Plenty of people were worried when Rick Perry was appointed to the United States Secretary of Energy role — and it seems they had a right to be. Not only has Perry gone back and forth on his views on climate change, but he actually said in an interview Thursday that fossil fuels have a role in preventing sexual assault.
Just so we're clear: they don't.
Perry was at an event sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute on Thursday, and was interviewed on stage by NBC’s Chuck Todd and Axios founder Jim VandeHei, ThinkProgress reports. As protestors interrupted the event and demanded Perry to explain his pro-fossil fuel stance, Perry responded by extolling the positive benefits of electricity. According to him, sexual assault prevention is among those benefits.
So let's break this down. By saying that lights shines "the righteousness" on sexual assault he's essentially saying that people only rape other people in the darkness, because it's too shameful of an act to do when electricity is running through the wires of your home and into a light bulb.
But the most problematic implication of what Perry said, especially given how much sexual assault has been in the news lately, is the idea that something as simple as turning on a light bulb could stop sexual assault. It's like focusing on what a person was wearing when they were assaulted — saying that rape doesn't happen in the light takes blame off of the assaulter.
His statement is like telling everyone who's ever been sexually assault "If only you had turned on a light, this wouldn't have happened."
Reaction to his words has been swift — and angry. People are calling Perry out on Twitter, and Michael Brune, executive director of and environmental group the Sierra Club, has called for Perry to resign in a statement shared with Refinery29.
"To suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue," Brune says. "Women, and particularly women of color, are among some of the most severely impacted by the climate crisis, and it is these same communities that are most at risk of sexual assault. Rick Perry's attempt to exploit this struggle to justify further dangerous fossil fuel development is unacceptable. He does not deserve to hold office another day with these twisted ideas, and he should resign from his position immediately before he causes any more damage."
Some people, however, are defending Perry by saying that his words have been twisted. Perry was talking about the time he spent in Africa and what he really meant to say, these people claim, is that street lights and brighter neighborhoods would reduce risk of sexual assault for women in these communities.
While there might be some truth in that argument, the generalization that fossil fuels provide light and therefore prevent sexual assault because of "righteousness" still relies on dangerous and incorrect ideas about why people rape. And it has nothing to do with whether or not a light bulb was turned on.
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