Why do we blame the victim?

25 Feb

by Kat Kelley

Sexual assault is never warranted.

Straight forward, right?

In theory.

In practice, this is not how our society responds to cases of sexual violence. Our society tends to teach “don’t get raped,” as opposed to “don’t rape.” Everyone (read: all women) is assumed to be a potential victim, but nobody a potential perpetrator. Great. I’m all about giving people the benefit of the doubt, but while we’re at it, let’s give survivors of sexual violence the benefit of the doubt.

Survivor’s stories are treated with disbelief, wholly invalidated. Asking a survivor if “maybe it was a misunderstanding?” is offensive. No one is confusing sexual violence with embarrassing hook ups. Losing your autonomy, having your control and choice stolen from you- is not even in the realm of regret or embarrassment. Sexual violence is not a sexual act, but an act of power.

Other stories are treated with accusation and suspicion. There is no benefit to false reporting. The Department of Justice estimates that 2% of sexual assault reports are false. Two percent. That means 98% are true. And my god, why would someone lie about that. Revenge or regret? I don’t think so. As is, so few perpetrators are convicted- a perpetrator must merely insist that the survivor consented to invoke reasonable doubt.

And the worst- blame. What were you wearing? Excuse me. What was the perpetrator wearing? Or does anyone ever ask the victim of mugging what they were wearing?

And if you don’t think victim blaming is a thing, here’s a couple of extreme examples. Those are extreme. But here’s the thing. These are real. This is what makes the news, these are the cases that are hyperboles of a very real and prevalent problem. Victim blaming is institutionalized. It is endemic.

Survivors’ attire, behavior, sexual history, and alcohol consumption are all brought against them. Right, because no one has ever been raped in sweats. Because flirting with someone gives them the right to have sex with you. Let me be clear- no one is ever entitled to another’s body. Not in a relationship, not if they are in your bed making out with you. You always have the right to say no, and you must always respect someone’s “no,” (or their lack of affirmative consent).


Why do we do it? Why is it considered acceptable? Why is it so endemic?

Societal Indoctrination. In our society, women are taught that we are responsible for preventing our own assault. Don’t be alone at night, dress conservatively, walk in lighted areas, etc. Yo- I love safety tips, but women are taught, or rather drilled these tips as “prevention” methods against sexual sexual assault.

Right, because someone can entirely prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted. They can “reduce their risk,” but the only person who can prevent assault is the perpetrator. Plus, as these tips prevent against stranger assault, which comprises less than 1/3 of accounts, they are of questionable utility.

So this schooling puts the onus on the survivor- which guides both survivors and those who hear their stories to respond in kind.

However, there is another reason we blame victims, and thats because the truth is terrifying. If you truly internalize the stats- this world, even this campus, loses any sense of safety. So victim blaming is in some way a defense mechanism. It’s comforting to think that if we follow these tips, if we do all the right things, we won’t be at risk.

While we must quit the habit, we also cannot live our lives in paranoia. So women- don’t let the threat of sexual assault restrict your lifestyle. Be safety smart, but don’t push that body conscious dress to the back of your closet in the name of prevention. You have every right to dress, act, and live as you like- and we need to acknowledge that whatever that entails, whatever one’s choices or actions are, sexual assault is never warranted.

(Sorry for the heteronormative language- it is based on me taking issue with heteronormative sexual assault myths). Additionally, if you find anything in this article triggering, please know that resources and support are available.

3 Responses to “Why do we blame the victim?”

  1. MF mother feminist February 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    We blame the victim because we don’t want to accept the fact that it is our culture or society who is really at fault; it doesn’t happen this often in Europe.
    I was once told by my mother that these thing happened to me because I was pretty. So many myth, so many lies, so many lives. I believe this website is the new feminist monolgues…


  1. The Take-Home Message from the Steubenville Trial | Feminists-at-Large - March 18, 2013

    […] a society, failed. As we fail everyday, today we failed in a disgustingly brutal and public way by victim blaming and slut shaming, pitying the perpetrators who truly never believed they’d get caught or be held […]

  2. Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault: The Basics | Feminists-at-Large - July 17, 2013

    […] roommate-classmate-brother-coworker discloses. What do you do? Start by believing. Survivors are blamed and chastised, they are asked if it was “a misunderstanding” or told that its a “gray […]

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