Victim Blaming: Why it needs to stop
By Shannon Amrein • October 21, 2017
Recently, I saw a post where people listed the things that they wish they had known sooner about sexual assault. To be clear, this is referring to sexual assault as any unwanted sexual contact, including, but not limited to, rape, kissing, touching and any kind of non-consensual penetration. There was one quote that really stuck with me, (which can be seen above) mostly because it was one that I see examples of in the news a lot, and with which I have personal experience. Someone wrote, “It is easier to blame the victim,” and further elaborated to explain that people will sincerely pretend to not hear that their friend sexually assaulted someone else because then they would have to confront what kind of person their friend is, so they blame the victim. Maybe this sounds crazy when you read it. How could friends negate something as important as sexual assault? How could they possibly decide to take sides? But unfortunately, it is something that happens.
It is safe at this point to assume that anyone reading this article is aware of the role victim blaming plays in allegations of sexual assault in this country, so it really should be no surprise that victim blaming can be taken to this height. Not only is it painful to have your friends not believe you, it can also put the victim in a precarious position, where they may be forced to encounter the person who assaulted them constantly.
For example, the stories that have recently come out about Harvey Weinstein, the film producer, where he has been accused of sexual harassment, assault and rape, have resulted in scrutiny of the women who have come forward. A disturbing number of narratives in the news have questioned why the women didn’t come forward sooner to speak out against Harvey.
But here’s the thing: if these women had come forward earlier, they would have risked their careers because they, as the victims, would have been blamed. This is how it works in our society.
This doesn’t just happen to people in the news. It happens on college campuses, to college students. It happened to me at a party in college, with someone I knew. He pulled me outside the party and halfway undressed me as I was struggling to get away and saying no. No one stepped in to help me, in fact I was later told that I was over exaggerating and nothing had happened that I “hadn’t asked for.” And so I saw him all the time. In essence, people did exactly what the quote at the top of this article says: they ignored what he did to me because it was easier to forget it and to blame me for “overreacting”.
This is the root of the problem. I didn’t ask for it. In fact, I fought against him verbally and physically. The women in the Weinstein example didn’t ask for it either. Yet, the overwhelming narrative is still, “(the victim) asked for it”. This narrative allows for people to ignore that someone they know assaulted someone else, it allows people to remain unaccountable for their actions, and it perpetuates the narrative of victim blaming in our culture.
This story isn’t unique to me, and I’ve certainly heard worse. This happens to millions of women, something that we get reminders of every time a new, horrifying, sexual assault story breaks, but which we never make real steps towards changing. Right now we’re getting a reminder, in the #MeToo movement.
And yet, there are those who still wonder why people stay silent until something like the #MeToo movement happens. As an Upworthy article about the Weinstein story notes, “victims often stay silent because they’re vulnerable to the power abusers have over the situation; victims could lose their jobs or see their credibility attacked,”. On a smaller level, victims may find that their friends don’t even believe them or they face backlash from people they know. If victims can’t even say anything to their friends without them disbelieving what happened, why would they speak up to the general public? And how will we ever get to a point where a victim, man or woman, can speak out safely? Even more crucially, how do we get to a point where we can prevent sexual assault from happening?
I don’t have an answer, but I’m pretty sure that talking about it more often than each time a new hashtag trend pops up is an important part of the answer.
The quote at the top of this article made me mad, and it made me scared. I hope it made you feel the same. We must change our society and stop this.