Victim Blaming and "Just Trying to Help"

I've often struggled when talking to ordinary folks who, after a woman is sexually assaulted or even just in a general discussion of rape and sexual assault, focus to the exclusion of all else on what the victim could do or could have done to prevent an assault. I can clearly articulate that saying these things to a sexual assault survivor after her experience is only going to make her feel guilty for what was clearly a crime against her. Many, if not even close to all, people can get that.

What I've had trouble explaining is why that kind of rhetoric is bad even when we're just talking about rape as a concept or on a societal level. I've had more than one person answer with: "But it's true that there are things one can do to decrease the risk of sexual assault. Why shouldn't I point that out? Couldn't it help someone avoid it?"

Always Aroused Girl has helped me out immensely with this by smoothly articulating what's wrong with looking to the victim for the reason why a rape or assault happened or for the responsibility to prevent them.
While it might (might!) be appropriate to educate our sisters and daughters about “sexual assault prevention tips” and “sending messages” before they set foot out the door, once an assault — or “almost” assault — has taken place, it’s time to shut up and listen. Advice about what the survivor might have done differently or should do the next time amounts to nothing more than victim blaming.

Every single time. Sincere or not. “Just trying to help” or not.

People who don’t want themselves or their loved ones to be assaulted feel great comfort in handing out those tips because they give the illusion of control. “You should never have gone to his house!” they say, or “You should have said ‘NO’ more firmly,” but what they really mean is that they hope that those strategies will work for them if they should be so unfortunate as to be assaulted.

They are wearing blinders. While I’d like to feel pity for their sightless state I cannot, because every time they try to rationalize assault, they hurt the ones who have lived through it.


Unknown said...

[i]Obligatory Disclaimer:[/i] I'm a male who has counseled several women through incidents of rape trauma. After one such occasion, a psychologist commented that my technique was superb.

In general, when discussing rape, and rape trauma, what the victim may or may not have done is irrelevant. For one thing: the rape happened; now it must be dealt with, which means converting the response into to a series of practical goals: restoring a sense of self and agency, learning to live with the fear and every other emotion that goes along with it, etc. For another thing: REGARDLESS of whether or not any tactical changes could have been made (and that's what they amount to: tactical changes of behavior), to blame the victim by questioning HER actions is to completely ignore the OTHER individual who had the impulse to rape in the first place.

Are we so far gone that we assume that all men are rapists and that some of them have self-control and some of them don't, so it's best to walk softly so as not to trigger the men who lack self control? Is that the model we're using?

A friend of mine was date-raped once. She called me, sobbing, to describe the situation: she'd gone to a bar with someone that I and several others had warned her about (repeatedly). He took her behind the bar and had his way with her when she wasn't quite sober enough to object. She seemed to think the situation was her fault.

Though I described her decision to go to the bar with him as a tactical mistake, the real fault lay in the perpetrator's impulse to rape her in the first place: none of this would have happened if he hadn't felt and heeded that impulse. This seemed to help her put things into perspective: a mistake around a dangerous person is much easier to come to terms with than the (ridiculous) idea that she somehow created the impulse to rape her.

Unfortunately, the neoliberal rhetoric of contemporary American society is firmly centered on victim blaming. "So, you lost your job because you got a bad case of the flu and couldn't even move on your own for two days? Well, what were you doing getting sick in the first place? Obviously, you're just not made of stern, apple-pie eating American stuff. REAL Americans either don't get sick, or fight through the minor inconvenience when they have to. Clearly, you'd rather rely on welfare than bring home the bacon with an honest day's work."

...see what I mean? I get mad just thinking about it.

Unknown said...

Agree times five. Both Figleaf and Hugo Schwyzer write about the myth of male weakness a lot as a problem for people of all genders. I think it's absolutely ridiculous and harmful that we've got this myth that all men are rapists and therefore we transfer responsibility for bad behavior from the perpetrators to the victims. That boys will be boys crap.

On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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