a group. The girl being approached should play along instead of questioning who this girl is and why she’s acting like she knows her.”
Then there’s the more proactive flip side of that idea: a woman who sees another in a potentially dangerous situation might walk up and pretend to know her, perhaps warning off an opportunist who might have sexually assaulted or otherwise harmed her.
One Tumblr user described such a case last January.
“She looked super uncomfortable, so I…shoved my way past them and latched onto her…She was super grateful that I’d read the situation correctly, and I’m really glad she had actually played along.”
Now Reddit users are sharing similar stories about women protecting each other from sexual assault. Some are telling stories of being rescued from a potential sexual assault, and others share tales in which they did the rescuing. It began when one Redditor told her story: she was waiting for a bus when one woman warned her that a man had been watching her, and another woman stepped up to stay by her side.
While no one should have to protect themselves from sexual assault by dragging along a companion, there can be safety in numbers, as Redditors demonstrated when they chimed in with more stories of potential assault averted.
A woman tells of the time a man tried to pressure her, a teen at the time, into accepting a ride with him, and another woman nearby declined on her behalf, sending the fellow on his way.
One Redditor actually witnessed a man attempting a sexual assault and spoke out.
“…she stands in preparation to disembark when the guy’s hand moves to her buttocks. In a fit of rage I didn’t know I possessed, I stood and in a voice that still surprises me (and startled my kids) I shouted: ‘You WILL NOT touch her!'”
Another Redditor was the victim of sexual assault, and another woman stepped in to stop the assailant.
“I…turn around to see this man around 50 years of age, making direct eye contact with me. I look in front again and then feel someone holding on to my rear with both his hands. Not surprisingly, it’s the same weirdo. Fortunately for me, there was a woman behind him witnessing everything and started making a bigger fuss about it…She made him apologize and embarrassed him sufficiently.”
Not all of the stories show such a clear-cut intent of sexual assault — in some cases, women rely on intuition, and rescue another from an uncomfortable situation that hasn’t reached that level, but that might, without intervention.
This case, for example, might not have ever escalated to sexual assault — but one woman got a reminder that if it did, another woman had her back.
“I was waiting for the train alone one night when a drunk man approached and started talking to me. He eventually followed me onto the train, but a slightly older lady sat down next to me before he could.”
Dozens of other stories populate the thread, with women watching each other’s drinks, telling off men who are engaging in sexual harassment, shooing possible stalkers, and otherwise letting potential victims of sexual assault or rape (and their potential assailants) know they aren’t alone.
If you’re ever on social media and a post drifts past about women preventing sexual assault by stepping up for strangers, there’s good news: it’s already happening. Women are protecting each other, and while sexual assault should not be something we have to watch out for, it’s good to know we aren’t watching alone.
[Featured Image by gmast3r/ThinkStock]