Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts On Why Women Hold Some Rape Victims Responsible

In my last post I focused on the general attitudes expressed by those who hold some rape victims at least partly responsible for their own rapes as expressed in the UK survey Wake Up to Rape. In this post, I want to focus specifically on women's attitudes about other women.

I believe a huge contributing factor to the scenarios where women blame rape victims at higher rates than men do is a mix of rape prevention advice and the reaction those who are raped or nearly raped get when they disclose. For too many survivors the first question they get is focused on what they might have done wrong such as, "What were you wearing?"

When people suffer horribly it is natural to look back and wish that you could have avoided that terrible suffering. This process of looking back for the causes of trauma is tainted for most rape survivors by the pervasiveness of focusing only on the victim as if the rapist's actions were non-actions sitting there passively like a patch of black ice.

Rape is too often accepted as a natural consequence of the victim's actions. When this dangerous error in thinking happens it opens the door to people believing that certain rapists shouldn't be viewed and treated as criminals.

The Daily Mail contains an article I was drunk, wearing a short skirt and agreed to go back to his house. Does that REALLY mean I deserved to be raped? by Jenni Murray which begins with:

As a young woman - I was 19 and a university student - I did what, on reflection, was an extremely stupid thing. I went with a group of friends to the home of a much older man.

I was wearing what my mother described, disapprovingly, as an extended belt, but what to me was just a fashionable mini skirt. We'd been drinking in the pub and carried on drinking at the man's flat.
The problem with linking any of her actions or any of her choices even speculatively with her being responsible for her rape is that many of us who have been raped took similar actions and were completely safe. Her rape happened in 1969 and mine happened in 1974 so the attitudes and policies which allowed most rapists to be free from the risk of prosecution or the rightful label of rapist were similar.

She seems to reject the attitudes which contributed to her rape and her decision to tell no one about her rape even though these attitudes persist to this day. However, she seems to fall into the trap of believing that she and others around her would be safe from rape if only they avoided what she calls stupid decisions. This is not true.

All the violence I've experienced has come from those who were viewed by people around me as the lowest risk or who were the most respectable. The cause in her rape and my rapes were in the lack of ethics of our rapists. Some of us who have been raped are raped by those mothers warn girls about but others are raped by those even the victim blamers trust.

Clergy sexual abuse is a huge problem but going to church is never listed along with getting drunk as a dangerous contributory behavior.

After someone is raped non-stupid decisions are frequently transformed into stupid decisions in people's minds simply because they preceded that rape. Opening the front door to accept a delivery becomes a stupid decision if the person at the door holding a box is intent on rape. It becomes assumed that the person raped should have been able to detect danger in time to avoid being raped.

I always promised myself I would never turn into my mother, who would frequently say: 'Don't think you're going out in that', as the skirts in the Sixties got shorter. I believe we all have a right to wear whatever we choose, whether it's a mini skirt or a burka.

Sadly, I'm not sure that the highly sexualised society in which we live offers young people much of a choice. Children are lured into 'sexy gear' before they're old enough to be trusted to take a bus on their own. [...]

Is it a surprise that in such a society assumptions are made about a woman's availability?
While it is not a surprise that many societies continue a long history of making generic assumptions about a woman's availability, those assumptions have been and will always be inexcusable. It will always be negligent to make assumptions based on a girl or woman's level of sexualization whether those who are negligent are held legally accountable or not.

Being lured into 'sexy gear' doesn't mean being lured out of having the right to not be raped. Anyone who makes decisions about their sexual actions based on assumptions about a woman's availability is making the decision that committing rape is an acceptable outcome. It's not good enough for someone to guess that their actions aren't rape because of the harsh opinion many people have about the girls and women they are making assumptions about.

Murray's rapist likely operated with the same mindset she is excusing. In the late 1960s it would be no surprise that assumptions were made about women's availability. It would also be no surprise that her attempts to stop her rapist before that rape was completed would be dismissed as not changing peoples belief that she was asking for it. Many people would have viewed her as paying the price for playing a dangerous game rather than viewing her as a crime victim.
I may, I'm afraid, have to concede that it's not a good idea to go out in the skimpiest of clothing, totter about in the kind of high heels in which you could never run to get out of trouble, get blind drunk and fall over in the street having first taken off your knickers - if you were wearing them in the first place.

Should the worst happen, you could hardly be surprised if a jury felt you had been guilty of a degree of contributory negligence and compromised your safety.
What is not a good idea is to view tottering in skimpy clothing or being falling down drunk or without knickers as the cause of rape. These in no way are the causes of rape. Men can and do choose not to rape when a woman could not protect herself from him and when many people assume that raping that woman doesn't count as a real crime.

