Part 2: VICTIM-BLAMING AND “SLUT-SHAMING”

By December 11, 2013Uncategorized
In this continuing series, guest blogger Toria helps us consider rape culture and how better to “do justice” for women. 
Victim-blaming and “slut-shaming” are two of the biggest aspects of rape culture, in my estimation, though victim-blaming holds more weight against victims if they are women rather than men. “Why would anyone blame a victim for being raped?” you might ask. It’s an excellent question. The sad truth is that victim-blaming happens all the time when someone is beaten, assaulted or raped, especially if the victim is a woman.
“I would never do that!” you say. Did you know that it is possible to blame the victim for her assault without realizing it? When you ask a rape victim things like “Were you drinking?”, “What were you wearing?”, “What
were you doing there by yourself?”, or “Were you giving him mixed signals?” you are blaming the victim because you are making excuses for what the rapist did based on her actions. You take the rapist’s ability to reason and his responsibility to respect another person’s sexual autonomy out of the equation.
Victim-blaming runs the gamut from “if you get drunk, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get raped” to “you can only show so much skin before men lose control” to “she looked older than she was, so it was okay” to “she was as much in control as he was” to “she obviously wanted it, since she didn’t fight him off” to “what, you didn’t have pepper spray?” To turn those examples completely on their heads, in many cases when the victim isn’t
conventionally attractive (usually when they are overweight), they are told that they’re lucky that someone wanted to sleep with them in the first place and that they should be grateful for the attention.
Here are a few examples of highly publicized victim-blaming in recent history:
•     In Montana a teacher in his forties or fifties had an affair with a 14-year-old student, who later killed herself. The man was sentenced to thirty days because the judge deemed the girl to be “older than her chronological age” and in control of the situation, despite claims of the girl’s mental instability having been made in court several times.
•     In the Canadian Maritimes, some male classmates of Rehtaeh Parsons sexually assaulted and raped her. Pictures had been taken of the incident and passed around the school, causing her to be bullied and harassed to the point that she committed suicide. During the investigation, several locals put up fliers saying “There’s two sides to every story,” asking people to “support the boys!”
•     In the Steubenville case, high school football players gang-raped a girl who had been drinking at a party and had passed out. Much of the mainstream media painted the perpetrators in a sympathetic light, saying that they had had such bright futures ahead of them and how their sentences would ruin their lives, while saying little of the same of the victim. Many people, whether they knew the victim and perpetrators or not, took to social media to say that it was the girl’s fault for destroying the boys’ lives by being, essentially, a drunken slut. She was even threatened with violence and called “the town whore” by some Twitter users.
•     Prior to Steubenville, but not as public then as it is now, two high-school football players raped two girls who
had been drinking (and allegedly drugged), filmed it, and then left the girls on a front lawn in below-freezing temperatures with only indoor clothing on in Maryville, Missouri. The case was initially dropped but has recently been reopened, following harassment and threats against the girls and their families. The house of Daisy Coleman, one of the victims, was burned down after the girls reported the rapes, and it was thought by some that this happened under suspicious circumstances. The Colemans have since moved away from
Maryville to escape the harassment.
Somewhat different from victim-blaming is slut-shaming. It also happens to people who have not been victims of an assault, but it is extremely pervasive in our culture and often makes up part of the victim-blaming. Slut-shaming is judging a person, usually a woman, based on her clothing and use of her sexual agency. Many people use these characteristics as weapons against rape and sexual assault victims, saying that by dressing or acting “like a slut” she was asking to be raped, that she deserved it, or “if she’s slept with twenty-five guys, what’s one more?”
Why do they do this? Because they believe that good girls are modest and don’t have sex with many people, and that bad girls show all their skin and sleep with whomever they want. The fact of the matter is that neither of those things dictates whether a woman is a “good girl” or a “bad girl”; all it says about her is that she wears clothes and has sexual relationships, just like everyone else. You can disagree with a woman’s conduct, so long as you keep in mind that it’s her life and not yours, and that she doesn’t necessarily have the same beliefs and values that you do. A woman living her life the way she wants to is never an excuse for someone to assault or rape her.
Women are taught to live carefully so that they won’t be a target, but there is one huge inherent flaw in this logic. By teaching women to police themselves, you aren’t just saying, “Dress modestly and act like a lady, and then you won’t get raped”; you are also saying, “Dress modestly and act like a lady, so that he’ll rape someone who didn’t do those things instead of you.”
What are we taught as a society about men?: “Boys will be boys.” “It’s in their nature.” “They just can’t help themselves.”
In summation, I will quote Tumblr user rock-it-ship:
If rape was about how revealing her clothes are, in summer the rates of rape would quadruple. But they don’t. If rape was about how much consensual sex she has had in the past, virgins wouldn’t get raped. But they do. If rape was about how attractive she is by conventional standards, only thin, white, able-bodied women would get raped. But they don’t. If rape was about her drinking too much, women who can’t or don’t drink wouldn’t get raped. But they do. Rape is never the victim’s fault. Rape is about power.

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