Conservatives Try to Retake Rape Debate With Hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape

A conservative blogger set off a Twitter firestorm with the hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape. Caroline Linton on its origins.

The Democrats’ Todd Akin? Or another case of Republicans’ comments on rape backfiring?

The conservative blogger SooperMexican started the trend: a hashtag called #liberaltips2avoidrape, which he said he started to bring attention to remarks by a Colorado state lawmaker—and Democrat—who said Friday that guns wouldn’t stop women from being sexually assaulted.

To give some backstory: the Colorado House of Representatives was debating a bill on banning firearms at college campuses. Presented with the argument that women could use guns to defend themselves, first-term Democrat Joe Salazar said that’s why “we have callboxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. Because you don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop a round at somebody.”

“It seemed to me to be condescending to women,” blogger SooperMexican, who wished to remain anonymous, said in a telephone interview with The Daily Beast.

He started the hashtag with one tweet to his 20,000-plus followers, in what he insists was a serious attempt to get the conversation going.

Conservatives quickly jumped on it, taking the opportunity to take some potshots at liberals—tweeting about how laws would be the only thing to protect women from rape, or women should “make friends with a conservative or libertarian hottie. Odds are, she’s packing.” Within 24 hours, the hashtag had already racked up 25,000 tweets.

Following the bill’s passage, the University of Colorado updated its online advisory for students to avoid a sexual assault, suggesting that a woman could “tell your attacker you have a disease or are menstruating” and “vomiting and urinating may also convince your attacker to leave you alone.” By Tuesday afternoon, the university backtracked, posting that its updated advisory had nothing to do with the bill or Salazar’s comments.

But the damage was done, at least in the viral world. In his blog posting following the start of the hashtag, SooperMexican wrote that “Conservatives want you to be able to shoot your attacker who is trying to rape you … Democrats want your only defense to blow a whistle, or vomit and urinate on yourself.”

By Tuesday afternoon, SooperMexican admitted “some people thought it was to mock the victims of that crime … I think some people took it a little bit too far.”

While he insists “I don’t own the thing,” he definitely has made his own pot-stirring tweets.

So it’s not too surprising that the debate also had drawn plenty of criticism, with many calling it in poor taste, “ignorant,” and “the worst of humanity.”

Despite all the anger on Twitter, the debate over the bill had already begun to wind down in the statehouse in Colorado, where the original bill banning weapons on campus had been proposed. On Monday, Republican State Rep. Lori Saine apologized to Salazar, saying she had “understood” that he said women didn’t know when they were being raped, although he insisted that’s not what he meant.

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But Saine wasn’t yet ready to throw her support to the bill. She also said her daughter would be heading to college in 10 years and “I can’t imagine her only option’s going to be to outrun her attacker to a call box … I think she’s going to be responsible enough to carry a gun.”

Salazar himself issued a formal apology on Monday, saying he is “deeply sorry” if he offended anyone with his comments. “We were having a public policy debate about whether guns make people safer on campus. I don’t believe they do.”

SooperMexican insisted that is his intention as well—to highlight the differences between conservative and liberal attitudes toward rape.

Calling Salazar’s comments “embarrassing,” the blogger insisted that liberals try to “make it seem like conservatives and Republicans are anti-women”—and that this whole debate is showing that they are protecting women by arming them.

Beyond all the controversy—both jokes and those lashing out against those jokes—the heart of the debate seems to be that not only do women need to be armed to prevent rape, but that conservatives are the ones looking out for women, not Democrats, who led women by nine points in the 2012 presidential election. That might be harder for conservatives to accomplish than a hashtag.