by Allegra Morgado
Today marks the fourth annual International Day Against Victim-Blaming. Since the topic of rape culture has become such a forefront issue in the media and on college campuses in recent years, the issue of victim blaming has been more widely discussed. Although the thought of blaming a victim for an action taken against them may sound ludicrous – the video “If we treat robbery like rape” shows you just how ridiculous it seems in other contexts – almost all sexual assault victims have to deal with it at some point in their lives. It is one of the reasons that the majority of victims never report an assault. So why do we victim blame? What is gained from this practice that is clearly harmful to all victims of sexual assault?
Although there is no concrete answer or reasoning behind victim blaming, there are a lot of different reasons why people do it. In order to figure out the answer we need to talk about three contributing factors – our assumptions of why women get sexually assaulted, how we talk about sexual assault to young people, and why people commit sexual assault. Although it is important to recognize that men are sexually assaulted, because over 80% of sexual assault victims are women, this post will mostly focus on women.
The view of women’s and men’s sexuality is the first thing that needs to change. In an interview about her book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women on NBC’s “The Today Show”, Jessica Valenti explains that “the ‘purity myth’ is the lie that women’s sexuality has some bearing on who we are and how good we are.” This view is not unique to the United States – all over the world, including in Canada, women are harshly judged on their decisions about their own personal sexuality. This judgement is often ingrained, be it from religion, media, or just cultural norms, and affects how women who are open about their sexuality are viewed. While men are often praised for their “sexual conquests” women have historically been judged and shamed. The connotation behind the word “slut” is one clear example. These views are centuries old and mostly comes from the patriarchal societies that we live in, where women’s rights have only really been a topic of conversation for the past 125 or so years.
When women are constantly judged for their sexuality, people are scared and skeptical about anything that has to do with it. This judgment is where the “what was she wearing?” and “why was she out so late?” questions often stem from. As Dr. Juliana Breines says in her article “Why Do We Blame Victims?” on the University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center website says “victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people”. This is why we try to find a reason to blame the victim; if it is their fault, then those of us who dress in certain ways or take all possible precautions to prevent rape must be safe.
Rape is preventable, but first we have to change the way talk about rape and sexual assault. Although it is beginning to change, for far too long the conversation has been focused around telling women not to get raped, rather than telling men not to rape. When a victim is blamed or we suggest she could have prevented it in some way, we are sending the message that an assailant’s behaviour is in part excusable. There also needs to be a change in the conversation about consent. By changing the statement to “Yes Means Yes” from “No Means No,” we change the requirement for consent to an explicit yes, rather than the absence of a no. Although it may not seem “sexy” to stop during an intimate moment to ask for consent, it is necessary to have open communication and dialogue to ensure that both parties are happily consenting to the activity at hand, and that consent is ongoing. The Ontario government’s new sex-education curriculum, which includes consent based lessons, is a very positive step in that direction.
In order to stop sexual assault, it is essential to continue the conversation about consent and the fight for women to be truly equal. Because as long as there are cases like those of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, there is a need for an International Day Against Victim-Blaming. For more information on the day and what you can do to help out, check out the Facebook event, hosted by SlutWalk, here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390690721209922/