Have you ever had one of those emails with "Women: Please Read - These Ten Tips Might Save Your Life" drop into your inbox? You know, the ones which tell you to do things like run if someone threatens you with a gun, or kick out the tail lights of a car if you've been kidnapped and bundled into the boot/trunk...?
Various well-meaning female friends have sent these to me, presumably on the assumption that a survival guide will empower me if I'm ever overpowered. The implicit assumption in these emails is that the attacker is likely to be a male stranger with the intention to commit rape.
When it comes down to it, these helpful tips aren't that helpful at all when it comes to women protecting themselves against a rapist. Largely because the type of attack scenario outlined is highly improbable. I'm not saying impossible - but statistically, all women are at far greater risk of rape from someone they already know and trust than someone they don't. As for the business of being set upon while in a late-night car park or some other public place - that's another red herring. A rapist is far more likely to strike in a private or domestic setting.
So, is there anything a woman can do to protect herself against rape? Sadly, not much. The best thing she could do is avoid associating with any rapists. But rapists don't wear helpful badges identifying themselves. To all intents and purposes they are ordinary men. Keeping clear of all men - just in case - isn't very practical.
Statistically, alcohol is often a factor in rapes. And given that deliberately causing a woman to become intoxicated and therefore disorientated is a favourite MO of "date" rapists, avoiding inebriation would seem like a good idea on the face of it.
But having said that, alcohol is a factor in many rapes because many rapes occur during or after a social occasion - not because of the presence of booze per se, but because these situations can offer a rapist ideal opportunities to strike. It is very normal for men and women to enjoy a few drinks, flirt together and in some cases, go off and have sex. A rapist can take advantage of this type of harmless expectation and use it to his own ends.
But if avoiding men and foregoing booze actually worked as rape prevention, we could assume that generally speaking, nuns don't get raped. But in fact, they do. Any woman (and indeed, any man) could be a victim of rape. And the belief that they could have somehow done something to prevent it is dangerous nonsense. Only one person could have done something to prevent the rape from happening: the rapist himself.
Which is why my favourite "Ten Ways To Avoid Rape" advisory is the video below.