Telling women to get a gun is not rape prevention

A sample tweet from my mentions since Tuesday night.

Trigger Warning

On Tuesday night, I appeared on Hannity in a segment framed around the idea that giving women guns is the solution to ending rape.  I was on with Independent Women’s Forum’s Gayle Trotter who recently made the point that women need guns for self defense from rape and gun violence prevention is infringing on their second Amendment rights, as well as, putting them at greater risk for domestic violence and rape.

Obviously, I disagreed.  Giving every woman a gun is not rape prevention.  If a woman chooses to go out and buy a legal gun for self-defense, that’s fine.  But that shouldn’t be confused with actual prevention, which is really about stopping rapes before they happen and focusing on the sole party responsible: the rapist.

Since Tuesday, I’ve been bombared by conservatives on Facebook and Twitter purposefully misquoting and misunderstanding my point in order to call me dumb, bitch, idiot, and at worst threaten to gang rape common sense into me.  Charming.

My point still stands whether conservatives want to acknowledge it or not.  So when I said:

“I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.”  

I meant it.

Watch the clip (Transcript to come or if someone could put the transcript in the comments I will be forever in your debt):

Join the Conversation

  • Sam L-L

    That’s super screwed up, I’m really sad you have to deal with this. I briefly thought “maybe she could have avoided these horrible people by not going on that awful guy Hannity’s show” then quickly realized the bitter irony. Thanks very much for trying to bring some sanity and moral reasoning into that world.

  • Becca

    I think in this case it would be wise to share stories about how anti-rape campaigns that focus on men actually work, like this one from the Huffington Post:

  • Becca

    I think there are others out there, but I don’t have time to search more right now. I’m also inclined to mention that it’s clear there is a cultural connection with sexual assault, otherwise different countries wouldn’t have different rates of sexual assault.

  • Lauren Paulk

    Thank you so much for articulately re-framing the issue as it should be framed. You were brilliant and I’m so, so sorry that you’re experiencing such hateful comments for bringing a different perspective. Thank you again for putting yourself in this position so that this conversation can start to change.

    • Emily Sanford


  • Erin

    Zerlina, THANK YOU for speaking out and for your excellent argument. I am sorry that that meant exposure to thoughtless, cruel, ignorant people. Please know that there are many people who agree with and support you – we’re just not blowing up twitter :) Don’t let the bastards grind you down!

  • Kelsey Lynore

    I’m with you, Zerlina, and I really appreciate you going to bat for this issue. It’s very difficult to do. The judicial system needs to actually prosecute sexual assault. I’ll go one step further and say — sexual assault should be classified as a hate crime. Can you imagine the waves this classification might make?

  • Elizabeth

    I am a devoted Feministing reader, and have never gotten around to commenting before but just had to today because, Zerlina, you just really deserve the biggest props for that appearance.

  • Dawn

    Having a gun in your purse or on your person won’t necessarily help a woman who is walking and attacked from behind. It also doesn’t help if a woman is raped by some she trusts and has the gun locked up or in her purse on the other side of the room.

  • ELot

    Thank you for doing this, Zerlina! You were on fire in that interview and it means SO MUCH to survivors like myself and women everywhere. I’m so sorry this opened you up to these bat shit crazy threats and name-calling, but you did the right (and courageous) thing and I thank you for it!!!

    Watching this interview, Hannity is so clueless it makes my head spin. But the worst part is how he tries to make it look like he really cares about women, so that’s why he thinks we need to protect ourselves from the big, bad scary rapists out there. Please. Putting the onus on women to prevent rapes boils down to one thing: protecting rapist, which is really about protecting our hatred of women. We live in a world where it is terrifying for anyone and especially women to take a stand and fuss up this god-damned omnipresent and deeply rooted misogyny, but it is what we must keep doing. THANK YOU Zerlina!!!

  • Natalia Hacerola

    As a sexual assault survivor, activist and artist, I am inspired by Zerlina’s articulate and forward-thinking approach to rape culture.

    Here is the transcript she requested. If she is “forever in debt” as she mentions above for a transcript, please visit my site to see how I have been using my creativity to respond to my sexual assault and to uplift others.

    Similarly, I do not believe that violence is the effective response to violence. If I were lobbying for any defense tool in ADDITION to education, it would be a taser, not a gun.

    In the video and the below transcript it is fascinating to read/hear how Hannity tries to reappropriate the word “choice” and how he counters statistics with statements like, “Evil exists,” perpetuating fear-based thinking.


    “The arrogance of the Left was on full display yesterday in CO during a hearing on gun control measures. Democratic State Senator Evie Hudak lectured a rape survivor who was testifying that she wished that women would be allowed to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Now watch this exchange filmed by the Denver Post:
    “the harsh reality as a woman, is that a firearm is the one equalizing factor when met against an opponent much larger than me. The question of my life is, and will remain to be, what would have been different if I had been able to carry my firearm that night.”

