The sad truth of the matter is that so many of us have experienced sexual assault in a number of forms. When speaking with my friends, it’s not unusual for a handful of us to say things such as, “Yeah, I didn’t want to have sex with him, but I did.” This is always followed by a statement like, “It’s fine though,” or, “Don’t even worry, it’s no big deal.” Personally, I can recount a few encounters where I was forced to do something I didn’t want to do because I was too drunk or tired to stop it. In the very rare cases when I confided in my friends about these events, I got responses like, “Well you still did it, so it counts as sex. You weren’t raped, don’t say that.” Our society teaches people to doubt themselves and take the blame for situations like these rather than blame the people inflicting the trauma onto them.
What is Victim Blaming?
According to the Psychology Dictionary, “Blaming the Victim” is the “social and psychological phenomenon wherein the fault in a crime (rape, robbery, assault) is attributed to the victim. The victim is regarded as partly or completely responsible (to blame) for the accident or trauma.” Victim blaming is one of the most problematic issues that our society has to face, and it often occurs when women are assaulted.
“Men, women and children of all ages, races, religions, and economic classes can be and have been victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs in rural areas, small towns and larger cities. It is estimated that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a rape or attempted rape occurs every 5 minutes in the United States.” –Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
This is unacceptable. What’s even more unacceptable is that given these statistics, rape culture still exists. Rape culture is a culture that teaches boys and girls that rape is normal because of the way society views gender and sexuality. No person should feel as though taking advantage of another person sexually or physically is normal. Even more so, no person should take advantage of another person and then blame them for it.
When Do We Hear It?
These are some common statements that excuse rapists of their crimes and attribute the fault directly to the victim. Following are my rebuttals to these ignorant remarks.
“The victim was asking for it. They initiated it.”
Hearing comments like this just blows my mind. If a person were asking for sex, it would not be called rape – that’s the point. Rape is an unwanted sexual interaction. Whether someone began by initiating sex then changed their mind, or didn’t want to from the beginning, the conclusion is the same: they didn’t want to. No one asks to be raped. That’s the difference between voluntary and involuntary sex — the presence vs. the absence of consent.
“The victim was dressed a certain way, so they had it coming.”
This is 2015 people: women and men and everyone of any gender should be able to dress however they want without being attacked for it. When I go out dressed in revealing outfits, I expect to hear a shrewd comment or two about my “lack of self-respect,” but I should never expect to be sexually harassed or raped for it and hear people say I got what was coming to me. No matter how someone is dressed, it is never an invitation for rape. What someone wears cannot be held against them.
“The victim is lying.”
This one is tricky because there are cases in which people are found guilty of lying about being raped, but they are a small minority. I would personally like to believe that most reports of rape are truthful. Our society does not treat rape victims kindly; most people would not choose to go through that. I researched the amount of false rape reports there are in the United States, and my answers varied from 2% to 10% to an article that says we simply cannot know. However, expecting malintent and automatically assuming that a victim is lying is a huge impediment to social justice.
“The victim never said ‘no’ or ‘stop’.”
In a lot of cases of rape, the victim does not even have the ability to say no. This is sometimes due to intoxication. Sure the victim may have never said no, but did they even say yes? Lack of a “no” does not equal a “yes.”
“They were friends, they know each other — it’s not rape.”
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 4 out of 5 victims of rape know their attacker. 82% of sexual assaults were committed by a non-stranger and 47% of rapists are friends or acquaintances of their victims. If that’s not horrifying, I don’t know what is. It does not matter whether the attacker was a friend, acquaintance, relative, or even a boyfriend or girlfriend… rape is rape.
How Does This Affect Us?
Again, according to statistics from RAINN, 68% of sexual assaults are not reported and 98% of rapists will not even spend a day in jail. This is a problem and part of the issue is that rapists and attackers are not taking responsibility for their actions and in turn, the victims are. I can only infer that the fact that more than half of rapes are not reported is because victims are too afraid of getting their attackers in trouble or that they don’t believe their situation is serious enough to be called rape. If a rape is not violent, it may seem as though it wasn’t harmful enough to be reported or that it’s less of a deal, but it is not. Sexual assault does not solely have to have a physical affect, but it can have a mental or emotional affect as well; no one should have to live with those repercussions, but sadly they do. Along with this, most people do not even receive justice for it because their cases are kept secret, go unnoticed, or are undermined. This social stigma is affecting people everywhere and sustaining rape culture in our society.
How Can We Fix This?
It always starts with the younger generation and educating them about problems such as these. Rape culture stems from gender inequality and differences that are learned and taught at such a young age. The objectification of the body leads both girls and boys to view others as a means for personal satisfaction; it is dehumanizing, demeaning, and disrespectful. We should teach the children of this generation to respect others’ bodies despite what they see in the media. People must know that they cannot use their own strength or force as an advantage against other people. They need to know that they must never treat other people as objects and consent is ALWAYS needed. They must be informed of the serious potential legal consequences against rape and sexual assault (even though they are not always as serious as they should be) as well as informed of the potential repercussions of victims of these attacks. They must be able to realize that in any rape case, the rapists must be to blame and the victim should in no way be blamed. Walking alone at night, dressing provocatively, talking about sex, being flirtatious, and so on, are in no means an invitation for unwanted sex. We must teach everyone that no means no.
If you ever feel like you have no one to turn to, visit Safe Helpline or call the telephone helpline at 877-995-5247.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Recognized as the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organizations. Provides information, support, resources, and help to get you through. Carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims, and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.
RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-HOPE (4673) Available 24/7.
Provides victims of sexual assault with free, confidential services 24/7.
Men Against Rape
“Creating Cultures Free from Violence” Their mission is to mobilize men and use their political and cultural strength to create a culture free from violence, particularly men’s violence against women.
Even I, an educated sexual educator and feminist blame myself for parts of the times I’ve been raped and if that doesn’t show how pervasive this idea is I don’t know what does.
Thanks for writing this!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well; it’s something that is so engrained in our culture, yet highly ignored… we need to discuss it in order to fix the problem!