Rape Culture, Victim Blaming, and The Facts
What is Rape Culture?
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
Examples of Rape Culture
- Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
- Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
- Sexually explicit jokes
- Tolerance of sexual harassment
- Inflating false rape report statistics
- Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
- Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
- Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
- Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
- Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
- Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
- Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
- Teaching women to avoid getting raped
One reason people blame a victim is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirm their own invulnerability to the risk. By labeling or accusing the victim, others can see the victim as different from themselves. People reassure themselves by thinking, "Because I am not like her, because I do not do that, this would never happen to me." We need to help people understand that this is not a helpful reaction.
Why Is It Dangerous?
Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames her for the abuse, s/he will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.
Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what the abuser has been saying all along; that it is the victim’s fault this is happening. It is NOT the victim’s fault or responsibility to fix the situation; it is the abuser’s choice. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows the abuser to perpetrate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for his/her actions.
What Does Victim-Blaming Look Like?
Example of Victim-Blaming Attitude: “She must have provoked him into being abusive. They both need to change.”
Reality: This statement assumes that the victim is equally to blame for the abuse, when in reality, abuse is a conscious choice made by the abuser. Abusers have a choice in how they react to their partner’s actions. Options besides abuse include: walking away, talking in the moment, respectfully explaining why an action is frustrating, breaking up, etc. Additionally, abuse is not about individual actions that incite the abuser to hurt his partner, but rather about the abuser’s feelings of entitlement to do whatever he wants to his partner.
When friends and family remain neutral about the abuse and say that both people need to change, they are colluding with and supporting the abusive partner and making it less likely that the survivor will seek support.
How can men and women combat Rape Culture and Victim blaming?
- Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women
- Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
- If a friend says they have been raped, take your friend seriously and be supportive
- Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence
- Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations
- Let survivors know that it is not their fault
- Hold abusers accountable for their actions: do not let them make excuses like blaming the victim, alcohol, or drugs for their behavior
- Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
- Define your own manhood or womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
- Be an Active Bystander!
Adapted from Marshall University and Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
Dating and Domestic Violence Facts
FACT: Regardless of their actions, no one deserves to be physically, verbally or sexually abused. In fact, putting the blame for the violence on the victim is a way to manipulate the victim and other people. Batterers will tell the victim, "You made me mad," or, "You made me jealous," or will try to shift the burden by saying, "Everyone acts like that." Most victims try to placate and please their abusive partners in order to de-escalate the violence. The batterer chooses to abuse, and bears full responsibility for the violence.
FACT: Many victims love their partners despite the abuse, blame themselves, or feel as if they have no support system or resources outside of the relationship and so they feel as if they can’t leave. Furthermore, the period immediately after leaving an abusive relationship is extremely dangerous.
FACT: Jealousy and possessiveness are signs that the person sees you as a possession. They are one of the most common early warning sign of abuse
FACT: Abuse can come in many forms, such as sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional. When a person in a relationship repeatedly scares, hurts, or puts down the other person, it is abuse. Harassment, intimidation, forced or coerced isolation from friends and family and having an independent social life, humiliation, threats of harm to you or your family or pets, threats of suicide if you leave, violating your privacy, limiting your independence and personal choices are all examples of abuse.
FACT: While the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, men may also be victims of relationship violence. Men face many of the same barriers as women that prevent them from reporting abuse, but also face a different kind of stigma since many do not believe that men can be victims of dating/domestic violence.
FACT: The majority of men and young men in our community are not violent. The use of violence is a choice. Men who use violence in their relationships choose where and when they are violent. The large majority of offenders who assault their partners control their violence with others, such as friends or work colleagues, where there is no perceived right to dominate and control.
Stating that 'All men are violent' places the blame for the violence elsewhere and prevents the perpetrator from being responsible for his violence. The majority of men and women want and can be allies to help in the fight against this kind of violence.
FACT: As many as one-third of all high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship. Physical abuse is as common among high school and college-age couples as married couples.
Sexual Assault Facts
FACT: Men, women and children of all ages, races, religions, and economic classes can be and have been victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs in rural areas, small towns and larger cities. It is estimated that one in three girls and one six boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a rape or attempted rape occurs every 5 minutes in the United States.
FACT: Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is a violent attack on an individual, not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion. For a victim, it is a humiliating and degrading act. No one “asks” for or deserves this type of attack.
FACT: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Studies show that approximately 80%-90% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.
FACT: A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars and offices.
FACT: Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. According to CONNSACS, only 2% of reported rapes are false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other major crime reports.
FACT: Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted. Current statistics indicate that one in six men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Sexual assault of men is thought to be greatly under-reported.
FACT: Almost all sexual assaults occur between members of the same race. Interracial rape is not common, but it does occur.
FACT: Sexual assault is motivated by hostility, power and control. Sexual assaults are not motivated by sexual desire. Unlike animals, humans are capable of controlling how they choose to act on or express sexual urges.
