As a young woman, I have been raised to follow these general rules: “Be alert of your surroundings, do not walk alone home at night, remember to have pepper spray on hand.” But, I know that if I were the next person to be assaulted, I would not receive the support that I need – because of how people have been taught to perceive victims. Far too often, victims are accused of being attention-seeking or even deserving of the assault based on their behavior or how they were dressed. Not only is victim blaming a detrimental mentality, it is also fails to be acknowledged as a fallacy skewed by three inaccuracies:
1. That a woman’s behavior and appearance dictates whether or not they were “asking for it.”
“What was she wearing?” A condescending yet common inquiry proposed by the public. Society assumes that a woman’s assault is caused by her appearance. In a social psychology report, the examination of the relationship between victim characteristics and victim blame revealed that the amount of skin the victim reveals is a critical factor positively associated with victim blame. The onslaught of victim blaming towards women simply because men cannot control themselves can only be recognized as a blatant act of misogyny and objectification.
2. That men are not responsible for being sexually provoked.
Society normalizes the belief that men are born sexually aggressive and thus can not be held accountable when their sexual urges are provoked. This impetuous excuse only normalizes the idea that “women who show poor judgement precipitate rape.” It makes the assumption that women who become visibly intoxicated, dress provocatively, or allow themselves to be misguided by men are the ones at fault. One can argue that those who perpetrate rape are psychologically unbalanced; however, this has been disproved by a study in the journal Violence Against Women that found rapists are rarely unstable or suffer from mental illnesses.
3. That “real” victims are those assaulted by strangers.
Victim blaming has gone as far as to scrutinize the legitimacy of the victim. A study reported in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence revealed that it was typical for observers to judge the responsibility of a victim depending on the level of intimacy established with the attacker. One explanation arises from the bias revolving around the assumption that rape only happens between strangers. This implies that someone who was raped by a stranger is more likely to be viewed as the “real” victim, as opposed to someone who was raped by an acquaintance. Often a victim who had known her attacker is more likely to be seen as responsible for her own victimization.
And considering that – according to the National Institute of Justice – 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are committed by someone they know, it is no wonder the public is so keen of victim blaming.
The disciplinary actions we take as a society is similar to saying, “We cannot stop this from happening, so here is how to go about it.” This gives leeway to victim blaming because society is conditioned to believe that with a set of precautions laid out, those who have ignored them hold responsibility; an idea that inadvertently excuses the accountability of those who commit rape.
We cannot normalize that we live in a rape-prone society or else change will never be made. No one should have to live in fear of their own community. It is not solely up to bystanders to prevent the crime, but the responsibility of people to not commit the crime in the first place. Don’t teach the girls that it’s their fault when someone chooses to assault them. Teach potential assailants that they will be held accountable for their actions and there will be consequences.