Rape Culture #3: Victim-Blaming and Slut-Shaming

By January 12, 2019Uncategorized

Part three in a series by Joy Pedrow Skarka 

Victim-blaming and slut-shaming silence survivors.

We sat on the couch, and I told my friend, “I was raped.” In shock, my friend asked a few questions that I don’t remember anymore, but I’ll never forget how the questions made me feel in that moment—that the rape was my fault.

Questioning a victim is a very common response when someone first hears about a rape—questions like: “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you lead him on?” 

Why do people ask these questions? In a rape culture victims are not innocent. They must have played some part or had some responsibility for their rape to happen. Consequently, people question the victim. And questioning the victim has the same effect as blaming the victim. The questioner makes excuses for the rapist’s actions based on the victim’s actions. The message is this: the victim was asking for it.

In my story, I was blamed for going to his apartment, for not leaving, for sleeping over, for not putting up a physical fight—some implied that I was asking for it. I was told that even if I was raped that I needed to take responsibility for my sinful actions. Yes, I chose to go to his apartment and sleep there, but that does not make the rape my fault. Because these were the messages I had received from loved ones, it took me years to get over the shame I felt, thinking that I was responsible for someone else’s actions. Receiving victim-blaming questions sometimes hurts worse than the actual abuse, especially when a close friend or family member does the interrogating. 

         While victim-blaming is evident in the types of questions people ask, it is also evident in the myths that are told about rape. Rape myths are “attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women.” Some examples of rape myths include: “if a woman is raped when she is drunk, she is somewhat responsible,” “a woman who goes to the home of a man on the first date is implying that she wants to have sex,” “she asked for it,” “if the rapist doesn’t have a weapon, you really can’t call it rape,” “many women secretly desire to be raped,” “a lot of women lead a man on and then cry rape,” and “rape is unlikely to happen in a woman’s own neighborhood.” Endorsements of rape myths prevent sexual assault victims from receiving justice. Research suggests that eliminating rape myths is key to ending sexual violence.

Slut-shaming is a type of victim-blaming, but it focuses on the outer appearance of the victim. Usually the recipient of such shaming is a woman, and she is slut-shamed based on her clothing and her physical characteristics. Questions such as, “What was she wearing?” “Did she have on excess make-up?” or “Doesn’t she sleep around anyway?” are forms of slut-shaming. Curvy women have said after being sexually assaulted that they wanted to get breast reduction surgery because they wanted to remove the body part that caused them to get raped. 

Instead of teaching women to love their bodies, we teach women that their bodies caused their abuse. Yet even if a woman wore a short skirt or has a past of sleeping around, what she is wearing is never an excuse for someone to assault or rape her. Women are not responsible for a man’s actions. By blaming the women’s appearance, we lower the responsibility of men. What does this say about men? “Men have no control.” “They just can’t help themselves.” If the woman happens to be overweight or doesn’t fit the “skinny blonde” image, some people will even tell her that she is lucky someone wanted to sleep with her. 

         When the world blames the victims, victims also blame themselves. Author and advocate, Christine Caine, in her book UNASHAMEDstates, “When you are abused, at first you are ashamed of what is happening to you. Over time, though, you begin to think it is because of you that it is happening.” When we have been abused, we believe that something about us makes us abuse-worthy—that we are bad or unworthy of love. 

 Next time someone shares an abuse story with you, resist the temptation to ask questions. Instead, respond in love, empathy, and concern. Next time you hear a person ask a question that perpetuates victim-blaming or slut-shaming or a rape myth, kindly intervene and share your new knowledge. 

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