Victim blaming distorts painful truths
INTO THE FIRE
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 10, 2011 23:10
Earlier this October, throngs of women click-clacked their way down the streets of New York City as part of a SlutWalk, which is a provocative movement protesting to end slut shaming, or the criticism a woman receives for wearing risqué clothing and inviting sexual assaults. Protesters wear bustiers instead of bulletproof vests; stilettos, not guns; and thigh-high stockings before camouflage. Armed with protest signs and a message, they fight to regain control of their sexual image that has been skewed and distorted by society.
The SlutWalk originated in April earlier this year after a Toronto police officer remarked, incredibly, that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." The protest made its way to New York City after Brooklyn officers similarly told women in the area to cover up following 10 unsolved sexual assaults, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The resulting international movement has prompted women to wear revealing clothing to combat the astonishingly ignorant belief that a victim is responsible for his or her assault.
Though the movement has drawn criticism for its contradictory approach to the issue it's protesting, I appreciate that the message it promotes also addresses a largely unacknowledged problem, especially among college students. Colleges are seeing the development of a rape culture that routinely blames the victim, whether it's because she's wearing revealing clothing or because she was intoxicated.
In October 2009, a college student at George Washington University entered the unlocked dormitories of five different women with the intent to forcibly initiate a sexual encounter.
Instead of using the incident to call attention to the issue of sexual assaults on campus, the Hatchet, the school's newspaper, responded in an editorial by largely blaming the young women for the encounters. They wrote, "This is a valuable reminder of the necessity for students to lock their doors at all times and to take responsibility for guests you bring into residence halls."
An unlocked door is not an invitation for rape. Under different circumstances, this advice would be more appropriate and constructive. However, this remark is especially ridiculous because the very same editorial says the incidents took place in the only residence hall with continuous, round-the-clock security. Instead of criticizing the campus' security blunder, the newspaper's editorial board inexplicably felt the need to chastise the victims for not locking their doors and thus precipitating the attack.
That editorial represents more than just the grossly misinformed opinion of one newspaper staff of one college. Assault cases at colleges indicate that, within campus rape culture, the victims feel ostracized while the alleged assailants continue to thrive.
Last year, two basketball players at Michigan State University were accused of raping a fellow student. After prosecutors inexplicably decided not to pursue the charges, the students continued playing on the team.
Some concerned students went to the team's games, protesting the school's atrocious handling of the rape case, but instead of jeering at the alleged rapists, the majority of the audience heckled the protesters while cheering for the players.
The general acceptance of this type of behavior understandably discourages women from taking action against their attackers, fearing indifference.
Victim blaming creates the greatest barrier to reporting sexual assaults. The shame and the embarrassment of being raped deters 65 percent of victims from reporting their assault, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. The potential damage to their reputation and the stigma of being defiled allow women to succumb to the overwhelming guilty feeling that the attack is their fault.
But aren't there situations where the victim would be at fault? Isn't wearing a skimpy skirt and a low-cut shirt giving the impression that the woman is looking for sex? One would think that demure clothing would prevent rape.
However, the problem with this mentality is that it isn't logical at all. Many of the protestors have been citing a Federal Commission on Crime Study that found that in only 4.4 percent of reported rapes, the victim was dressed in revealing clothing (the findings of this study have not been confirmed). In short, rapists don't care what their victims are wearing. Most assaulters don't see provocative clothing; they see a defenseless woman.
While this mentality isn't contained to a college campus, its prevalence among college students has once again highlighted our stunted reactions to sexual assaults. Instead of instructing women on how not to get assaulted, we should be concentrating on educating students on the actualities of rape. Rape is about power and control; it is not prejudiced by the color of a woman's shoes or the cut of her dress.
And though the SlutWalk may be controversial in its approach to protesting victim-blaming, it encourages women to take back their sexuality. Rape leaves victims feeling helpless and unheard; this demonstration puts the control back into their hands. However, the existence of the SlutWalk indicates that our society needs to overhaul its perception of rape and rape victims.
Blame the rapists; not the clothes, not the circumstances, not the victims.