Disclaimer: This is my opinion. I, in no way, advocate victim-blaming. But I think it’s important that we try to understand why rape is the only violent crime for which victim-blaming is prevalent.
So first off, I want to consider the small victory that was the conviction of these boys. They were not let off (though their punishment could have been more severe…) This serves as an example to young men and young women. Women – you can press charges and you can have those charges taken seriously. So many cases of rape go unreported because of confusion about the situation, or fear that pressing charges would be fruitless. Well here is a high profile example of reporting a rape making something happen. And for men – yep, you sure can get thrown in jail for rape. Even if you’re the star of the football team, even if you’re “going places.” Guess what, you’re not anymore.
The result of this trial is a good thing. It means that our justice system is making strides and that change could really be coming. I highly doubt that fifty, even twenty years ago, the trial would have had this result.
The bad thing, as we all know, is the news media’s coverage of this trial. Victim blaming, releasing the name of the girl (which has resulted in her receiving threats), worrying more about the well-being of the young men than the victim… all of these are things that news media did wrong.
But why do people blame the victim? I think it’s because of fear. It’s because we want to believe that rape isn’t as common as it really is. We victim-blame as a form of self-preservation. This person was raped because she was too drunk – well, I don’t get as drunk as she does. This person was raped because she dressed too provocatively – I don’t dress that way, so I won’t get raped. This person was raped because someone dropped something in her drink – I watch my drink at all times, so that won’t happen to me.
We come up with situations that place blame on the victim, because it gives us the illusion of control. “If I behave differently than the girl who was raped, then I won’t get raped.” We want to have control over the situation. We want to believe that if we act the right way and dress the right way, we will be invulnerable. To accept that it is not the victim’s fault, is to acknowledge that we have no control over other peoples’ actions, that we have no true agency in determining whether or not we will be a victim of rape.
The only way to protect ourselves is by avoiding ‘risky’ behaviors. And even that doesn’t always work. The reality of the situation is that women constantly live their lives in fear of being rape. Women choose to not to live on the ground floor, so someone doesn’t break in and attack us. We don’t walk home alone at night, so that we don’t get attacked. We don’t make eye-contact with strangers, because we don’t want them to pay too much attention to us. The fact of the matter is that over 50% of rapes occur in daylight hours. Avoiding walking home alone at night does not make you invulnerable to rape.
I’m not excusing victim-blaming. It’s incredibly destructive. Rape victims are less likely to report rape if they think they will be held responsible, and when they do, being blamed can cause serious psychological problems, in addition to the ones that result from the rape itself . It’s disgusting to think that the person being violated could be held responsible for such an act.
Blaming the victim can make us feel safer. But it does not actually make us any safer.
The only solution to rape is to change the culture.