Again this attitude could apply just as easily back when Murray was raped. Only then she was likely assured that this attitude would be found in nearly every police station.

This quoted description by Murray makes rapists invisible. Instead of humans, rapists are "trouble." Rape isn't something one person inflicts on another, it is something that "happens."

Allowing a rapist to be less accountable because of opinions about the victim's choices encourages more rapes even if people don't intend to provide this encouragement and wish nothing other than to reduce the number of rapes.

If not being able to outrun a criminal equals being viewed with contributory negligence and compromised safety then a huge segment of most societies must never ever go outside alone or with people who might leave them alone.

In 2007 there was a trial of teens who mistook a woman unsteady on her feet from multiple sclerosis for being drunk and 2 of those teens raped her while the third acted as a lookout. This crime happened because of attitudes which Murray defends as unsurprising.

Those who reduce rapists accountability for any reason are the ones who are practicing contributory negligence. This negligence must stop immediately.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:59 AM   7 comments links to this post


At February 19, 2010 12:24 PM, Blogger LadyJtalks said...

your article and words are timeless. I don't know if it will ever change, this attitude that some women just ask for it by the way they dress. I remember many years back when people would actually ask "how do you fit into those jeans" because I did wear them tight and my reason I expressed was simply "I have to be sober to get out of these and about the time I sobered up trying to get them off I'd remember why I was wearing them in the first place" Good write today. LadyJ

At February 19, 2010 1:45 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Jenni Murray who lives in the UK is a well-known writer and broadcaster so obviously her article was most welcome by the male-dominant media which consistently promotes women-blaming and minimalises male sexual violence against women and girls.

Articles such as Ms. Murray's are a deliberate smokescreen designed to hide male accountability and male responsibility. The central reason why so many women indoctrinate their daughters with the myth that women are wholly responsible for preventing male sexual violence is because our male dominated society benefits when the focus is always on women's behaviour and never on those males who make the free and informed choice to rape and/or commit other forms of sexual violence against women and girls.

Blaming women and girls also neatly ignores how our male supremacist society teaches men as boys it is their right and entitlement to have 24/7 sexual access to any woman/girl if they so wish. The male sexual script has long been one wherein males are not expected to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour towards women and girls. Instead the male sexual script tells men and boys 'it is your right to demand/force/coerce threaten any woman or girl into submitting to your sexual demands because your being male entitles you to have unlimited 24/7 sexual access to any woman or girl.'

Futhermore our male supremacist society excuses/minimalises male sexual violence against women and girls. Such minimalisation serves one purpose only - justification for male sexual violence against and continued women-blaming.

It is not surprising so many women internalise these misogynistic messages and believe societal messages telling them to safeguard their security by not venturing outside their homes unless their bodies are totally hidden; don't talk to any strange man because he is a potential rapist etc. are all designed to minimalise male accountablity. Nothing any woman or girl does with regards to her safety will prevent any male from raping her if he so wishes. That is the unpleasant fact. So should men be told they must be kept away from women and girls - of course not - but we must challenge and change misogynistic messages which excuse and justify male sexual violence against women and girls.

The only ones who can reduce male sexual violence against women and girls are males and to date very few men are willing to speak out against other males who condone, minimalise and justify male sexual violence against women and girls. Why? Because male sexual violence against women and girls is about male power; male domination and male eroticisation of sexual violence committed against women and girls. This deadly mixture ensures that males must never be held accountable and boys must never be taught that women and girls are human beings with the right to be treated with dignity and respect - rather than as men's sexual service stations.

However we can certainly start by holding male rapists accountable for their crimes against women and girls and we can challenge misogynistic messages claiming women and girls 'dress in sexually provocative clothing etc.' Odd is it not that men are deemed to be more rational and objective than women but when it concerns male sexuality this rationality flies out of the window. Are men really victims of their sex drives? Or is the reality that men who commit sexual violence against women do so in the knowledge they will not be charged, let alone convicted of sexual violence against because all too often such male actions will be viewed as 'normal heterosexual male behaviour - rather than rape.'

At February 19, 2010 1:54 PM, Blogger Julian Morrison said...

Nobody ever says why "dressed sexy" is considered an excuse. It can't be "being clearly a fan of sex, she would want it", because the coercion involved flatly contradicts that. So I think it has to be either "she turned him on and he couldn't help himself" (assumption: men are rape-bots with no personal agency. So why do we let them roam the streets free?) or else the commodity model, "she's a slut, her virginity is all used up, he didn't steal anything of value" (medieval much?).

