No one has suggested that the murderer was not 100% responsible for Imette’s tragic death. But are we really “blaming the victim” in this case to suggest that certain minor precautions for a night on the town may have lowered the risk of danger for her? Or might lower the risk of danger for other young women like her? Should we follow the ideological route, as one woman in a chat room discussion on the case put it: “Yeah, we women should all stay locked up and afraid for our lives. Guess freedom in America is for men only, right? Might as well put long veils on us, lest we provoke the inner rapist…in men.” Is encouraging women to be proactive in protecting themselves as much as possible from danger (just as sensible men do, by the way) really tantamount to imprisonment or slavery?
It’s a question. But for a night out on the town the pragmatic approach is probably more useful. It goes something like this: regardless of the activity—whether it’s driving a car, crossing the street, cooking with gas, bowling, or bar-hopping—certain patterns of behavior expose you to more risk than others, and certain choices in conduct reduce risk. If you want to discuss the evils of patriarchy over drinks with strangers, just make sure you’ve got a friend you can count on close by. And just as you wouldn’t let a friend who’s drunk drive, don’t leave a friend who’s been drinking alone in a bar in the wee hours to fend for herself, no matter how much she protests or how fed up you are.
Here are the facts: Imette St. Guillen was at the bar at 4a.m. She was alone. She was drinking. At closing time, she was escorted out by a bouncer. The bouncer was convicted felon Darryl Littlejohn. If any—any—of these particular elements of the equation had been different, odds are Ms. St. Guillen would be alive today. You do the math. There are things we can do as a society to reduce risks like these, and things we can do as individuals to look out for ourselves and each other. It’s vital that we teach our boys to respect women, for one. It’s just as vital that we empower girls to act responsibly on their own behalf, so they never have to rely solely on “the kindness of strangers” at closing time.