It’s a term that has been whispered about and shoved under the carpet for long enough and now it is finally time to shout it out.
It’s a term that has been whispered about and shoved under the carpet for long enough and now it is finally time to shout it out. We are living in a rape culture—a society that teaches its children ‘don’t get yourself raped,’ rather than ‘don’t rape,’ a society that excuses and normalizes sexual violence that apportions blame upon the victim and not the perpetrator. This isn’t only happening across the world in the dark alleyways of Calcutta or Soweto, it’s happening on our streets and playing out on our TVs and Twitter feeds every day.
Over the last year, comments like ‘some girls just rape easy’ were made in the US and our favourite politician here at home, George Galloway, made his infamous comment: ‘It wasn’t rape – it was bad sexual etiquette.’ The government in Swaziland banned miniskirts, while in Malaysia women were encouraged not to wear lipstick or high heels, both measures issued in order to prevent acts of rape. Unsurprisingly, as a result of all of this, The Independent newspaper named 2012 ‘the year it became ok to blame victims of rape.’
It is official. The rape blame game has gone global and needs to be stopped.
Let’s compare two scenarios. The first one—a woman is raped while out on the town with her friends. She’s been drinking, she’s wearing something short and sexy, and she might have even been flirting with the man who later raped her. The second scenario—a man is robbed walking home alone, he was attacked and his wallet and Rolex were stolen. Now, do you think the first response by police and society to the second scenario would be ‘excuse me sir, is it possible you actually wanted to be mugged, carrying all that money on you and wearing an expensive watch?’ Unlikely. But, all too often, this is the question being hurled at victims of rape. We as a society need to figure out why this is the only crime where the onus of proof lies with the victim.
Earlier this year, The Office for National Statistics published a report that found that one in 12 people in the UK believed rape victims are to blame if they were drunk or under the influence of drugs, and/or were flirting with their attacker. Two popular arguments voiced by people who believe this, players in the victim blame game are, “women should be more sensible when it comes to their safety” and “boys will be boys.” By telling our sons and daughters this, we are not only perpetuating these stereotypes, we are excusing the behaviour and doing nothing to change or address it. No one is telling women to be reckless, but I for one refuse to live in a world where actions like enjoying one too many drinks at a party, or flirting with a man are considered actions that invite rape.
Recent examples in the US reinforce the fact that these views are still commonplace in global society. Take CNN’s coverage of the conviction of the rapists in Steubenville in the state of Ohio, where journalist Poppy Harlow did her best to make us feel sorry for the perpetrators, talking about ‘those poor boys and their ruined futures.’ A little message for you Poppy: the verdict didn’t ruin their lives, their decision to repeatedly gang rape an unconscious girl did.This is a hell of a lot more sinister than just ‘misplaced sympathy,’ a term being thrown around by the media. The only comfort in this story is the huge public backlash it created online, with a petition calling for Poppy Harlow’s resignation. One Twitter user put it perfectly, “the time for shrugged shoulders and platitudes about how boys behave is over.”
I interviewed Eileen Maitland, who works for This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me, a charity group working under Rape Crisis about how society’s victim blaming affects victims seeking justice. “There is absolutely no doubt that attitudes that blame women in the context of rape is one of the most serious obstacles to women seeking justice for this crime,” Maitland said. “Despite recent efforts to help women who have been raped to receive justice, societal attitudes continue to play a significant role in limiting justice for women who are raped. Several reviews and other pieces of research conducted over the last few years have highlighted consistently and alarmingly a range of prejudicial attitudes held by the public which blame women for their victimisation and compound an already traumatic experience by attributing the assault in whole or in part to some aspect of their demeanour or behaviour.”
In many parts of the world, the treatment of women is still on a level many would consider medieval, and Western societies aren’t doing too great either. What this shows us, is that Holly Dustin, the director of the End Violence Against Women Campaign, is right: “We as a global society need nothing short of a revolution in our attitude towards sexual violence.”