The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde says women can be at fault if they are raped

Demonstrators march in a 2011 SlutWalk in Glasgow, Scotland. SlutWalk aims to raise awareness and challenge commonly held attitudes about rape and sexual assault. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, was raped more than 40 years ago.

She still believes it was her fault.

Hynde, 63, was raped at age 21 by a motorcycle gang member in Ohio who offered to give her a ride to a party but instead took her to an empty house and sexually assaulted her. Speaking to the Sunday Times Magazine, Hynde refused to condemn her attacker.

“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility,” Hynde said. “You can’t f— about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.”

“You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility,” Hynde continued. “I mean, I was naive.”

She summed up her experience by saying, “If you play with fire, you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”

Hynde was publicizing her new memoir, “Reckless,” and she talked at length about her feeling that women wearing revealing or provocative clothing were somehow responsible if they were assaulted.

“If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?” Hynde said. “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.”

[SlutWalks and the future of feminism]

Hynde’s attitudes about rape are precisely what women like Samantha Wright, the founder of SlutWalkDC, are aiming to challenge.

The global SlutWalk movement began in Toronto in 2011 after a police officer there said publicly that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid being raped. More than 200 SlutWalk chapters are scattered throughout the world and most have held annual marches since the movement was founded in 2011.

“The barriers to reporting [rape] are attitudes exactly like what Chrissie expressed, that these victims somehow brought these crimes to themselves,” Wright told The Washington Post, explaining the low reporting rates for sexual assault in relation to other crimes. “The strange thing to me is that in any other crime, the admission that the victim was just too tempting would be an admission of guilt instead of an excuse for perpetrating it.”

SlutWalk’s goal was to rebut the idea that women deserve to be raped if they are dressed in a particular manner, and more broadly, to eradicate victim-blaming.

[Runaways bassist Jackie Fox responds to bandmates Joan Jett and Cherie Currie after publicly accusing their manager of rape]

“Regardless of any excuse you can think of, whether it’s something the victim was wearing, what she was doing, whether she had sexual relations with the perpetrator before or whether she hadn’t, there’s no excuse to shame and/or blame her for any violence that’s committed against her,” said Wright, 27, who added that “there’s no reason to blame a victim for sexual assault.”

What made Hynde’s statements especially inflammatory is that she has been raped.

“If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and f— me’, you’d better be good on your feet,” Hynde said, adding, “I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial, am I?”

Said Wright, who is also a survivor of sexual assault: “It’s incredibly common for victims of sexual assault to blame themselves or find some sort of excuse for why it happened. That’s our culture. That’s rape culture. We’ve been entrenched with these ideas that if you behave in a certain manner or you dress in a certain way that you are able to reduce your chance of getting victimized and that’s just completely untrue.

“People are assaulted in full hijabs. They’re assaulted in pajamas. They’re assaulted while they’re sleeping. They’re assaulted by family members. They’re assaulted as children. Rape and sexual assault is a crime of power, not a crime of sexual attraction or sexual desire.”