I've noticed something lately...one of the unfortunate side-effects of becoming "educated." This is something that comes up on the wholesome topics of rape and violence against women (especially when terms like "patriarchy" and "rape culture" are floating about). What have I noticed? I've noticed people getting on their soap box (much like I'm doing right now -- what, you've never seen a hypocrite before?) and declaring that when we tell girls/women that if they don't want to get raped don't put themselves into a situation that makes it easy for rapists to rape them, that we're saying that it's a girl/woman's fault if she is sexually assaulted/abused. This is often taken to the extent of not just saying that we blame the victim, but that we don't blame the villain.
This is bad reasoning.
Firstly, recognising responsibility does not necessitate pointing the finger of blame. I believe that so long as a woman lives in this world, she has a responsibility to herself to understand that the world is not all rainbows and unicorns, and that the world isn't going to treat her with honour and respect as an innate default position, therefore she has a responsibility to herself to use that understanding wisely. By saying this, I am not for a second saying that if a woman is mistreated that I blame her for being mistreated. No, the blame goes entirely to the person who has mistreated her. That does not take the onus off of her to do what she can to reduce the risk of that happening.
Secondly, saying that someone should protect themselves is not dismissing other peoples' ability or willingness to mistreat someone. When I say that a woman should take reasonable precautions to avoid personal harm, I am not saying that the person who would harm her is any less guilty. In fact, a rapist may successfully rape someone who takes all reasonable precautions -- people set on violating others will find a way. Without getting into the issue of impulsiveness and how that skews things, I'll make the generalisation that the villain is in control of their actions: they are responsible for what they do, and if they can't help themselves in the moment, they are responsible for keeping themselves out of a situation that would cause people harm -- if they are unwilling to take up that responsibility to keep themselves from harming others, I think I heard of these institutions once that facilitate keeping them out of such situations in broader society...I think they're called prisons (where real rape culture exists). And that's just it: we implore the potential victim to be mindful and protect herself; we lock up the villain. That's about as far from blaming the victim as can be.
What really bothers me, though, is not how logical/illogical this sentiment is. What deeply disturbs me is what it would look like to teach girls/women that they do not have a responsibility to themselves to avoid risky situations...and I've actually witnessed that practical advice being given. It's reckless, it's dangerous, it's not in the least bit loving to raise your daughter not to protect herself from the harm that's in the world. Let's assume for a moment that "rape culture" is legitimate: that society is okay with rape (an accusation that certainly doesn't fit society's general attitude that rape is one of the worst things you can do to a person, right up there amongst torture and murder). This doesn't for a moment suggest that the wise way to behave in society is as though rape culture isn't the norm, in fact it's all the more reason to protect yourself. Of course, if we don't live in a rape culture and rape is considered a highly offensive, immoral, despicable, disgusting, outrageous, antisocial crime committed by the fringes, the knowledge that there are still people out there who revel in society's standard of evil, who take pleasure in violating society's morals, is still reason for a woman to apply wisdom and protect herself from harm. I'm not talking about being paranoid and wrapping yourself up in bubble-wrap (fun though it is), I'm talking about being aware that the world is not perfect and approaching that fact of life sensibly. Yes, I am handing you the gauntlet of personal responsibility -- if feminism wants you to be anything other than an irresponsible child, it should be doing the same. No, I am not blaming you for when things go wrong.
This whole way through, I've been addressing gendered crime, because that's the context in which this whole issue arises. However, this applies regardless of gender. Both men and women can be victims, and both men and women can be villains. Both men and women have a personal responsibility to recognise that there are threats in the world, and to use their wisdom to reduce the risks to themselves. We also have a responsibility to our loved ones: to protect them, and to enable them to protect themselves if at all possible. The issue is much bigger than rape and gender-related crime. When I encourage you to use the stuff between your ears to consider what you can do to protect yourself, I am not blaming you if someone commits a crime against you.