Chryssie Hynde on rape

Chryssie Hynde (whose music I love) has set off a bit of a kerfuffle by suggesting that, sometimes, women are to blame for being raped. She says, in an interview with the Sunday Times, of an incident in which she was assaulted when she was 21 by a member of a motorcycle gang:

“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t fuck about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do. 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 continues, “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?”

The kerfuffle is predictable, of course. No one ever deserves to be raped, a woman has the right to wear whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and to say “No” to anyone, at any time, for any reason. And she has the right to expect her “no” to be honored. And Hynde is wrong. What happened to her wasn’t her “fault.”

The problem is, while this all is true, it’s also true that sometimes we do stupid things.

I was mugged when I was much younger. It was late. I was ridiculously, visibly, intoxicated. I was walking down a dark, abandoned street.

Did I “deserve” to be mugged? Of course not. Were the muggers within their rights for what they did to me? Of course not.

Was I stupid? Of course.

I’m a huge fan of the idea that rape prevention starts and ends with men, that women (have to) have the right to walk anywhere, at any time, dressed however they wish, in whatever state of inebriation they may find themselves.


That doesn’t mean it’s not dumb to put oneself in a position in which it might reasonably be understood, by anyone paying attention, that bad things might happen.

As a political question (and, as a criminal question, ideally), there is no question. Rape is always wrong, always the perpetrator’s fault, never the victim’s.

But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t feel retrospectively that she did something dumb. I wish Hynde had shown more nuance in what she said. The limits to what one can say and not be pilloried on this subject are stringent – and with good reason. But while she didn’t deserve what happened to her, it’s too bad that the way she articulated her regret obscured the point that, however much we might wish it were otherwise, a woman is in peril if she puts herself in certain situations.

Let’s all work to make that not be so.


  1. I agree, it wasn’t her fault, because she was the victim. But it probably wasn’t very wise, if she didn’t intend to have sex with any of the men, to walk around half naked and inebriated in a place with men who advertise their little respect of women.
    Something we could teach young women. You always have a right to say no, at any given time. But you need to be even more careful about what you drink, don’t drink from a cup that you haven’t seen filled, don’t get so drunk that you pass out, beware who you are going out with.
    It may be true for young men too, but even more so for young women. And possibly Gay men.
    I suppose I look at it a bit like I look at cars. If someone runs a stop, they are definitely the ones at fault because if they hadn’t run it, you wouldn’t have had an accident. But if you were driving fast without a seat belt, in the end, it’s you who is dead. So be responsible.
    I realise my example is full of illegal things, whereas a girl drinking and/or wearing few clothes isn’t illegal. I suppose I look at it in the form of damage control.
    But if rape did happen, if she didn’t consent and he still took what he wanted… it is the guy’s fault.

  2. I read your post and a WP article about this.

    As humans we clearly still have a lot to learn, so I understand why advocates want (need? think they need?) to stay “on message” that rape is never ok, never justified.

    But — it makes me so frustrated. Nuanced conversation is shut down because of fear that we are / will give ground to the idiots who make a sport of rape victim blaming.

    You’re right that Ms. Hynde’s statement could have been more nuanced. But I think it sucks that it’s so hard to talk about this without everyone wanting to retreat to safe ground, reiterate the message that rape is never ok. (And that the person who did stray from “on message” should have done so more elegantly.) This becomes a conversational obstacle.

    I’m guilty of it, too. Unrelated to the Hynde story, I’ve been thinking about a female friend, and the ways I have long been uncomfortable talking to her about certain aspects of the sexual violence that she experienced. It is a different kind of example in many ways, and there’s no need to go into that story and the story of She & I. The point here is that I have always been scared to get too near a line where she would feel blamed or like I am asking her to “account” for what happened. I am over-cautious in conversation, holding certain questions at bay and understanding my friend less well for it. And this silence seeps into other conversations about women and sexual violence in our broader world.

    In both stories, there’s a challenge holding one thing as unequivocally true while still looking at other angles — I think that’s what keeps the conversation from being more appropriately complex. It’s so difficult to talk about this without wanting to append another disclaimer that rape is awful and never a woman’s fault. Clearly a nuanced conversation conversation is not occurring (and won’t occur) in the internet media, where things are so easily twisted and reactions are rarely subtle.

    I wish I had some idea where to go from here. But I enjoyed reading your post (and the article) because it at least got me thinking more about the origins of these anxieties that have been on my mind.

    1. I agree.

      I often feel the same way, incidentally, about “abortion,” where the hardness of the two sides has made all sorts of things that are clearly true and SHOULD be non-controversial (like that whatever it is that a fetus is, it’s definitely a “life,” and that for some women, in some circumstances, it might NOT be a difficult decision to have an abortion) are somehow rendered outside the realm of discourse.

      With rape, you are right. You see the lengths I went to – I, a guy who writes for a tiny audience that mostly knows me, and knows that I don’t condone rape, that I don’t excuse it in ANY circumstance – to be crystal clear that yes, “RAPE IS ALWAYS WRONG, NO MATTER WHAT.” I shouldn’t have needed to say all that, all those times, and I probably don’t/didn’t. But I felt I did.

      Here’s another thing about rape we can’t say: some women have been raped and it’s been no big deal to them. They haven’t attached an enormous amount of meaning to it, and the place it occupies in their psyches is not much different than the place my muggings occupy in mine. Don’t we do women a disservice when we ELEVATE the violation of rape, when we treat it as a crime always and in every instance somehow DIFFERENT than all others? Not saying it isn’t, it can’t be. But maybe it isn’t ALWAYS. And maybe, just maybe, when we do that, we actually worsen the impact of rapes on those who are raped.

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