    “Thank you for sharing your story. Very, very, um, unsettling story. I just want to say that, actually statistics are not on your side, even if you had had a gun. You, you said that you were a martial arts student, and yet, I mean, um, person, experienced in tae kwan do, and yet, because this individual was so large, was able to overcome you, even with your skills. And chances are, that if you had had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you, and possibly use it against you…
    “And the Colorado Coalition Against Violence says that (“May I respond to that?” “Just wait.”) for every, for every one woman who used a handgun to kill someone in self-defense, 83 were murdered by them.”

    Hannity: “And that statistic has been de-bunked, by the way, joining me now with reaction, Democratic Strategist, Zerlina Maxwell, Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, Gayle Trotter. This really angers me. She wasn’t there. She doesn’t know what this young girl went through. This young girl is saying, ‘If I had my gun, which I’ve been trained to use, I could’ve defended myself.’ She doesn’t know any better. What’s wrong with these people in CO?”

    Gayle: “Well, her comments are insulting and absurd because she’s trying to take away someone else’s personal choice. The second amendment, the statistics show, that the second amendment affects women mostly because it has a disproportionate impact.”

    Hannity: “But you know what, this is not the first time, Zerlina, and we were talking about it beforehand, about what, women have been recommended that they use whistles, and what, pens? That they faint, fake faint. Uh, urinate, puke on people, the most idiotic things that have been said by these arrogant, ignorant politicians out there.”

    Zerlina: “Well, I think that I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want women, I don’t men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Because it’s still putting it on me to prevent the rape.”

    Hannity: “You have written about this.”

    Zerlina: “I have, yes.”

    Hannity: “That this happened to you.”

    Zerlina: “And I was attacked by someone I knew. So you’re requiring, if what you’re saying works out in reality, not in a theoretical scenario. You’re requiring that I shoot someone that I know? That is not the reality. Two-thirds of women are attacked by someone they know.”

    Hannity: “Nobody’s requiring that you do it. I have carried a weapon my entire adult life. And I’ve had license to carry in five-to-five recent states that I’ve lived in. And I am trained. I am a marksman in the use of a pistol. I have been since I’m 11 years old. I’ve been a good shot. Only if women choose to. They ought to have the right. That ought to be their choice. And if you choose not to, I fully respect that. I would urge you to bring, every woman, to have some way to defend themselves.”

    Gayle: “And every year there are 2.5 million defensive uses of guns. Every year. And people have done these studies. Gary Kleck, he’s a life-long Democrat. He’s a member of the ACLU. So this is a legitimate study that shows that people use use guns to defend themselves.”

    Hannity: “And this is what they’re denying women. They’re telling them to use a ballpoint pen. A ballpoint pen? Seriously?”

    Zerlina: “That’s ridiculous, as well. But I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think that we should be telling men not to rape women. And start the conversation there with prevention.”

    Hannity: “Well, criminals aren’t going to listen to that. So, I agree with you, but…”

    Zerlina: “No, but we’re not talking about. We’re not talking about… I mean, yes, men are commiting a crime, but many of the men that commit rape are people that they know.”

    Hannity: “Criminals are not going to listen to Sean Hannity. No man should do that to anybody.”

    Zerlina: “You’re talking about it as if there’s some faceless, nameless criminal. When a lot of times it’s someone that you know and trust.”

    Hannity: “Well, I’m saying that women need to know that these situations arise, and we’ve gotta… Evil exists in the world. It, evil exists.”

    Zerlina: “We can prevent rape by telling men not to commit it.”

    Gayle: “No. That is a poor argument. That is not right. That is not right, no.”

    Hannity: “They aren’t going to listen. Criminals will not listen.”

    Zerlina: “We’re not talking about criminals, we’re talking about a cultural…”

    Hannity: “I want women to be able to protect themselves, don’t you?”

    Zerlina: “I want woment to be able to protect themselves, yes. But I want woment to not be in this situation.”

    Hannity: “I agree with you.”

    Gayle: “There will always be that situation.” (? Audio is unclear for this complete quote)

    Zerlina: “No. That’s not true. If you train men to not become rapists, you prevent rape. That is the core of the problem.”

    Gayle: “That’s not correct.”

    Hannity: “You think you can tell a rapist to stop doing what he’s doing?”

    Zerlina: “Yes. Yes.”

    Hannity: “And you think he’s going to listen to an ad campaign to stop?”

    Zerlina: “Yes. There are organizations that do this. Men Can Stop Rape. Men Stopping Violence. They train young men to not rape.”

    Hannity: “And you think you can stop EVERY rapist?”

