Everyone must be familiar with the old philosophical riddle: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Well, prompted by the news of the direct action taken in City Hall by a group of young feminists last week, and by this recent piece on DollyMix, I’ve come up with a new one: if you set off a rape alarm in your own home where no one can hear it apart from you and your perpetrator, then what the fuck’s the point of having one?

Actually that’s obviously a completely unrealistic scenario, as no woman is going to walk around inside her own house carrying a rape alarm, just as no woman is likely to spend much time lounging around her own gaffe wearing an electrified, can-fell-an-attacker-at-50-paces anti-rape jacket, or indeed sporting a viciously hooked anti-rape tampon, both of which also got a mention on DollyMix.

But when the reality is that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults happen in the home, then surely logic would dictate that any anti-rape device worth its salt should be designed to be used there? Not for in the street, or down a dark alleyway, where only a tiny percentage of these assaults happen, but for in the bedroom, the front room, in fact for any and every bloody room in the house.

In much the same way that the media tries to sell us the lie that women who dress demurely, don’t drink, and don’t walk about unaccompanied in dodgy areas in the early hours of the morning are unlikely to ever provoke a rapist, rape alarms, anti-rape jackets, and any other such merchandise designed to make women feel safer when going about their daily lives, feed into the myth that the only real rape is stranger rape, and that the only men women have to fear are the masked psychos hiding in the night-time shadows waiting to pounce on unarmed and unsuspecting passersby. As L said when we were discussing this a couple of days ago, they lull women into a false sense of security, especially when you consider that the majority of rapes are carried out by men who are known to and often trusted by their victims:

women are most likely to be raped by men they know (intimates, 54%, other known individuals, 29%); and a considerable proportion involve repeat assaults by the same perpetrator (50% in the last 12 months) (Walby and Allen, 2004). The Myhill and Allen (2002) report also reflected findings from other jurisdictions (Bergen, 1995; Easteal, 1998) that rapes by current and ex partners were the most likely to result in injuries. This profile also accounted for the most common locations, which were the victim’s home (55%) followed by offender’s home (20%), public place (13%) and elsewhere (13%).

A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases. Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan

The ‘myth of the safe home’ is well established in the literature surrounding violence against women. Evidence from the current study confirms that women are far more likely to be sexually victimised in their own home than any other location. Not surprisingly, nearly three quarters (74%) of incidents involving partners occurred in the victim’s own home and a further 16 per cent occurred in the offender’s home. This pattern is almost exactly mirrored for attacks by ex-partners. There is no way of telling how many of the ex-partners were in the victim’s house without permission (possible stalking scenarios). Attacks by ‘dates’ occur in a variety of locations, but are most likely to occur in the home of the offender….

…Women are also most often sexually victimised by men they know. Attacks by men who were the victim’s current partner at the time of the incident account for almost half (45%) of all rapes. The BCS found ‘strangers’ to be responsible for only 8 per cent of rapes.

Rape and sexual assault of women: the extent and nature of the problem. Findings from the British Crime Survey. Andy Myhill and Jonathan Allen

Now of course I’m not suggesting that every home should be fitted with a safe room or the latest hi-tech gadgetry  (although I did once live in a house that had attack alarm buttons on the wall on either side of the bed, that when pressed set off an ear-splitting, loud, blue, flashing alarm on the outside wall of the house, and very safe I felt too!), because I don’t hold with the theory that all men are potential rapists, and I’m also not into scaremongering or promoting the idea that women should live their lives in constant fear.

No, what I am suggesting is that while a rape alarm may make a woman feel safer, it won’t in fact actually make her any safer, and that rather than putting the onus on women to do something to protect themselves from rape, whether that’s buying an alarm or signing up for self-defence classes, it might be an idea to concentrate instead on trying to find ways to stop men from raping.

Because, and I realise this might sound obvious to some, if men didn’t rape then there’d be no need for rape alarms. Simple as that.