According to Statistics Canada 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before reaching legal age. This unsettling information is coupled with tragic reality that women remain the primary victims of sexual assault. In addition, men still significantly outnumber women as perpetrators of sexual crimes, representing 97% of offenders.
In truth this has long been a subject that the general population has attempted to sweep under the rug. Even the mere utterance of the word rape instills a feeling of discomfort. While nearly all the populace acknowledges rape is a terrible thing, it is not something openly discussed at the dinner table or around the proverbial water cooler. Indeed conversations that teach boys not to rape or where to draw the line are far from routine.
The minimal attention this issue does receive is inappropriately directed towards the victims. It is the persistent underlying dialogues of victim blaming that further perpetuate the unjust victimization associated with rape.
In most situations where a crime is committed the offender is held solely responsible for their actions. Yet cases of rape scrutinize the character and conduct of the person who was assaulted in determining the guilty party. The answer of who we blame is not hard to distinguish if you look to social opinions, commentaries and the media.
Women have long been the most common targets of sexual violence and assault, which directly contributes to the now commonplace finger pointing designed to discount their creditability. Nonetheless, while the fault is chiefly directed at women, still more damaging is the blame victims themselves internalize.
To begin let us recognize that the stigma cast on individuals who experience rape does not simply materialize; indeed it is driven by widespread public opinions and social attitudes. The misconceptions and false judgments surrounding rape have serious consequences. In particular three destructive themes propel victimization and serve to discount what rape survivor’s experience.
1. The suggestion that “she was asking for” because of her provocative clothing, flirtatious or inviting manner, and even her sexual history.
2. The insinuation that “she liked it” since she didn’t stop it or say no, that’s the kind of thing she’s into or she’s always found him attractive.
3. The idea that “she’s lying” because she has something to gain, she wants attention or just wants to destroy an innocent man’s reputation.
Early on the flawed expectation of a woman’s responsibility to prevent being raped is instilled. Girls are taught young never to walk alone at night or not to dress inappropriately and later not to leave drinks unattended or not to drink too much. Yet educating boys on how to appropriately pursue intimate contact or how to respect women is not common practice.
Besides the persisting misconceptions and erroneous instructions that accompany rape more notable is the shocking degree of ignorance. Because the subject makes us uncomfortable, victimizing comments or assertions are disregarded and the matter quickly dismissed. Ultimately though, pretending that it doesn’t exist or that this issue doesn’t concern you, regardless of who you are, can cause wounds deeper than actual assault.
Why Do We Blame?
The truth of the matter is that the mere thought of rape terrifies most people. The idea that it could happen to anyone, without reason, is a difficult one to digest. To rationalize and subdue the fear this generates, distorted lines of reasoning attempt to explain away or excuse the realities of this appalling violation.
Specific misconceptions that the victim did something to cause her assault are maintained to further project the misguided belief that “this can’t happen to me”.
The same as this isn’t a stranger hiding in the darkness, the illusive scary monster that we’ve been taught to be afraid of. The harsh reality is that otherwise seemingly ordinary people are capable of committing this heinous crime. A more unpleasant realization is that it is therefore possible for our own fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers to be the perpetrators. Recognizing they may have the capacity to take advantage of, mistreat or degrade a woman to this degree is profoundly unsettling.
Though it is easier to pretend, obscure, and ignore the issue than face the full scope of its implications. Simply overlooking the extent and severity of this burning issue not only keeps the fire alive, it indubitably feeds the blaze.
What Does Blame Do?
The pressure surrounding the inappropriate treatment and persecution of those innocently preyed upon has consequences that span the full extent of the crime.
Even before an offense takes place a woman is charged with the responsibility of protecting herself from unwanted sexual advances or abuse, which sets unreasonable and unfair expectations.
Then during the initial shock of rape this comprehensive line of destructive thinking contributes to a victim’s almost mechanical acceptance of culpability.
Long after the physical pain subsides, the strongly engendered guilt that “I could have done more to stop it” or that “it was my fault” amplifies the emotional distress and lenthens the healing process.
More pointedly, the existing social perceptions and the variability of the reaction from family and friends means admitting this happened is exceedingly difficult.
The arduous task of disclosing is further challenged by intense feelings of isolation, shame, and the worry of being a disappointment associated with the crime.
However the appalling initial assault and the continuation of victimization combine to make individuals even more hesitate to report the vile crime to the police. Though we have made headway with convictions in cases of sexual assault, regrettably this blame is still active within our legal system. The recurring myths and delusions continue to shape court proceedings and form undesirable outcomes.
We need to be more conscious of the full extent of the devastation of rape and the continued victimization.
We need to approach gender norms differently, targeting the social constructions of masculinity.
We need to change how we educate and center the attention on teaching boys not to rape and how to recognize boundaries.
We need to redirect suggestions of a girl’s responsibility in preventing unwanted advances.
We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and finally bring this subject out of the darkness.
The continued use of “We” throughout this piece was not unintentional. Undeniably it was a deliberate means to further emphasize the part each of us has to play in finally putting an end to the unjustified blame and persecution. Furthermore, just because this is where the blame is currently being focused, does not mean it is where it belongs. This is where the blame lies.
The primary web-based resource for this article was the Statistics Canada study on sexual assault . Link.
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