This has come up a lot lately (not that it’s a new thing by any means) so I’m going to do a proper post on it. Firstly a warning that what I write might be triggering for people – if you don’t know what that means, do look it up.
Second, I’m going to be using a certain terminology, talking about men who are rapists and women who are victims, mainly because that accounts for the majority of cases.
However, not all of them – it’s important to remember that men can be victims as well and often they face even more stigma than women. It is, rather sadly, an accepted fact that women are often victims of sexual assault. For men, there is often a further element of shame attached if such a thing happens to them. This stops them speaking out and people think the problem is so small as to be insignificant. It isn’t.
Men get drugged, overpowered and frozen by fear, too. Assuming it’s all about the greater strength of a man overpowering a woman is part of the victim-blaming culture; “you didn’t fight back enough”. Sometimes you can’t, sometimes it happens too quickly for you to process – don’t act like you know better than someone who has suffered what you have not.
One (of fortunately few) personal analogies I have is when I was set upon by someone I used to go to school with. She (yes, she) had about 10 friends nearby and my reaction was to wait for her to get bored of punching me, which, fortunately, she did.
You won’t know the details of people’s experiences of attack and betrayal, so don’t presume to tell them what they should have done to avoid it.
It’s simple – the rapist should not have done what they did and they are the only party at fault.
Sadly, victim-blaming happens all the time, particularly in the case of women who have the misfortune to experience sexual assault.
There was one recent incident that has highlighted this fact. After an interview with a high-profile rape victim (she pushed strands of her hair into the car seats during her assault, which aided the conviction of her attacker), Eamonn Holmes makes a disgusting and completely pointless comment:
“Well, I hope you take taxis now”
Unfortunately a lot of usually considerate, sensible and caring people will respond to this and similar admonitions with comments along the lines of well it’s just good advice… taxis are safer… you can help to protect yourself etc. etc.
The response I got to my complaint was, pretty much as expected, disappointing.
Many thanks for your email. I was the producer on yesterday’s show and can absolutely assure you that Eamonn was certainly not suggesting that the victim was in any way to blame for this horrific attack, he was merely making the point for the benefit of viewers that it is generally safer to call a taxi than to walk the streets alone at night.
I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.
Sorry, but this is not an adequate assessment of the problem, and I’ll leave it for others to expand upon that.
None of us wish to be attacked. We all take precautions when we go out; these are common sense things, we have our instincts and we don’t like putting ourselves in danger. You don’t need to tell adults about these things.
Especially not after the fact. Put a woman in a low-cut top who’s had a few drinks in a room full of people – it doesn’t matter if they’re her friends or total strangers. Put her in another room with another set of people at another time – she has changed nothing, but her company may be different. She may have the misfortune to encounter someone who will assault her.
If you are careful not to use rape specifically as a term when asking people questions about it, a ridiculously high percentage of people will admit to thinking it’s somehow OK.
The culture-wide attitudes towards sexual assaults, responsibilities and rights are rather warped, it would seem. Unfortunately, people will vehemently defend their ‘right’ to tell rape jokes, to mash the term with other words to describe things (frape being one I really hate; when someone uses your facebook account to change your status) et cetera.
These things are intertwined with sexism and other archaic ideas, it’s a complex social and psychological problem that some try hard to combat, not least because the number of victims is so very high, all over the world; of course, rape is still used as a weapon of war in countries experiencing conflict.
The fact that many wish to dismiss it with jokes rather than reprimand their friends who make light of it says a lot. It’s ok to be a bit rapey, it’s just a laugh. She was asking for it, right?
The amount of friends I have who have, over time, revealed to me their experiences… I am now quite surprised if I meet someone who has not experienced sexual violence at some point. Most of those people had abusive partners, but not all. Sometimes “friends”, often family members, rarely total strangers.
How, pray tell, would changing one’s behaviour avoid such situations? I can’t see it myself. The girl in the low-cut top and the drink in her hand can be herself in many situations, but the only thing that causes her to be assaulted is her assailant.
Shaming women because of what they wear, how they behave… that’s what the slut walks were all about.
What is needed is a shift away from blaming women for what happens to them and to society rejecting those who commit crimes, and those who sanction them.
Recently I had a bit of a rant about a Metro article’s language when describing one of Vincent Tabak’s defence lawyer’s statements, somewhat prompted by a Welsh police force’s new poster that did the rounds on Twitter (right).
This again skirts around the fact that rapists cause rape, not women drinking or any other arbitrary behaviour.
Also, if one does express apprehension towards various people or situations, as a woman concerned for one’s safety, men will often pipe up with “hey, that’s offensive! Don’t assume all guys are rapists, that’s just sexist as well” or some other tripe.
You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to tell women they’re responsible for everything that happens to them, including crimes, then suck it up when you see them taking precautions or getting a ‘creepy vibe’ from someone.
If you’re making excuses for a friend you suspect of having dangerous attitudes towards women, stop and ask yourself if perhaps you could be educating him instead.
We are all daughters, some of us sisters and/or mothers – imagine members of your own family and friends. How would you feel if her friends made jokes about raping her, or took advantage of her when she was too drunk to be responsible for her own actions?
There’s a campaign with the slogan ‘men can stop rape’ – which I don’t entirely agree with based on what I said at the start of the post, but it is often true. Your laugh at that disgusting joke is part of the problem. Your unquestioning attitude, his admission of what he’d do to her if…
Stop blaming women. Start behaving like a civilised human being.