In a recent survey of over a thousand people in London, the majority of respondents believe a subset of women rape victims are at least partly responsible for their own rapes for taking actions such as wearing miniskirts. These attitudes raise important questions and highlight important contradictory beliefs.
From the BBC:
More than half of those of both sexes questioned said there were some circumstances when a rape victim should accept responsibility for an attack. [...]Some of those who reacted to this survey focused on the fact that in certain circumstances women were more likely to hold rape victims responsible, but when more than half of both sexes sometimes held rape victims responsible, men cannot be viewed as generally having a great attitude in this area.
An Amnesty International report five years ago found that a significant minority of British people laid the blame for rape at victims themselves.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says this latest study suggests attitudes may have hardened. And the findings may help explain why juries are reluctant to convict in some rape trials.
The only great attitude is never holding rape victims responsible for the actions of rapists and always holding rapists responsible for the rapes they commit no matter what those people think about that rapist's choice of victim or their choice of when to rape.
One of the findings of the survey (pdf) was that women blame other women more than men blame women for getting into a bed with a man. These harmful attitudes too often have their roots in what is incorrectly passed off as rape prevention advice. It is common to read people write or say something like:
Women have a responsibility to do everything they can to keep themselves from being victims.The first problem with this type of statement is that if it is valid for women related to sex crimes then it must be valid for everyone and for all types of felonies.
Men who are murdered are much more likely to be murdered by acquaintances or strangers than women are. This means if men are going to do everything they can to keep themselves from being victims they have a responsibility to avoid all strangers and severely limit the number of their acquaintances, especially other men since men are 10 times more likely to commit murder.
These are clearly unattainable responsibilities. Men are not expected to avoid normal activities such as putting fuel in their cars or going to work with other people. Going into a store isn't viewed as risky behavior but men have been murdered doing just that. When this type of advice is applied beyond the limited scope of sex crimes it quickly becomes clear that this expectation is unreasonable and that doing everything to keep from being a crime victim means doing absolutely nothing where you come in contact with other people. And even this is not protection from crimes such as home robberies and arson.
Some people will protest this parallel by saying it is easy for women to avoid everything on the common list of actions for which rape victims are blamed. Take being on the same bed. Easy to avoid these rapes, right?
Not if your rapist is your husband. This also overlooks the fact that someone a woman knew well and was planning to have sex with can turn violent. If a woman's boyfriend who seems completely safe suddenly wraps his hands around her throat until she's afraid she's going to die in his bed she's not responsible for that action or the rape that follows. Those who advocate waiting for sex until marriage may only delay when men like this feel they have the opportunity and right to be as sexually violent as they want to be.
Many people set up beds so they are used like a sofa or a lounger most of the time, but if a rapist attacks someone on a bed arranged as a sofa that rapist's defense attorney will use the bias shown in this survey to create an intentionally false picture.
Beds don't cause rape. Being in or on a bed with someone doesn't cause rape. Attitudes about beds do contribute to rape and contribute to rapists believing they can use details related of the rapes they commit to shift responsibility from themselves to their victims. This means a non-stranger rapist who sneaks into his victim's bedroom and then attacks his victim on her bed can use these attitudes and the stereotypes about women who lie about rape to get people who hate rape to side with a rapist.
The very reason women trust a man who turns out to be a rapist can be the reason that other people refuse to believe the rapist could have committed rape and instead believe the rape victim is lying or delusional.
If women who dress or act provocatively are responsible for their own rapes then businesses which require any employee to dress or act provocatively must be responsible for the rape or stalking or other criminal targeting of those employees. A woman in Florida was recently murdered by a man who became obsessed with her when she worked at Hooters. Because of him she left that job and moved. If people reject holding Hooters responsible then they must reject holding individual women who are victimized by violent men responsible in any way for those men's actions.
The second problem with statements about girls and women's responsibility to avoid becoming victims of sex crimes is that it is rare to get a similar statement from the admonishers where boys and men are explicitly given the imperative responsibility to "do everything they can to keep themselves" from being perpetrators.
This failure to have parallel beliefs and warnings cannot be excused by saying this second responsibility is obvious. By the numbers of sex crimes committed each year (estimated at over 200,000 against those aged 12 and above in the US alone) this responsibility is not obvious.