Chrissie Hynde rape
Chrissie Hynde's comments on women's roles in sexual assaults have been met with derisionReuters

An interview in the Sunday Times magazine with Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde caused a media fire storm earlier this week when the star said she blamed herself for being sexually assaulted at the age of 21.

"Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can't paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive," she said.

Though she started out discussing her own case, Hynde went on to make more general statements about women and rape, saying that a woman who walks down the street drunk and "provocatively" dressed can't complain if she ends up "in trouble".

"If I'm walking around and I'm very modestly dressed and I'm keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I'd say that's his fault. But if I'm being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who's already unhinged – don't do that," she said.

"You know, if you don't want to entice a rapist, don't wear high heels so you can't run from him. If you're wearing something that says 'Come and f*** me', you'd better be good on your feet."

While Hynde, like any survivor, has the right to remember and discuss her experience in her own words, there is a difference between making a personal statement and using a platform in a national magazine to make far broader declarations about rape victims.

But what is most important here is not Hynde's initial comments, but the wider response. The interview sparked a nationwide debate, with heated radio and television discussions about the extent to which women should take responsibility for protecting themselves from sexual assault. The ITV programme Loose Women ran a poll on its website asking: "Is it ever a woman's fault if she is raped?" At the time the poll closed, 12.15% of respondents had voted yes.

After victim groups, rape services and feminists spoke out against victim blaming, commentators accused them of trying to "silence" Hynde. But to paint hers as a lone, bold view is disingenuous – she is just the latest in a long string of high-profile figures suggesting that victims should take some responsibility for sexual assault.

Indeed, many people agree – according to official government figures, more than a third of the public believe rape victims are at least partially responsible for their assaults if they had been flirting heavily beforehand, and more than a quarter if they were drunk. Furthermore, nobody was calling for Hynde's words to be censored. Rather, these groups felt the need to raise their voices to provide a loud and public counter-narrative to what she had said, because the words spoken on this particular issue have an enormous and far-reaching impact.

In a country where 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted every year, yet only 15% of victims of the most serious sexual assaults report them to the police, the way we discuss rape is hugely important.

When we publicly debate whether rape victims are partially to blame, in a discussion we would never dream of having about any other crime, we tell survivors they may be blamed or disbelieved if they come forward, we tell rapists there will be excuses made for them, and we risk prejudicing juries and police forces against victims. This conversation really does matter.

That's why it's so worrying that so much of what is said is completely factually inaccurate. Across the media, myriad articles and arguments have been put forward to defend the idea that women and girls should dress sensibly, or alter their behaviour to prevent rape, because it is just "common sense".

Many say that in an ideal world, women should be able to dress as they please, but given that this isn't that world, they ought to be sensible and take precautions. The problem is, not one of these arguments has put forward a shred of evidence to support the theory that women can reduce the risk of rape by altering their clothing or behaviour. The reason for that is simple: the theory isn't true.

According to the most recent statistics from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Office for National Statistics, 90% of victims already know their rapist. They are raped by partners, colleagues or friends.

We also know that women around the world experience sexual assault dressed in everything from tracksuits to burqas, and that victims range in age from babies to nonagenarians. This immediately disproves the theory that rapists are unable to control their libido and pounce on a young, attractive woman in a short skirt or a low-cut top.

Rape has nothing to do with attraction or sex, it is about power and control. Likewise, telling a woman to avoid drinking or going out alone statistically makes no sense at all, as she is more at risk in her own bed in her pyjamas. In addition, these pieces of "advice" on women's clothing and behaviour also completely discount the experiences of male victims.

It is incredibly insulting to the vast majority of men to suggest that rape is simply an inevitable, primal urge that men are unable to control, putting the responsibility on women to avoid it as best they can. Rather, as we would with any other crime, we must focus on perpetrators, and on educating young people about consent, healthy relationships and sexual violence.

Until these demonstrable facts about the reality of rape are understood more widely, we will continue to respond to the issue of sexual assault with a "debate" that shames and blames victims, makes perpetrators feel more confident and has absolutely no basis in fact.

In 2015, the fact that we are still arguing about whether or not victims are to blame for their own assaults is the real scandal here.


Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has collated over 80,000 women's stories of harassment and discrimination at work and in everyday life. She is also a prolific writer and the recipient of several awards. Follow Laura on Twitter here.