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Book Review: How to Say No to a Rapist - And Survive (Storaska)
Reviewed by Lynn Wehrli
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Apr/May 1975


Frederic Storaska's recent book, How to Say No to a Rapist - And Survive, sets forth an inconsistent analysis of the cause of rape and contains very basic misinformation regarding self-defense techniques. Furthermore, Storaska's style is patronizing, self-congratulatory and generally offensive to the women readers for whom the book was intended.

In the chapter which deals with the cause of rape, the author initially avoids the usual mistake of blaming the victim through provocation and victim-precipitation arguments. Storaska states that "Your behavior and attire are your choice, and neither one - no matter how it might arouse or offend - justifies rape. Nothing does. In other words, I am saying that never is it the woman's fault in rape.

Further reading, however, proves that Storaska gives only lip service to this view. Later chapters abound with the implication that a woman's dress and behavior do precipitate rape, and that women are therefore responsible for being raped. For example, in reference to the use of chain locks as a security device, Storaska states that " ... when you open the door to determine the identity of your caller or to receive a package, you expose anywhere from one to three inches of your body, and if you're relaxing, what you are wearing may tease or entice the man on the outside." Here Storaska implies that it is a woman's appearance which precipitates rape, and that women do not have a right to wear what they want to wear. However, as Storaska stated earlier, and as rape crisis centers have learned, all women are potential rape victims, regardless of their appearance, age, race, socio-economic status, or their whereabouts at any particular point in time. Thus, the author contradicts his original statement, perpetuates the myth that it is a particular woman's appearance which provokes rape, and consequently shifts the blame back to the victim.

A second confusing aspect of Storaska's book involves the author's discussion of what motivates men to rape. Initially, he defines rape as an act motivated primarily by a need to humiliate and violate women, rather than by sexual impulses. Later in his book, however, Storaska argues that intimate, sexual behavior on the part of rape victims will often save them. For example, in confronting a gang rape, a woman is advised to spot the leader and tell him that she can respond better to him if the two of them are alone. Thus Storaska assumes that the promise of sexual intimacy will divert the rapist's attention from his original goal of violence. It is difficult to understand how one might substitute for the other.

These contradictions are only a few of the many which pervade Storaska's work. They are a result of the writer's inability to develop and maintain a thorough analysis of the social causes and implications of rape. While rape is an issue which has only recently been given serious attention, thorough analyses of rape have been developed by various feminist writers. Even the most basic of feminist literature on rape, however, is absent from Storaska's bibliography, which indicates that he has chosen to ignore the larger social and sexist implications of rape.

In his attempt to deal with the question of whether or not women should resist attack, Storaska argues that no form of resistance should occur until the last, desperate moment when the woman knows that she is about to be killed, and has no other hope. Women should neither scream, hit, struggle, or even run from their assailants before this moment. Implicit in his discussion of resistance is the idea that if a woman reacts aggressively, even after she has been attacked, she has initiated violence and is therefore responsible for any further violence committed by her assailant. Following these arguments, Storaska informs us that total surrender is also the "wrong thing", since by surrendering, women would be " ... abdicating all responsibility during the attack, including the responsibility you have to yourself."

If women should neither resist nor surrender, 'what options do they have? The writer's response to this dilemma is that when attacked, women should do whatever they can to "escape or evade" the attack. His suggestions here range from apologizing to the rapist if you initially strike out against him (to show him you're not going to struggle), lying down on the ground before he throws you down (to give him the impression you will be submissive), making up excuses about illnesses (to "encourage the rapist to look for some other woman"), to placing his hand on your breast (to show him that he can trust you.)

This kind of advice ignores even the most basic knowledge of self-defense techniques - both psychological and physical. To begin with, it ignores the effectiveness of an initial, aggressive reaction which transfers the element of surprise from the victim to the rapist. Many rapists seek out and expect vulnerable women, and often flee when they discover that their victim is not, in fact, helpless. Secondly, a prone position is the most vulnerable, defenseless position one can get into. Lying down to show that you will submit is quite simply, foolish. More generally, any advice which indicates that women should always or never resist attack is unsound. While it may be wise to submit to an armed rapist, women can effectively resist and prevent rape under other circumstances. Women must learn what all of their options are, and choose whose which are most appropriate to particular situations.

Even more important than the technicalities of self-defense, however, are the implications of Storaska's advice for the role of women in our society. To advise women never to resist the most violent, humiliating form of male aggression against women, is to ask them to return to their traditionally passive, accepting roles in our society. These are the very roles from which women presently struggle to free themselves. In this sense, Storaska's book represents just one more technique of male oppression, which we as women can clearly do without.