Stop the victim-blaming

September 5, 2013, by Anuradha Dugal, 8 Comments

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Ever wonder why women rarely report sexual assault?

Last week, a group of frosh leaders at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia came under fire for leading freshman students in a chant encouraging underage rape. These students are from the same province where months earlier, Rehteah Parsons took her own life after being bullied and harassed after her classmates shared pictures of her online taken during her sexual assault.

Yes, victim-blaming is alive and well in Canada.

According to research conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the belief that women are to blame is not uncommon. Twenty percent of survey respondents said women may invite sexual assault by being drunk; others blamed women for wearing short skirts or flirting. Most shocking, is that young people aged 18 to 34 are more likely to have these attitudes.

Trying to understand sexualized violence by talking about victims is like trying to understand a flood by looking at a puddle. You’ve got to study the sky.

I believe we need a new approach.

1. Start by believing.

Statistics Canada reports there are about 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. That’s over 1,200 per day, at least 100 of which result in serious physical harm.

As you read this, are you thinking: “No way! If this were true, it would be in the papers every day!” But fewer than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police and when it comes to street harassment - sexually explicit comments, catcalls, leering, stalking – the numbers are even lower. Since victims stay silent and even reported crimes rarely make the headlines, we don't recognize the true size of this social crisis.

Some people love to point out only about 15% of sexual assaults in Canada involve a weapon or result in serious physical injuries. I guess that's good news, until you consider the thousands of victims who experience more minor injuries or emotional trauma after being touched, grabbed, or penetrated against their will.

We’re in collective denial and it’s time to face the truth.

2. Ask different questions.

When we hear about a sexual assault, what's the first question we usually ask?  It’s certainly not, "Why do some men rape?"

Most people find this question shocking because it is so unusual. However, some respond with extreme anger, roaring: “Not all men are rapists, you know!”

Does that mean we can’t talk about the ones who are?

Why is it okay to ask questions like “What was she wearing?” but not “Why did he do that?” 

To address the root causes of sexualized violence we must have the courage to ask difficult questions, even in the face of outrage.

Some of the best and bravest conversations are happening in school-based violence prevention programs across Canada. We need more of these programs, right now, because our kids’ safety is at stake: 60% of all sexual assault victims are under age 18.

3. Challenge rape jokes.

Here’s my vote for the saddest unasked question: "Why do our kids hear (or tell) so many rape jokes?"

When rape is a joke, it becomes more acceptable to rape. Witnesses are more likely to snap photos and share them online, stand by and do nothing, or bully victims who complain. Our children become less able to recognize danger and take action, especially when the danger comes from – as it usually does – people they know. Many teens are assaulted in the company of friends; they feel safe, become intoxicated and let their guard down, or are drugged without their knowledge.

Which bring us back to the tragic death of Rehteah Parsons.

After she died, the sexual assault centre in Halifax – one of only two in Nova Scotia – was flooded with calls from victims. Unfortunately, due to funding cuts the staff had been reduced and the 24-hour crisis line closed down. Now, thanks to a petition signed by Rehtaeh's father, their funding has been temporarily restored. The Canadian Women’s Foundation also supports this organization and recently provided an additional emergency grant. But every sexual assault centre in Canada is being squeezed by funding cuts and increased demand, leaving victims nowhere to turn.

They deserve better.

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Comments

Social issues regarding this topic:

"Why do some men rape?- Most people find this question shocking because it is so unusual. However, some respond with extreme anger, roaring: “Not all men are rapists, you know!” Does that mean we can’t talk about the ones who are?"

There is nothing wrong with talking about the ones who are, however by stating "why do some men rape?" and not "what do some people rape?" you are stating that women do not rape, which is simply untrue. Obviously the numbers of male rapists do exceed the number of female rapists, however discounting all female rapists as majority do, it has been shown to cause more unreported rapes among men, due to them thinking they won't be taken seriously, or will be laughed at or mocked for not enjoying it. As a Egalitarian I feel you should be very careful not to accidentally demote the importance of a particular section of victims which considering the articles title and purpose, would be unfortunately ironic.

