I first saw the Melissa Bruen story on Feministing, but Rad Geek just put up a good post about it and I decided to mention it in light of victim-blaming. Both these sources already did this, but I figure I’m on such a roll with the victim-blaming thing, I’ll just keep tabs on stories that prove it wrong and maybe someday someone can make use of it.
Here’s the deal: a college woman acted in a reasonably safe way and it didn’t work. She worked to make the event more safe and knew there were lots of people and police around when she walked on the path by herself. And when she was assaulted, she fought back, just like one would assume people want her to do by the way they provide self-defense classes for women with the intent of helping them fend off rape. Well, she did fend off any potential rapes, but because she beat off her original attacker and yelled that he had assaulted her, another guy, saying “You think that’s assault?” assaulted her again. Other men watched and instead of helping her, cheered for the assault.
FIrst of all, I find the likelihood that all men involved in the assaulting and cheering are sociopaths. I think probably they’re fairly normal guys, and that’s what makes this scary. This didn’t happen because somebody had a screw loose. Maybe that first guy did, but the whole crowd didn’t. This happened because we have a culture that permits and fucking cheers for sexual assault.
But more specifically on victim-blaming, doing what she was supposed to do didn’t work. In order to avoid this situation, she would have to sit at home and never go out like normal college students. And don’t think no one has ever been raped while sitting at home, that’s actually a very common place for rapes to occur. She fought back, but guess what? That wasn’t what the rape culture kids actually wanted. The second attacker’s words and actions show that self-defense, while helpful (and it did help her), is not enough. What was missing from the equation was change on the part of the perpetrators. Putting the burden on the victim doesn’t work. We have to change the culture that permits and even promotes rape. We have to change the masculinity that leads men to cheer for sexual assault and to answer one assault with another instead of with aid. They are the ones with a problem here, not Melissa Bruen.
Oh, and please dispense of any “victims were asking for it/wanted it” arguments forthwith. Bruen showed clear opposition to being sexually assaulted after the first incident, but the second incident happened all the same.
But is it true? Innocent until proven guilty!!: This isn’t a trial. I don’t think she even knows who did it, so no specific people are being accused here. I am inclined to believe people when they tell their stories of sexual assault, especially if they a) claim that it happened at a time when others could answer to whether it happened that way or not, b) admit to not know who did it and therefore couldn’t be just trying to slander a particular person, c) don’t have anything like pregnancy or being caught having affair to cover up for and don’t have a story that would even be able to cover up for those things, and d) give their real names to the press, opening themselves up to very painful critiques.