A common trait among my social circle used to be that everyone shared an obsession with bicycles. Few of us had or even wanted a car in the city, and having everyone on two wheels made it much easier to roam down our house party itinerary. Between all of us we had a deep well of metis to draw from; everything from which wheels to buy to the easiest way to make derailleur adjustments. We were naturally attached to our steeds and none of us wanted our bicycles to pull a disappearing act, and so we discussed ways to keep safe.
U-locks were ubiquitous and we’d warn each other of the brands that were still susceptible to the infamous pen trick. Some of us of the more paranoid variety installed locking skewers to keep expensive saddles or wheels latched in place. We’d even caution each other to check bolts anchoring bike racks to the ground, since the U-lock was useless if the whole setup could be lifted away. It wasn’t possible to reach full immunity but you never need to be the fastest gazelle to escape the cheetah, just faster than the slowest one.
Naturally, if anyone ever suffered the ultimate calamity of having their ride stolen, we would ask if it was locked and how. There was nothing sadistic about our inquiries. Our questions were problem-solving endeavors saturated with sympathy; we wanted to know what went wrong precisely to help others avoid the same fate. Maybe the local thieves discovered some new exploit in our standard security apparatus, or maybe this was just an opportunistic snatch while they left their bike unlocked outside during a quick peek inside.
“If you do X, you’re likely to get Y” is the format to an unremarkable factual observation. “If you leave your bike outside unlocked, you’re likely to have it stolen” is just reality and, on its own, is a statement that carries no moral judgment. If the victim wasn’t previously aware of this correlation, they are now, and are better equipped to evade a rerun.
The parallels to my actual point are probably getting obvious by now.
Kathleen Stock charges right into deconstructing the surprisingly enduring ritual of affixing the “victim-blaming” reprimand to any advice aimed at reducing the risk of sexual assault. Now, in case anyone needs the clarification: I believe that rape is way worse than bicycle theft. Nevertheless the principles at play here remain the same:
Still, given that rape, precisely, is so devastating, I think we have a duty to tell women about which circumstances might make their victimisation more likely, and which might make it less. To repeat — this is not victim-blaming, nor making women responsible for violations that men choose to commit. It is more in the spirit of “forewarned is forearmed”. This is how dangerous men behave, and these are the environments in which they become more dangerous. This is how you can try to reduce your risk, even if you can never eliminate it. No panacea is being offered. Nothing guarantees your safety. Still, a reduced risk is better than nothing.
Consider the victim of the unattended bike snatch again. Imparting wisdom on the implacable chain of consequences is about the most compassionate thing you could do. They can choose to accept that advice, and if it is sound then they’ll be met with the disastrous outcome of…not having their bike stolen. Or they can choose to reject that advice and adhere to the mantra that instead of putting the onus on cyclists not to have their bikes stolen, we should teach thieves not to thieve. In which case, best of luck with completely overhauling the nature of man; here’s hoping their bicycle budget rivals the GDP of a small country to withstand the inevitable and wholly predictable hits.