Girly Thoughts

March 29, 2008

Victim Blaming, Part 1

Filed under: Gender,sexual assault — judgesnineteen @ 9:36 pm

I have another post in the works on this topic, but I felt the need to respond to some people on another blog and I figured it would be better to put some of what I already had written up here rather than to write it in a comment and then post it here again. Here’s the relevant section:

Belief: Women know they can get raped, so they’re supposed to be careful and responsible. If you don’t protect yourself, not only should you know better, but it’s actually your fault, to the point that it’s not completely the rapist’s fault.

This is an important distinction. The line between empowering women to watch out for themselves and blaming women for the crimes of others against them is a fuzzy one sometimes. But look. Let’s say you leave your door unlocked for a few minutes and someone steals your computer. Happened to a friend of mine a couple years ago. You might say, “What were you thinking? You have to lock your door every time you leave, even if you’ll be back in five minutes!” But you would never say “I don’t think the thief should be prosecuted. After all, you left your door unlocked. You were asking to be robbed*. It’s your fault.” No, she wasn’t asking to be robbed. We know very well that she didn’t want to be robbed. And the thief is still completely at fault, even if she did something dumb and could have protected herself better. But there’s giving her some of the blame by saying she should know better, and then there’s giving her some of the blame to the extent that you would let the rapist go free if you were on the jury. AND PEOPLE DO THAT. Do jurists let thieves go free because someone forgot to lock their door so it’s really their own fault/they wanted to be robbed? Because that would be news to me.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I sure didn’t say “What were you thinking?! I can’t believe you’d take risks like that! Shame on you!” when my friend told me about this theft. She was in tears, she just had her computer stolen. What kind of heartless person would I be to start telling her to feel worse about it? And what good would it do, now that the damage was done? But people say things like that women who have just been raped, which I have to imagine is a hell of a lot worse than being robbed, and even more irreversible.

I also had a friend of a friend who jaywalked – already definitely her fault, definitely something for which she should be blamed, because it’s against the law – and got hit by a car and put into a coma for months. She’s out now, but will never be the same. Yeah, I got more careful about crossing the street. But I wouldn’t shame her for it, look at her! Who could rub it in her face? People must not realize that rape hurts, or they wouldn’t be so willing to treat people who are already suffering so much like criminals. Or…well, I’ll leave my other theories for later.

And of course, let’s not forget that women have been told all of this “don’t do this, don’t do that or you’ll get raped” their entire lives. I don’t want to hear any more about how I need to protect myself, I fucking know. You don’t think when I went to get coffee with a guy and he ended up taking me to his friend’s apartment that the first thing that went through my mind was “Dear God please don’t rape me”? You don’t think we all clutch our keys when we walk at night, you don’t think there’s a reason girls travel in packs, you don’t think my school gave out rape whistles as if that was going to fight the very real problem of sexual assault on college campuses (which is not the kind of sexual assault that whistles generally help with)? I fucking know, we all fucking know. You know what people don’t know? Men don’t know what counts as sexual assault. Surveys show that more men will write that they did x, x fitting the definition of sexual assault, than will write that they actually did commit sexual assault. Which either means they’re in denial or they just don’t realize that what they’re doing is rape, and I’d think it’s some of both. So how come there’s still so much more emphasis on teaching girls to fear than on teaching guys to ask?

And, PEOPLE GET RAPED WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING “WRONG”. Yes, that happens too. One more reason why education is more effective than fear-mongering. Besides the fact that a lot of fear-mongering focuses on jump-out-of-the-bushes stranger rape instead of the more common acquaintance rape.

But instead, when you try to teach people about consent and sexual assault, guys complain. A lot. “But IIIII would never rape anyone!” First of all, a lot of the guys in that survey “would never rape” either. Secondly, we can’t tell who’s going to rape by looking at them, so be a teensy bit compliant and help us educate whoever would rape. Thirdly, it’s really not that much to ask, considering you want me to think about what every drunk asshole would think he was entitled to do to me based on my clothing while I get dressed every day, considering you expect me to go everywhere with a chaperone after dark, considering rape ruins people’s lives. Fourthly, not being a rapist doesn’t earn you a medal. You can still learn things like how to intervene if someone else is going to be assaulted, etc.