    Gayle: “Over 90% of violent crime in the US occurs without a firearm. And when you look at these studies that say that women are more likely to be raped than to be able to defend themselves, the issue is that the studies don’t take into account…”

    Zerlina: “If firearms were the answer, then the military would be the safest place for women, and it’s not.”

    Hannity: “But knowing that there are evil people, I want women protected, and they’ve protect themselves. Thank you both. I’m sorry that happened. It shouldn’t happen to anybody.”

  • Heidi

    Zerlina, I’m another devoted Feministing reader who has never commented on the site before, but I am so horrified by these attacks on you that I needed to say something. I am awestruck by your ability to stay calm and articulate the root causes of sexual violence onscreen in an interview like that. Thank you, THANK YOU for being an amazing person and speaking out on behalf of so many of us. I am appalled and sickened by the trolling. What can we do to help? I am not sure if someone is already working on a transcript, but if you still need one, let me know!

  • Cris (without an H)

    I have a transcript almost finished, if you don’t mind waiting until Friday morning for it.

  • NinjaFlea

    I feel naive in that I don’t think I fully appreciated how people simply do not understand that rape isn’t some act of nature. Its as if there was no actual perpetrator, actually responsible, in their minds. I come here a lot but only made an account today, because I really wanted to say that I thought Zerlina was totally incredible. Not only was your message something that clearly needs to be continued, but also your patience- I can’t believe how much you kept being talked over. If that’s not indicative of inherent power imbalance I don’t know what is.

  • Amy

    Zerlina, thank you for your bravery. I know that there were people out there watching you on that show and realizing that they’d been thinking about this the wrong way the whole time. You are the voice of reason and it’s so great that you’re speaking up. Thank you!

  • Jack Fields

    NEW YORK STATE WE ASK YOU TO ENFORCE THE LAWS: Fighting Violence Against Women Is Critical. Empty Words and Presidential Mandates Mean Nothing Unless Applied. New York State has been enabling violence against women through the Courts. Abuse against women come in all shapes and sizes. Although the our Country’s Most Notoriously Corrupt Judge, Laura Drager is now entering her “swan song” of being on the bench and hundreds are calling for her removal at, New York State turned a blind eye, to child abuse, vicious domestic violence, and unlawful seizure of the assets of decent hardworking women.

  • Caitlin

    The problem here is that people just think of like SVU type violent rapes, which are awful and disgusting, but the majority of rapes are “date rapes”. How would a gun help you if you’re passed out drunk, or if you’re being intimate with your partner but aren’t ready to go to the next step when they force you. Men need to be taught how not ok it is to take advantage of women under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, if i were carrying a gun and a man was able to overtake me, like in the awful example in the beginning of the video, I would be scared that they would use it against me. If they can physically overpower you they can definitely grab a gun out of your hands.

  • Lindsay

    Zerlina, thank you for speaking out about this! I’m so sorry that you have gotten these terrible responses. I don’t understand why this is such a controversial thing. You were spot on – the onus should NOT be on women to carry guns and pepper spray (especially when it is too easy for a stronger person to use those things against them).

    And when the vast majority of rapes are committed by men – whether against women or other men, then yes, we need to focus on teaching MEN not to rape and respect others’ bodily autonomy. I do not understand why there is such outrage against this!

  • Dale

    Just saw Josh Marshall’s post over at his site, and felt compelled to express, as a man, my solidarity with you and your comments. It is obviously clear that while women have a right to bear arms as much as any man, the way to end rape and other violence against women by men is for men to stop doing it. The argument that women should just arm up is as preposterous as the argument that women should dress down, or worse – as in the case in some other countries – shelter themselves indoors in order to avoid predatory males. Why should the onus be on women to not get raped? Any argument that starts there is nuts to begin with. Good on you for standing your ground, and shame on others for behaving so badly in response. Keep up the good work, Zerlina.

  • Andrea Sonnenberg

    Teaching men not to rape WILL work because so many men really do not get what rape IS. They grow up hearing that “no means no,” but they never hear about what consent (or better, enthusiastic consent) is. Additionally, we have a society of children — and particularly boys but girls too — who are pushed to take what they want because it will never be “given” to them. Sex is seen not as a joyful coming together but instead a cheap commodity: “I took her to dinner; she owes me.” We have a generation or more of men who truly do not know what rape is. Rapists to them are the bad guys lurking in the shadows. They don’t realize that when they look in the mirror after a night with a girl who did not actually consent to sex, they are looking directly into the eyes of a rapist.

