I’ve been blogging a lot about sexual assault during the past month. It’s a topic I think about often this time of year, as I know that college is starting and the risk of sexual assault is at its highest during the first 6 weeks of school, especially for freshmen and sophomore women. 

My previous post explored our social norms that contribute to victim blaming. We all contribute to these social norms. I remember many years ago, two events that happened the same night that really opened my eyes about my own biases; a tragic stranger rape and my husband’s car breaking down. Here are the stories, that have since been intertwined in my memory.

I had to work late so my hubby was given the task of attending the school open house and also dropping my boys off for Scouts and picking them up. The parent open house went fine, right on schedule, which gave him about 2 minutes to dash over and pick the boys up from Scouts (and being on time for pick up was emphasized regularly to parents). Looked like a Dad win for making things happen… until he put the key in the ignition and the instead of the motor vrooming, there was a fatalistic ‘click’ and then silence. A couple more tries and it was clear that dashing wasn’t an option. He left a message on my cell to pick them all up at the church, then plodded off on foot to Scouts. Did I mention it was dark and raining and about a 10 minute walk an, by now,  he was already late? A couple of minutes into his soggy journey, a nice man pulled over and asked if he needed a lift He explained the situation and this Good Samaritan got him there relatively dry and not too late. When he told me about it in my car on the ride home  I commented on how lucky he was that this nice man came along.

The following morning my staff read in the paper about a stranger rape; the woman’s car had broken down on the road and a man offered her a ride into town. He had other plans though. He pulled off the road, raped her then dumped her into a ditch in the rain. We were horrified reading the article. Then one of us said, “This is so awful, why would she get into a car with a man she didn’t know?” We all nodded. We weren’t blaming her, but in our collective unconscious I think we all heard echoes of our mothers’ voices warning us of the dangers that all women subconsciously factor into our daily decisions. 

Why was my response to my husband accepting a ride from a stranger on a dark, rainy road different than that of the woman making the same choice? I never would have thought I subscribed to a double standard, but the juxtaposition of two very similar incidents made me keenly aware of my own biases…and since then I’ve tried to consider 
how these social norms color (or cloud) our views about sexual assault.