FACT: Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational, racial and cultural backgrounds. They are “ordinary” and “normal” individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them and inflict violence, humiliation and degradation.
FACT: Anytime someone is forced to have sex against their will, they have been sexually assaulted, regardless of whether or not they fought back or said "no". There are many reasons why a victim might not physically fight their attacker including shock, fear, threats or the size and strength of the attacker.
FACT: Survivors exhibit a spectrum of emotional responses to assault: calm, hysteria, laughter, anger, apathy, shock. Each survivor copes with the trauma of the assault in a different way.
Adapted from Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS)
No... I dont victim blame.
Nobody wants to think that they are at fault. When it seems that the accused is too innocent looking, when it seems that the boy next door is the one being accused of rape, it may only seem appropriate to think that somehow the victim caused the incident to happen. And especially when we are bombarded by society with messages that state that if the victim of sexual harassment was wearing a tight dress, was drunk or flirting, then they were at fault, how could we not come to that conclusion on our own?
But just as a burglar has no right to steal, a rapist has no right to rape.
That last sentence is often never considered, however. Most seem to feel that an act of rape - acquaintance or stranger - is just too bizarre to actually have no reason for happening. It may seem too strange to think that a man youve never met before could just come out of a bush, pick you out and attack you. It may seem too strange to think that a friend, or a boyfriend, or someone that you thought you could trust, could turn on you in such a way for no apparent reason and hurt you so much. In this world, things dont just happen - theres a reason for things, and there is sense in the world. Besides, the victim probably brought themselves into the trouble and therefore deserved what they got. If we as onlookers just dont make the same mistakes that they did, we wont have the same problems that they did. In this way unexplainable, traumatic acts such as rape can be explained away and therefore be easier to handle.
This is the line of reasoning that many people go through. If a woman can victim blame another woman, then she can eventually say to herself, Thats never happened to me, so it must have been something that she did. Well, if I dont do what they did, then I will be safe. Since women live with the fear of rape all the time, victim blaming makes them feel better about the irregularities of the world. If a man victim blames a woman, it may be because he cant understand that another man - possibly someone that he knows, possibly a friend - can do what the accused did. If another man has the capacity to do that, than that male onlooker may have that capacity, too. Its a frightening thought to think that you could be a rapist. The man may eventually say, I couldnt do that, and therefore that other guy couldnt do that. It must have been something that she did.
The reason I find is the most believable is the reason that there is sense in the world and that there is a reason for everything. If there is a reason for everything, then there must be a reason for something as insane as rape - even if the reason doesnt seem immediately apparent. Maybe, as many come to think, maybe the reason that it happened is because the victim led her attacker on or didnt do enough to stop him. When someone blames the victim, the behavior is then correctable, and when the victim corrects that wrong behavior, then they feel not only safer, but also a better person for correcting their own faults.
I have often found myself victim blaming, and although I may realize that it is irrational for me to do so, I cant seem to help it. What I have noted, however, is that I only seem to victim blame when it comes to myself. Maybe I do that because experiences that happen to someone else arent as hard-hitting as experiences that happen to yourself. You hear news casts of people dead in a plane accident, or of people held hostage by irate third world terrorist groups, or of a woman beaten to death after she was raped, but these experiences, possibly because we dont experience them first hand but only hear about them, dont seem to affect us. Sadly enough, when I hear of these experiences, they dont affect me and I therefore dont have to explain them away through victim blaming. But when I live through an experience and it seems as if there is no reason for the violence or the trauma, I cant help but try to explain it away through investigating my own behavior.
When I hear of another person that has gone through a traumatic experience such as rape, I never think that it was their fault or that they deserved it. When it comes to my own experiences, because I have to explain them away (when I dont have to explain away others experiences), I find myself victim blaming.
I have always been taught respect and kindness for others. I have always been taught to turn the other cheek when I am hurt, and I have been taught to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because I possess these qualities, I often have a tendency to think of them as faults and see them as a cause for victim blaming - when it comes to myself.
I was forced into a traumatic sexual experience, and although I had no choice in the matter, I still to this day cant help but feel that there still was something that I could have done. I should have been more explicit in what I wanted. I shouldnt have had so much to drink. I should have seen that he was trying to get me drunk. I shouldnt have been so nice to him. I should have said something afterwards: to him, to the police, to myself. I keep thinking that if I just keep looking over the pieces of the puzzle, something will fall into place and make it all understandable, all comprehendible. I keep thinking that if I keep looking for what I did wrong, once I find it I will be able to explain away what happened.
If I blame myself for what happened, I feel that then the problem is solvable, avoidable, and correctable. It makes my world make sense again.
But the thing is, I cant. I cant try to depend on the myths that surround us to explain away unexplainable behavior. I cant try to hurt myself by blaming myself for something that wasnt my fault.
But sometimes that pain seems better than shattering everything Ive always believed in.
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