Chrissie Hynde on Rape: 'If You Play With Fire You Get Burnt'


Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders, has just written what The Sunday Times refers to as “the rock memoir of the year.” In the book, which Hynde says could only be written once her parents were dead, the singer speaks frankly about her history of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But she’s also come under fire for blaming herself for her own rape and repeating the victim-blaming mantra that some women “just ask for it.”

Hynde, 63, who appears to pull no punches in her memoir, said some pretty shocking things to The Times about a sexual assault she suffered at the age of 21 at the hands of a biker gang and what she thinks of women who go out at night dressed inappropriately.

“Now, let me assure you,” she writes, “that, technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f*** about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges.”
It was distressing to read, I begin to say.
“Yeah, but those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.”
But to blame yourself, even now?
“Of course. Because 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…”
Exactly! Naive and vulnerable and they took advantage of that…
“They’re motorcycle guys! If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”

While that’s pretty shocking in itself (a victim is never responsible for their sexual assault, regardless of what “motorcycle gangs do”), Hynde went on to paint not just her own experiences, but the experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted in general, as under their own control.

I’m shocked to hear Hynde say that she thinks, as a woman, if you walk down the street drunk and provocatively dressed, then you can’t complain if you end up in trouble. She is similarly shocked that I don’t agree.
“If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?”
Er, the guy who attacks you?
“Oh, come on! That’s just silly. If I’m walking around and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged — don’t do that. Come on! That’s just common sense. You know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him. If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and f*** me’, you’d better be good on your feet… I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”

No, that’s pretty controversial. Not just because it’s a really sad way to think about sexual assault (it’s both judgmental and distancing), but because it suggests that women should dress not to be raped, that they should be able to tell which men are rapists so as not to “entice them,” and that women should understand that going out and feeling themselves is an option, but that sexual assault is the risk they take if they do.

These beliefs put the responsibility of preventing sexual assault squarely on the victim and go back to the tired myths that men have uncontrollable urges when it comes to being around (what they perceive) as a provacatively-dressed woman (a highly subjective and dangerous slope to slip down), that not dressing conservatively gives anyone the right to force sex against someone’s will without blame, and that women should be able to tell which men are rapists and which aren’t. This last idea is especially erroneous because A) men generally don’t wear signs around their necks which read “potential rapist! Beware!” and B) it suggests that most rapes are perpetrated by strangers, which, according to RAINN, isn’t true. In fact, the organization points out that approximately 82 percent of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.


Approximately 4/5 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.1
82% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.1
47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.1
25% are an intimate.1
5% are a relative.1

The Guardian reports that Victim Support, an organization devoted to helping rape survivor, has already come out against Hynde’s remarks, which could lead some people to feel even more shame than they already do when it comes to having been sexually assaulted. It’s no secret that many people already blame themselves or try to “find a reason” for why something happened. And that, unfortunately, contributes to misinformation about sexual assault, prevents survivors not coming forward to get help, and perpetrates the stigma that allows rape culture to flourish.

From The Guardian:

Lucy Hastings, the charity’s director, said: “Victims of sexual violence should never feel or be made to feel that they were responsible for the appalling crime they suffered – regardless of circumstances or factors which may have made them particularly vulnerable.
“They should not blame themselves or be blamed for failing to prevent an attack – often they will have been targeted by predatory offenders who are responsible for their actions.
“It is critical that nothing deters victims of sexual violence from coming forward to the police or to independent organisations so they can get the help and support they need.”

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Getty

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