In the end, I think there’s more affecting the victim-blaming point of view than just “well, the world isn’t perfect, you have to take precautions,” because that sentiment is applied very differently to rape victims than to people in other situations. But I’ll delve into possible explanations later.

*Is “robbery” only when a weapon is used? There was no weapon, for the record. I just might not be very precise in my terminology.



  1. Thanks a lot for leaving the notice on my blog about this post. You really do a wonderful job writing about these topics, especially expressing sentiments that I have, but seem unable to convey very effectively. I am impressed.

    Comment by Amelia — March 29, 2008 @ 9:50 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t know, I tend to think things sound good until someone who disagrees with me comes and points out all the flaws in my arguments…but thanks. Reading those comments got to me, I think it was because those guys *weren’t* flaming misogynists, it reminds me how regular well-meaning people think this way. And maybe if it were just that, it wouldn’t be so bad, but those little remarks, that mindset, is part of such a big system. Anyway, I thought you wrote beautifully, and concisely. I’ll be back to your blog! Cool name, too.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 29, 2008 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  3. I completely agree: they aren’t “flaming misogynists” and their mindset is a part of a big system. Some of them do not think that it is worth discussing the issue because things will never change, which is also a problem.

    I do hope you make it back to the blog sometime! And a note: the post you wrote this response to was written by my friend, and a co-contributor, Kate. I just don’t want to be getting the credit for her writing.


    Comment by Amelia — March 29, 2008 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  4. Oh, sorry to Kate! I saw that there were two of you but I guess I didn’t look at who wrote that post.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 29, 2008 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  5. Thank you so much for this response to my post! I was so upset at reading the comments on my previous post, that I wrote that post at 2:30 in the morning. So, I truly appreciate the support and solidarity! Your post was thought-provoking and keeps furthering the revolution!

    Comment by Kate — March 29, 2008 @ 11:43 pm | Reply

  6. You’re welcome, and keep up the good work! It looks like most of your readers are new to the ideas you’re presenting, which means what you’re doing is really useful but also difficult – a lot of new concepts to pitch.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 30, 2008 @ 12:27 am | Reply

  7. I think you have a lot of valuable insight, and if you don’t object, I will be posting a link to your blog on Female Impersonator. If this is an issue, for whatever reason, let me know and I’ll remove the link.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks a lot for reading the blog.

    Comment by Amelia — March 30, 2008 @ 4:40 am | Reply

  8. No, that’s great, thanks! I’ll link to you too.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 30, 2008 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  9. “Men don’t know what counts as sexual assault. Surveys show that more men will write that they did x, x fitting the definition of sexual assault, than will write that they actually did commit sexual assault. Which either means they’re in denial or they just don’t realize that what they’re doing is rape, and I’d think it’s some of both. So how come there’s still so much more emphasis on teaching girls to fear than on teaching guys to ask?”

    I think this is a really important point and thank you for bringing it up. So what is a way to effectively educate men on what constitutes sexual assault and what consent really means? Should we start on the college campuses maybe?

    p.s. i’m linking your blog, i really enjoy it

    Comment by mestiza — March 31, 2008 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  10. Thank you, I’ll link to you too. I’d like to learn more about the immigration issues you write about. I’ll try to address your question soon – I’m still pretending to do my work instead of playing with my blog (but obviously I’m not fooling anyone).

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 31, 2008 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

  11. […] just wrote about consent and managed to get four posts out of the topic of victim-blaming, starting here. I have a feeling those are of higher quality than this is going to be, but I’m gonna give it […]

    Pingback by My Blog Against Sexual Violence post « Girly Thoughts — April 4, 2008 @ 7:44 pm | Reply

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