WHAT IS IT? What this one means seems pretty straight forward, pretty obvious and pretty damn horrible. ‘I’d never blame a victim’, ‘I’d never support that,’ ‘No one that I am friends with would do that.’ … and yet it seems to be happening everywhere. Everywhere. Instead of blaming the person who committed a rape, sexual assault or other violent crime, ‘victim blaming’ is where we blame the person it happened to.
Some examples are screamed from newspaper headlines: ‘Rape A Risk For Those Who Don’t Act Sensibly,’ ‘More Rapes Linked To Young Women On Drinking Binges’.
But some of the more awful comments are posted anonymously online in response to a story. On the night of August 11, 2012, an unconscious high school girl from Steubenville in the USA was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped by her peers, several of whom filmed it all and shared it through social media. When it was reported, the internet exploded with people who had an opinion about it. “Maybe if you don’t want to get raped, don’t get blackout drunk”. “That whore was asking for it” and “Be responsible for your actions ladies before your drunken decisions ruin innocent lives” (the ‘innocent lives’ that were ‘ruined’ were the lives of the young men who raped and assaulted her).
And these are just the things that are said publicly! Much more troubling are the things that we are taught and not encouraged to question – things like, it’s silly for a girl to go home drunk with a male friend, that guys always want sex and they can’t control themselves, she didn’t say ‘no’ so what did she expect?
SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT? These are the things that tell victims that it is their fault (like they don’t have enough to deal with). Worse – these are the things that tell rapists that their behaviour and their choices are not their fault.
When you think about it – we should be able to walk home without worrying that someone will rape us, girls should be able to go on a date without worrying if the skirt they choose says to the guy ‘I’m up for it’ (and just to be clear, whatever length, skirts say nothing. In fact, clothing can’t even speak), and no one should have to worry that if they get drunk that some loser is going to do something to them.
HOW DOES THIS LINK TO ‘RAPE CULTURE’? The message that all of the above sends to us is that rape is inevitable. Rather than teaching people not to rape, it tells us that we have to learn how to not get raped. That line of thinking puts all of the responsibility on the people who are ‘at risk’ of being raped. It teaches rapists that they are not to blame for choosing to violently control and violate another human being.
Another horrible thing that victim blaming does to help build a rape culture is that it offers no support to someone who has experienced rape. In fact it does the opposite. It tells them that ‘if they got raped, it’s their fault and if they don’t want to face that fact then they should shut up’. Victim blaming leaves the victim feeling responsible for a crime that was committed against them, isolated from support and humiliated. Victim blaming encourages people to stay quiet. And when people stay quiet, nothing changes.