I wonder what someone would say if they came up with the "dressed sexy" excuse and the listener wouldn't let them get away without clarifying what that was supposed to imply. I bet they would waffle - the excuse has somehow become socially acceptable, but I can't see the explanations going down so smoothly.

At February 21, 2010 12:27 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

Jennifer Drew's comments are pretty much spot on. We are all inculcated (from birth) to see the world through the masculine lens. Historically, through to modern times, it is the male viewpoint that is dominant. This entails both men and women viewing the world the same way as a man would. In our world everything that is masculine is considered important, and almost everything that is feminine is described as not-important, frivolous, or even as "hysterical". From politics, where left-wingers are often described as "wets", meaning "wet behind the ears" for showing compassion, to our girls and boys who are derided in sports for "throwing like a girl" through to the value that society places on mothering. Comments such as "big girls blouse" aimed at men who display compassion are meant as insults. And it is now widely reported that women undertake mass unpaid domestic and child-caring roles, while men are relatively free from this burden.

So, when it comes to things like placing the blame of rape onto women, other women do it. Because they have not had their eyes opened to see that they are viewing the world through the masculine lens.

While those who critically analyse everything they see and will put forward a viewpoint that is feminine get called "man-haters" or given the term "feminist" in a derogatory manner. Because, the way that most people are inculcated to think is, "Either view the world through the masculine lens or hate men." There doesn't seem to be, with a lot of people, a sense that one can view the world through the feminine lens. Those people that do, invariably critically analyse the male perspective. Paradoxically, although men are the dominant theme in our culture, they have, for the most part, escaped being critically analysed. That is because, they are not motivated to do so. And it has become the work of feminists to do so.

At February 21, 2010 1:21 AM, Blogger NOLA radfem said...

Wow, excellent comments, LadyJ, Jennifer, and Julian. And, as always, great post, Marcella.

I knew a woman whose daughter was fatally shot by a classmate who was playing with a gun. The woman became an anti-violence activist and everywhere she travelled, people wanted to know what HER DAUGHTER had done wrong...why was she out at that hour, why did she go somewhere with no adults present, and so on.

In a letter to the editor about this woman's organizing efforts (and some of the obnoxious letters preceeding mine), I posited that people work hard to find SOMETHING to differentiate the victim's fate from anything that could POSSIBLY happen to them. If what happened to her child could happen to mine any old day (which is the truth - it could), that is really more terror than my mind can live with. And so, people try to cope with the random terror of it all by coming up with these little divisions - they desperately NEED ways of proving in their own minds that the victim was SOMEHOW different from them - because if the victim was NOT unique, if it is possible for me to suffer the victim's fate any hour of any old day, how can I LIVE with that much terror in my head? People can't! So they work hard at coming up with SOMETHING the victim did that they can believe made them vulnerable - then they themselves don't have to focus on the terror of their own vulnerability.

I hope I explained that okay (tired)...that is my theory!

By the way, I guess I should own up to what I did to cause my own two rapes. Apparently I should not have married a man who is a foot taller than I and a hundred pounds heavier than I. I should not have been running around my own house barefoot, in sweat pants and a long t-shirt. Oh, and I definitely should not have argued with him or made him jealous. (/sarcasm)

At February 21, 2010 2:53 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

To the anonymous man who left a comment earlier this afternoon, a genuine question doesn't include an accusation, let alone a false accusation.

No wonder you won't identify yourself in your comment. If you are for people being held responsible for what they say, please start with yourself.

At February 22, 2010 6:48 AM, Blogger NOLA radfem said...

Lynn, I had never heard the term "wets" for lefties like me before (I don't think we use it in the U.S.).

I joined facebook a few months ago and made contact with old frieds from high school, most of whom have grown up to be extreme right-wingers (it's this area, very conservative). I did not post ANYTHING overtly political, just social justice things, like the Lakota Indians being out of heating oil for the rest of this winter and their desperate plea for aid, please donate to Haiti, etc.

And when I went onto this woman's facebook page, she was calling me horrible names for it. It was so bizarre. In what circles is compassion a bad thing, I kept wondering.

Now I know - as you've explained it, it's that they think we are "wet behind the ears."

I know the kinds of pain I have had to deal with. I know how thinking of the pain of others makes me want to help. If that makes me naive or wet behind the ears or a bleeding heart liberal, well, let them call me whatever they want, I guess.


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