Day 21 of my A to Z Challenge. V is for Victim Blaming.
If you don't know how this works, I've posted the link back to the rules of the challenge at the end of this, along with a link to yesterday's post. If you want to read my full alphabet, just keep following the links. Each day has a link back to yesterday's post.
Have you ever read something that's stayed with you long after you finished reading it? That's how this post came about. I had actually planned the letter V to be about villains in TV shows, movies and books. Then last week I read this post http://www.handbagmafia.net/rape-culture-how-we-can-effect-change/ on the Handbag Mafia blog. Have a read it's extremely thought provoking! I read the post and left a comment, and I thought that would be the end of it, but it's stayed with me, and compelled me to write this post.
We, as a society, have got to stop blaming the victim for crimes committed against them. I will use rape/sexual assault as the example here, primarily because that's what the original post was about, but also because it seems that the blame the victim defence is used most often in these cases, although it's not unheard of for it to be used for other crimes.
So picture the scene. A woman goes to the police station to report a rape.
Is it appropriate to ask what she was wearing, for any reason other than to gather potential forensic evidence from her clothes? No, of course its not.
Is it appropriate to tell her she should have stuck to a well lit, populated street, or to have been accompanied by someone else? No, of course its not.
By asking these questions, and trying to determine if the woman in question in any way made herself a target, it is surely diluting the severity of the trauma she has just experienced. it reminds me of the stereotypical "Old Boy's Club", where even the people assumed to be on the side of the victim are placing a metaphorical reassuring hand on the rapists shoulder and saying "Don't worry mate, she had it coming."
I whole heartedly agree that someone else's actions should never be turned on the victim. It makes it so much harder for victims to come forward if they think there is even a remote chance they will be made to feel like they are on trial too.
On that note, I will openly admit to using phrases such as "If you walk down there alone at night you are asking for trouble". I have said this in the hope that people will think twice putting themselves in a dangerous situation. I have never, and nor would I ever, said that to someone who has been attacked. I really believe there is a world of difference between saying that as a warning to someone, and saying it to make someone feel responsible for something someone else has done to them. Perhaps it's a wording issue? There are probably hundreds of different ways of wording the warning, but ultimately, the meaning is the same.
Here's some of the things I've heard people say women (I realise men can also be the victim of rape/sexual assault. I refer mainly to women here because I've yet to hear of a man being raped and anyone saying "Well what did you expect when you're dressed like that/walking down there/leading him on". I appreciate this may well have happened, but I can only go on what I've heard, and I am in no way trying to trivialise sexual assaults on men) should be able to do without fear of attack:
*They should be able to wear whatever they want to
*They should be able to walk alone down an unlit street at 2am if they choose to
*They should be able to meet a man in a bar and go home with him for coffee/drinks with no intention of sleeping with him
*They should be able to flirt with a man and then still say no to sex
I am not even going to begin to list every scenario, these are just the ones that crop up the most in my experience.
Do I agree that a woman should be able to do all of these things without worrying she is somehow "asking" to be attacked? Yes, of course I do!
In an ideal world, she would be able to. But this isn't an ideal world, and the sad fact remains that women can't do these things without the fear of attack. The fact remains that there are sexual predators out there who will see a woman in these situations as an opportunity.
And while I think blaming the victim is unhelpful, inhumane and just plain wrong, I still think that we have to educate young women about the very real dangers out there (I also think we should be educating young men on active consent, but that's another post).
Again, in an ideal world, it would be great to sit a group of teenage girls down and tell them they can do all of these things without the fear of being attacked, but if we do that, I think we are putting these girls in very real danger.
The fact that they should be able to do those things, doesn't mean that they can.
We need to educate young girls to see that although they do have a right to do all of the above things and more and still be safe, that that isn't actually the case.
We need to teach them about safety as well as women's rights. After all, you should be able to go on holiday and leave your doors and windows unlocked and not be burgled - but you wouldn't advise that same group of girls to do that, because you know this isn't an ideal world, and bad people will see an unlocked house as an opportunity.
To finish, I implore you, if you are in a position to influence the education of young girls, whether as a teacher, parent, social worker or any other way, please, please don't put women's rights issues before safety.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
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Link to U Is For Uncle Sam: http://www.myrandommusings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/u-is-for-uncle-sam.html