Victim blaming is just one of the tools used to silence a person who has been sexually assaulted
Rape culture is culture that normalizes sexual violence and trivializes a person’s experience with it, according to the Huffington Post. This could be in the form of jokes about rape or songs that insinuate sexual violence. In my opinion, the stigma and attitude surrounding sexual assault in our society plays into rape culture. Victim blaming comes up a lot in conversations about sexual assault, and is a large part of rape culture.
I believe part of the mentality behind victim blaming is people’s need to feel safe. By asking questions like “What were you wearing?” or “How much did you drink?,” people are able to separate themselves from victims. By finding a way to make rape the fault of the victim, it is easier for people to deny that assault can happen to anyone. No one wants to believe bad things can happen to good people. But the truth is, sexual violence can happen to anyone at any time—and no one ever deserves it.
Victim blaming will not protect you. Blaming victims of sexual assault silences others who haven’t come forward about their experience. And while some may argue that society is becoming more receptive to victims looking to share their experiences, there are still far too many publicized cases of sexual violence that create a narrative where the alleged assaulter walks free and the victim is left traumatized and humiliated.
More than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault—and were faced with criticism and disbelief, according to CNN. Donald Trump has openly bragged about assaulting women, yet he was elected president of the United States. How are victims supposed to feel safe sharing their experiences when history has shown it will only cause them more pain?
According to Sexual Assault Statistics, in Canada, only six out of every 100 incidents of sexual assault are reported to the police. Someone who speaks openly about their sexual assault is usually met with disbelief, suspicion and blame. There is no guarantee the perpetrators of these crimes will be punished appropriately. When you throw the possibility of victim blaming into the mix, it becomes nearly impossible for someone to muster up the strength to talk openly about their assault.
Although many women have shared their stories of sexual assault since the Weinstein allegations, it is important to note that this doesn’t mean all victims will now come forward. In my opinion, victims coming forward after the allegations against Weinstein—and even Cosby—increases the fear surrounding the idea of reporting sexual assault. Seeing the way these victims are treated by some media can silence other victims.
Recent cases in Quebec, including a judge making victim blaming comments in court, have reinforced my feelings. Justice Jean-Paul Braun said a sexual assault victim was most likely “flattered” by the experience, and he questioned whether kissing is sexual or if consent is needed, according to CTV News.
The idea that the victim should have been flattered enforces the idea that women should be grateful for any attention men give them. The judge insinuated the kiss was not a big deal. This is dehumanizing and encourages rape culture.
As a woman, I’ve been subjected to street harassment and crude comments, among other things. The attitude that a victim must have done something to deserve their assault only makes these experiences worse, especially knowing punishments won’t be carried out. I find myself analyzing my outfit whenever I’m catcalled, fearing I did something wrong. Victim blaming affects all of us. If I were assaulted tonight, and if I chose to tell anyone, I would be terrified of what would be said about me tomorrow.
So how can we change this? We need to listen to victims. We have to understand that only one person is to blame for sexual assault—the assaulter. The victim is never at fault, and there is no reason to judge someone who has been assaulted.
No one asks to be subjected to sexual violence, and no one deserves it. We must work to change the conversation around sexual violence because we should no longer be the reason victims are silenced.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin