A survey done by the BBC indicated that almost three quarters of women said if a victim got into bed with the assailant before the attack, they should accept some responsibility. One third blamed victims who had dressed provocatively or had gone back to the attacker’s house for a drink. The survey consisted of 1 000 people in London and indicated that women were less forgiving than men of rape victims.
Recently, Joanna Lumley, of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ TV fame, stated: ‘Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight. This is bad…. It’s not me being an old woman talking to young women, it’s just standard practice for how our species should behave. Don’t behave badly … because somebody will rake advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.’
It seems that we are not only fighting against men when we talk about victim blaming.
Yes, feminists believe that women are adults who must take responsibility for their own decisions, but they should not be blamed for the decisions made by men. Especially when men ignore a woman’s desire not to engage in sex. Rape doesn’t follow a dress code and the only person responsible for a rape is the person who commits it. Rape is rape. No amount of alcohol or tight clothing can change that.
But why are women, who should be able to empathise and support each other, blaming each other?
Feministe’s Cara Kulwicki writes that women are taught from a young age that the responsibility for ‘getting raped’ lies with them. Society teaches them, ‘Do not get raped’ instead of teaching men, ‘Don’t rape’. As they are more likely to be recipients of the message to not become victims of sexual assault, they are also more likely to internalize them and project them onto other women.
This isn’t just an issue of cultural learning though. It’s also a way for women to rationalize and make sense of rape, as well as to distance themselves from rape victims: I won’t be attacked because I’m not one of those girls. These rules create the illusion of control; if you abide by them, you’ll be safe. Thinking of rape as it really is – a random, unwarranted violation – can be terrifying and paralyzing. It’s much easier to think about an assault as being predictably triggered, and therefore preventable. It’s a suit of armour women can put on to feel safe.
Do you think there are circumstances in which the victim can be blamed for being raped?
Michelle Hattingh, CT Intern