  • Maurice Harris

    Just read about the horrific and hateful tweets and messages you’ve been receiving (on Talking Points Memo), and I felt moved to register an account and post a comment of solidarity on your site. As a rabbi and an adoptive parent of a daughter, I want to wish you blessings in your courageous and morally-centered work. May you be strengthened whenever people treat you with disrespect and intimidation, and may you receive great gifts of serenity and self-contentment in knowing you are trying to share from the heart with integrity.

  • Noam Brown

    Zerlina, you were AWESOME! It’s really hard to get a point across clearly when there are two people shouting you down in a clear attempt to silence you, but you managed to do it beautifully. I appreciate you mentioning Men Can Stop Rape as an example of an organization working to end rape by focusing on the responsibility that men have in ending this rape culture and redefining the role men should play in our society, i.e. their Men of Strength campaign. I’ve been a fan of theirs for years and have used their materials on many occasions.

    Thank you for your courage to simply make sense in the face of such loud ignorance. Why is the conversation about the right to wield a gun rather than the right to not be raped?? I’m seeing this after a weekend of reading Andrea Dworkin who was making the same point you were making in many of the essays I was reading. All these years later and the conversation is still all wrong.

  • Bucho Sanchez

    Hi Zerlina,

    Just read about the fallout from your Hannity interview, and it made me alternately incensed and depressed. I wanted to post some words of encouragement for you, because I truly believe in the message you are trying to promote.

    As Becca mentioned above, educational campaigns aimed at men have been proven to be successful. Though it’s a small sample size at this time, it’s very encouraging news. I would love to see funding for national campaigns targeted on this very message so that many girls born in the future won’t have to face the harsh reality that many women today face. Some studies have shown that as many as ONE IN FIVE women polled had been raped at some point in their past.

    So… I applaud you for having the strength and courage to go into the lion’s den and do your best to raise awareness. Thank you for being amazing.

  • Rebecca Balog

    They just didn’t want to be derailed from their agenda. The agenda was NOT preventing rape they simply wanted to provide another angle for their gun campaign- Which I do not disagree with carrying a weapon. But, I do agree with you and value you as a woman preventing rape is ACTS OF PREVENTION and is not the responsibility of the individual in the moment to “prevent” it on a larger scale.

    Good for you! Let’s work harder to prevent rape overall.

    Sad you were not heard- but they wouldn’t hear it would they? Their agenda was the gun issue- any and all angles for fanatics to adopt is a self-serving opportunity. They did not actually care to discuss rape. But, thank you for being the voice of reason- the rude comments are indicative of fanatical minds- these people are rude to you because you are advocating for ending sexual assault????? What???? xoxoox and blessings! Rebecca

  • Nick Taranko

    I read your story on TPM – the comments, though hurtful and showing the worst side of humanity, do reinforce the point you were making. They are part of the problem.

  • Ushur Whittock

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I’m a guy, but sometimes, when I see the sickening things that other men do, it almost makes me ashamed to be one of them.

    I don’t know whether these scumballs are so dumb that they don’t understand what you’re saying or whether they know and are lying about what you said, but either way, well, they’re the scum of the earth. Again, I’m sorry you have to deal with this. But at least you can go to bed each night knowing that you’re doing the right thing. That’s something, I guess…

  • Anthony Ross

    Zerlina, I just wanted to say I am so sorry about what you are having to deal with for speaking the truth, and that I stand behind you. It’s appalling and just another example of how far we have to go. You’re not alone in this.

  • Lewis R. Lowden, DAV

    For Hannity
    Is fantasy

  • kelsey

    Thank you for speaking out. I think the most important part of this is saying if guns were a part of rape prevention, then the safest place for women would be in the military.. and it is DEFINITELY not! Watching “The Invisible War” could put that into perspective for anyone.

  • kelsey

    i also forgot how important it is to mention that, let’s say a woman did possess a firearm.. let’s also say that maybe the rapist was unable to gain control of the firearm and the woman could use it and DID use it. Then what? She goes to the police and tells them she shot her attempted rapist? So many rapes that DON’T involve firearms go unreported because they fear the police won’t believe them… and who can blame them? They’re put through the ringer to insure they’re not lying.. So now you’re telling women to shoot their rapist? Also keeping in mind that most rapes are by someone you know.. and trust? What will happen to the woman then? It’s a point that needs to be made..

  • laeiryn

    If I were to walk up to someone and punch them in the face (for any reason), would I be absolved of having committed assault simply because they didn’t “protect themselves”? Of course not. So who in their right mind thinks it should go that way for rape? Educating men about what rape actually is IS the first step. Too many are convinced that rape means having sex with someone who has already said no. But consent has to be given. It’s not the default setting – there is no, “I’m fair game until I tell you I’m not.” It’s, “The answer is no until she says yes.” And too many people get very, very upset when you tell them this. I don’t understand why.

  • Feminist Bhai

    Thank you, Zerlina. You’re so right.