By: Kelsey Sunstrum
This coming Thursday is the International Day Against Victim-Blaming (IDAVB). IDAVB marks the first SlutWalk in Toronto, on April 3, 2011, which was organized in response to a representative of the Toronto Police insisting “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The SlutWalk movement quickly spread to cities and communities around the world to fight against victim-blaming as a pervasive experience of sexual violence.
According to The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, victim-blaming is when the victim of a crime or unwanted action is held responsible for said crime or action either completely or partially. Individuals who blame the victim are likely to do so because they hold misconceptions about the situation, or do not completely understand what the victim is enduring. Victim-blaming is harmful because it perpetuates problematic attitudes that impede change and can also make it difficult for survivors to cope.
Victim-blaming is particularly pervasive in cases of sexual violence. Women and girls who experience sexual violence are commonly questioned about or criticized for what clothing they wore, how much they had to drink, their sexual histories, general demeanour (e.g. was she being a flirt or a “tease”?) and other behaviour. Harmful victim-blaming attitudes range from the extremes of “she deserved it” or “invited it”, to “she could have prevented it, if only she had or hadn’t done ‘x’”.
Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri is one example of the detrimental effects of victim-blaming. Last January, the 14-year-old was raped by a high school football player and left in her front yard in the middle of the night. Though evidence such as a cell phone video of the assault apparently have not proven the boy’s guilt and charges against him have been dropped.
After her attack, Coleman reported her rape to her family and the authorities. From this point, she was socially ostracized by her peers. She was called a ‘skank’ and a liar. She was suspended from the cheerleading team because of her ‘involvement’ in the incident. Her classmates urged her to commit suicide, and on two occasions, she tried to follow their advice. Today, Daisy continues to bravely speak out to bring awareness to not only her own case, but to the fact that many other girls and women are in situations just like her.
Many messages and products are geared towards not so subtly telling women and girls they need to take responsibility for avoiding rape and other forms of sexual assault. Some examples include:
- “Don’t walk alone at night”
- “Don’t dress too sexy”
- “Know how to defend yourself” (i.e. take a self defence course)
- “Carry pepper-spray or a whistle”
One of the latest additions that contribute to this narrative, are the creation of anti-rape garments, by the company AR Wear and touted as one solution to protect women from rape and sexual assault. AR Wear has fashioned underwear, shorts, and yoga pants designed to be completely resistant to cutting and tearing. They even managed to raise $50,000 on the crowd-funding website, Indiegogo.
The products were developed by two women who believe that the pesky garments could cause delays for the attacker, which could hopefully offer more time for bystanders to notice and respond or for the woman to escape.
While the clothing may work in those ways, it is concerning that yet another product is shifting responsibility for preventing rape on to women. A more proactive approach may have been to use the money they raised through Indiegogo to fund research on rape and gender violence, or programs designed to address misguided societal attitudes towards women, gender roles, and sexual violence.
This comes amidst other questionable messages disseminated in the media as of late. This past June, Dr. Ken Flegel wrote an editorial for the Canadian Medical Association Journal expressing his belief that alcoholic beverages should bear a warning to young girls about the hazardous effects it could have on them. One of the hazards he cites is unwanted sex. This is in response to alcohol companies targeting younger and younger audiences, particularly girls, in their advertisements. Other, perhaps more effective alternatives could be stronger regulations for advertisers, and educating men and boys about consent and respectful treatment of women and girls, intoxicated or otherwise. A good example, of the latter is the “don’t be that guy” campaign.
Jezebel’s response to Dr. Flegel is right on point. They argue that warning labels would be yet another way of blaming victims, and what would they say? Probably not this:
“WARNING: drinking too much, as a young women, may result in someone sexually assaulting you because they feel entitled to your body. It may also cause authorities to not take your case seriously when you attempt to get help or take legal action. It may furthermore cause your peers to blame you for your own attack and then re-victimize you. Also, please be careful about your liver.”
Until society can face the facts that woman are not to blame for violence committed against them and take the steps to remedy why this is the case, rape and gender violence will continue to be a threat to women. Victim-blaming is harmful and counterproductive, so lets stand in support with women and girls today and every day and press for solutions that address the root causes of sexual violence, instead of slapping warning labels of alcoholic beverage and encouraging women to wear modern day chastity belts.