With regards to the subject of sexual assault and rape, there is a sickeningly overt culture that actively degrades the experiences of victims and blames them, not their attackers, for the crime.
The CNN coverage of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case is a recent example of this. In a case where two football players sexually assaulted and raped a 16-year-old girl at a series of parties, the news spent a majority of their time reporting on the reactions of the convicted boys rather than the consequences that their victim will now have to live with for the rest of her life.
The victim-blaming didn’t stop in the reporting, however. A flurry of reactions on Internet forums, Twitter and Facebook comments soon followed. They stated that the victim “deserved it,” that maybe she shouldn’t have been drinking at the party or else that she should have been more “prepared.”
This is by no means the norm, either. Rape is the most underreported crimes in America, which means that the number of rapes that we actually know about is likely to be lower than the actual number of instances. One reason why it is underreported is that we as a society have permitted, and in some instances encouraged, the shaming of people who report.
We normalize victim-blaming when we say that they should have been more prepared. We demonize victims when we say that they were “asking for it” or else shouldn’t have been doing any number of things that supposedly provoke rape.
It’s obvious why this is offensive to women (particularly women who are victims), but what often goes unnoticed is just how offensive victim-blaming actually is for men.
Let’s examine the retort of “Well if she hadn’t been dressed like that, she wouldn’t have been raped.”
The conclusion is “Ladies, if you dress provocatively, you are going to be raped.” The assumption that goes unnoticed here, however, is that the mindset of the men around her is “If she’s dressed like that, then I have to rape her.” It assumes that a man’s baseline reaction when seeing a woman is “I have to have sex with her” and that the only defense against that is to dress conservatively.
This same assumption is embedded in every statement that attacks a victim.
“She shouldn’t have been drinking,” becomes: “Men have an easier time taking advantage of drunk women.”
“She should have been more prepared,” becomes: “Men who come after you can be fought off, if prepared.”
“She shouldn’t have been walking alone,” becomes: “A man can be fought off if he is outnumbered.”
Each one operates under the assumption that every single man that a woman ever comes across (including friends) is only interested in taking full sexual advantage of her and will exploit any weakness he can take to do it. And even then, it might not be enough to stave him off.
Because, obviously, he can’t resist the temptation. He clearly has no control over the instinct, and no misgivings whatsoever about acting upon it. The man in this scenario is just a ravenous monster, whose only goal is to satisfy his own sexual desires in any way that he can.
The assumption of victim-blaming isn’t that the victim was some vile temptress that was suckering the man in. The assumption is that the man’s only objective was to rape her, and that she clearly wasn’t prepared to fight him off. The assumption is “Be prepared ladies, we’re all coming for you.”
By blaming a victim, men are just projecting to the world the message that “we have no control over what we want, have no restraint when we want it and it’s their fault that they can’t protect themselves from us.”
If you aren’t offended by victim-blaming, you ought to be, because that’s what blaming says about us. It’s an assertion that men should be up in arms over, and many are.
We aren’t all mindless, unrestrained lunatics with sex addictions to feed. It’s time the people who shift the blame from rapists to victims understand that.
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior journalism and political science double major. His columns appear Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.