Rapists Rape

Yes, the majority of rapists are men, but definitely not all. And to say that "Men rape" is insinuating that all men will eventually rape, and thats definitely not true. Rapists rape, it has nothing to do with gender.

Rape is way too trivialized

I agree that rape is trivialized and I agree that rape is not just an issue that women face, nor just an issue that men cause. I used to think that women were treated like sexual objects in cases of rape, now I realize that the act of rape in itself is treated as such a joke. If a woman is raped it's, "Well, you had a drink with him didn't you? "Well, what were you wearing?" "You led them on." Etc. If a man is raped it's a sign that he isn't a man anymore. Or if he happens to be raped by a woman (which I suspect is VASTLY under-reported and far more common than we think), it's not really rape because he could have easily overpowered her. If she was able to be penetrated by him, he must have wanted it. The logic in all of this is SO flawed. We need to stop making excuses for rape and hold the rapists accountable. A woman is not responsible for being raped because she decided to dress a certain way or decided to drink and some creep decided that these actions are signals of compliance or consent. Conversely, a man is just as entitled to say no to sexual advances and should he say no but his body respond in a way that is biologically normal in such situations, that does not equate to consent. We need to stop looking at the "signals" the victims are supposedly putting forward and stop saying that it's not the rapists' fault for misinterpreting them. The only action from the victim that matters is whether or not they gave consent. Everything else is irrelevant. Even whether they gave protest is irrelevant. If someone feels as though they had sex against their will then it is rape. It is not the victim's responsibility to over power their attacker, to dress in a way that is completely unarousing to all other living things, to not have a drink, etc. It is every human being's responsibility to respect one another enough to realize that we do not have the right to take something from someone if they do not wish to give it to us willingly. And we need to stop addressing only women when it comes to the concern of being victims because A. it is causing a stigma, making men who are not rapists and actually on our side feel attacked, B. telling men who are victimized that they are not actually victimized because it's really only an issue if a woman gets raped and C. preventing opportunities from addressing the issue as a whole and teaching EVERYONE to take preventative measures to protect themselves and teaching those who rape what rape really is. Because we continuously break this down as a gender issue rather than a human being issue, we stand in the way of progress towards resolving the issue. By separating gender we are causing people to fight against a cause because they feel as though they need to defend themselves simply for being born a certain gender. It is this separation that causes me to hear male friends tell me about situations in which they were raped without a comprehension that they were even raped. It is this separation that causes people to ask the question, what was she wearing, rather than what was wrong with the individual that they thought they had the right to attack someone. Not all men are rapists and not all women are victims and until we fix that stigma we are going to be causing debates between people that frankly mask the larger issue at hand...the right to say no, no matter what you wear, what you drink, and what chromosomes you have.

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...and WOMEN rape. I know

...and WOMEN rape.

I know statistics show that the majority of rapists are male, but after working on a crisis hotline for three years, it always irritates me that men are always shown as the aggressors and women as the victims.

Rapists Rape

I don't think it's fair to say MEN rape. The vast majority of men don't rape, and some freakish women rape (rarely); also sometimes men are the victims of rape.

I agree that rape is not a passive act but the problem is *not* that "MEN rape." The problem is that RAPISTS rape.

MEN rape

Name the problem. MEN rape.

Rape is not a passive act. Women don't "get raped". MEN rape.

Use active voice. MEN rape.

*RAPISTS* Rape

The problem is *not* that "MEN rape." The vast majority of men do not rape. Also, some freakish women rape (rarely) and sometimes men are the victims of rape (usually sports/school hazing or prison or POWs or similar vulnerable situations.)

The problem is that RAPISTS rape. Use the active voice. RAPISTS rape.

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