Blaming the Victim


When a town floods after a strong rain, do we blame the people in that town for the flash flooding?

When a department store is robbed, do we blame the management for selling desirable things?

When a child steals a handful of cookies from the cooling rack, does the mother blame herself for baking?

The following is a portion of a FAQ’s article, pertaining to common misconceptions and attitudes which invite victim blaming. Written and provided by SlutWalk Seattle, you can read the full article from its original source through the link provided at the end of the post.

  1. Does one’s attire make one more likely to be a victim of sexual violence? No. Studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Most rapists report not remembering what their victim was wearing. 4.4% of all reported rapes involve provocative behavior on the part of the victim, compared with murder cases in which 22% involved provocative behavior. The notion that rape is sex, or about sex, is a common misconception – rape is a violent act about power, dominance, and humiliation. The elderly, persons with disabilities, children, and men all experience sexual assault. 6 in 10 sexual assaults are committed in the victim’s home or the home of the victim’s friend, neighbor, or relative. Approximately 2 in 3 rapes were committed by someone known to the victim. Clothing cannot logically be a factor in these situations. Finally, the idea that attire provokes assault is fundamentally irrational because sexual assault isn’t a crime of opportunity. It generally involves a tremendous amount of planning and risk. Rapists are not robots who instantly attack at the sight of flesh. They stalk, study, and often groom their victims for great lengths of time prior to the assault.

  2. Don’t we all have an individual responsibility to prevent sexual violence? We’re all about individual responsibility in preventing sexual assault and rape – the kind of responsibility involved in making a conscious choice not to commit sexual assault and rape. Humans, men included, are masters of their own actions, capable of free choice (those who are not due to mental illness, traumatic brain injury, etc., are the exception to this; it is the duty of the state to help them and protect society from them), not slaves to their carnal instincts. To say otherwise is infantilizing and degrading. Furthermore, the kinds of “individual responsibilities” that potential victims of sexual assault are asked to take are largely ineffective at preventing sexual violence (see FAQ B1). Even if potential victims do prevent their own victimization, they do not prevent their would-be perpetrator from finding someone else to victimize. 

  3. If you walk down a scary alley at night waving wads of cash, you should expect to get mugged! Likewise women who show skin should expect to get raped! Right? No. Women’s bodies are not property. But for the sake of argument – if your property is stolen or you are non-sexually assaulted, the state will not refuse to press charges, commute the perpetrator’s sentence, or disallow testimony because of your actions or the circumstances. “They had it coming” is not an effective defense in murder cases. In fact, if you’re a victim of violence because of any of a number of particular aspects of your identity (chosen or not), other than sexuality or attire, the perpetrator will be punished even more heavily because it’s considered a hate crime. With sexual violence, if you’re even perceived to be “slutty,” the perpetrator will be punished less. Our research into sexual violence suggests that attire actually doesn’t provoke sexual violence (see FAQ B1).

  4. What is the just-world fallacy and how does it relate to victim-blaming?
    Put simply, you want the world to be fair, so you pretend it is. You rationalize sexual violence by blaming the victim – if she weren’t such a slut, she never would have been raped. You create a buffer of fiction to distance yourself from sexual violence. You give yourself a false sense of security. You always dress modestly and behave properly – something so horrific could never happen to you. More information here.

  5. What’s wrong with telling women how to protect themselves?
    Empowering potential victims to protect themselves is valuable, through sensible means like learning a martial art, carrying a weapon, staying in groups, etc. The problem is that Western society is so obsessed with self-defense that we penalize victims for not taking every conceivable measure to protect themselves. Precautions are not presented as options, but decreed as commandments to be disobeyed at our peril. Ultimately, the only people who can truly “prevent” rape are the individuals committing it. If someone’s set on raping you, wearing an extra layer of clothing isn’t going to stop them.
  6. What are the consequences of victim-blaming?
    Rapists get off because the defense can point to the victim’s short skirt. Victim-blaming compounds the psychological trauma experienced by survivors. By using fear to dictate behavior, and shame to castigate defiance, the patriarchy is able to control women, their sexuality, and their bodies.
  7. Aren’t false rape allegations the real problem?
    The research on this topic suggests that false rape allegations are rare, though they do happen. For example, false allegations are sometimes used as a tool of oppression. There’s a history of men of color being targeted with false allegations, and men of color are still targeted this way today. Gay men have been falsely accused of child molestation. Trans women have been falsely accused of being men who are just looking for an easy way to rape women. Allegations like these are used to further demean already marginalized groups, and to dehumanize individuals who belong to these groups. However, anybody can be falsely accused, and that is a problem regardless of how common or rare false allegations are.

    Link to SlutWalk FAQ’s on Blaming and Shaming

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