15 February, 2010

Idiot's Guide to Blaming Rape Victims

Below is a handy cut-out-and-keep list of all the situations in which it is acceptable and right to blame the victim of a sex attack for their own misfortune:


Now, you may notice a lack of actual situations presented. And the reason for this is quite simple. It's never acceptable. A recent survey suggests that 71% of women think a victim who dresses provocatively, goes back to the attacker's house for a drink or gets into bed with their attacker ought to take some blame for what happens. This is, of course, horseshit.

I don't get the cult of victim blaming in rape cases. When a man is mugged, do we question whether or not he was 'asking' for it? Maybe he was dressed too smartly, made himself look like rich pickings. How stupid of him to wear expensive clothes! He was practically asking to be targeted. Particularly if he was walking around late at night, all by himself.
Maybe he'd given money away in the past, quite willingly. A man with a history of giving money away surely can't be surprised when the police don't believe the money was taken from him forcefully.
We don't make these assertions because they are utterly ridiculous; the blame lies squarely with the person BREAKING THE LAW, the perpetrator. In no other crime is the victim so harshly scrutinised, so quickly judged.

Listen. It's very simple. If I go out at 11pm at night, by myself, and I'm wearing lipstick and a short skirt, and Cod forbid, I am raped, it is not my fault. If I meet a guy at a bar and agree to come back to his for a drink and he decides to take things further against my will, it is not my fault. It is the fault of the man who decides that these factors make me fair game. He should have the presence of mind, the self control and the decency to realise that I am a human being, not a disposable fuck rag, and treat me as such. Unless I specifically state that yes, I would like sex with him at that time, he has no right - NO right - to force that upon me. My clothes, my company, and even my presence in his home are not qualifiers. They do not render me his possession, therefore there is no reason to assume the light is now green. To suggest these are valid reasons is to simplify rape, to dehumanise the victim - the rapist is no less in the wrong if the victim is butt naked than if she is wearing a full suit of body armour. The crime is exactly the same.

Men are not incapable of self control. They are perfectly reasonable, intelligent human beings capable of knowing right from wrong. Painting them as helpless brutes enslaved by their hormones and primal instincts, clubbing women about the head and dragging them back to their caves because they just can't help themselves, not with all that temptation, is massively disrespectful to men on the whole and does a disservice to them. Men know that to force sex upon women against their will is an act of violation. It's not like there's any ambiguity about this, not when you actually use your brain.

It's very simple. Unless she clearly consents, you are raping her. A short skirt is not consent. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine in your living room is not consent. If you make the logistical leap from "a woman has agreed to come to my house" to "a woman has agreed to have sex with me" then the blame lies squarely and clearly with you. So when Rich, UK makes the following post on a BBC message board, I can't help but think he's a) an insensitive dick and b) completely misguided on what constitutes the conduct of a decent human being around a highly vulnerable woman:

Sadly, the main reason my marriage ended was because my then wife couldn't take any responsibility for her attack. Rape is wrong. But if a woman on medication for bi-polar disorder that specifically says not to drink alcohol, decides to go out on her own and drink herself into a stupor, cavort with various men in a sexual manner and agree to leave a nightclub with a man, then gets attacked, some blame must surely be attributed to her as she ultimately put herself at risk.

The philosophy behind victim blaming is not particularly complex. It's known a the 'Just World Theory' (or sometimes the 'Just World Fallacy') - People to want to believe that the world is just and fair. This is their personal comfort zone, and when they are thrown out of their comfort zone by witnessing something which is inexplicably unjust - such as rape - they will attempt to rationalise it by finding reasons to blame the victim for their own misfortune. They can maintain their belief in a just world, but only by blaming the victim for something that was not, objectively, their fault. Their comfort zone remains undisturbed. They feel safer; they know that such an injustice won't happen to them because they won't invite it upon themselves like the rape victim did. As a form of defence, it's equivalent to sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending that not hearing something means it didn't happen.

A 1999 study by social psychologist Linda Carli shows victim blame in action. From Wikipedia: Female and male subjects were told two versions of a story about an interaction between a woman and a man. Both variations were exactly the same, except at the very end the man raped the woman in one and in the other he proposed marriage. In both conditions, both female and male subjects viewed the woman's (identical) actions as inevitably leading to the (very different) results.

Victim blame is not new. It's not shocking. But it is tiresome, and it is about time we exposed it for the pile of steaming, rancid illogic that it is.

(Quick edit: It seems I misinterpreted the BBC report. The 71% refer specifically to the number of women who believe getting into bed with a person means they should accept responsibility for the consequences. The actual report itself is a real shocker, particularly when you read that 15% of women believe that just accepting a drink and engaging in conversation provides grounds for victim blame. The report, in it's entirety, can be found here. Thanks for the heads up CMaster!)