Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual assault were “asking for it”, it’s not hard to understand why discussing what constitutes risk has become a virtual taboo.
From tut-tutting at the thought of a woman daring to venture outside at night without a male companion to the abhorrent practice of suggesting her attire was a contributing factor, seeking to shift the blame from perpetrator to victim is a well-worn custom.
Let there be no mistake: any attempt to alleviate the responsibility of a rapist in this manner is both erroneous and offensive. Having already endured a violent crime, a victim’s suffering is only further compounded by the insinuation she brought her misery upon herself. And even the most diplomatically worded and well-intentioned caution about the alleged hazards of wearing a low-cut top is doing just that.
It’s also a convenient distraction from the real issue – which is of course why any man would ever believe he has the right to force himself on a woman against her will.
No arguments about the wheres and hows and whys can ever excuse that.
As Karen Willis, executive officer of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, wrote in The Daily Telegraph last week following the gang rape of a school girl in Baulkham Hills: “women have every right to be in any place at any time doing whatever it is that they choose, just as men do.
“It is the offenders who are wrong,” Willis continued. “They are the ones who should not be there. It is their behaviour that needs to change.”
Surely no reasonable person would disagree. And yet should our rightful expectation that sexual offenders be held fully accountable mean all conversations about scenarios that make women more vulnerable be off limits?
To many, the answer is yes.
For those who consider any acknowledgment of the measures women might take to minimise being assaulted to be an exercise in victim blaming, a report earlier this week showing alcohol plays a role in more than 80 per cent of offences was such a trespass.
Even the painstakingly chosen words of Superintendent Mark Walton of Sydney’s City Central local area command, in which he reiterated the importance of not apportioning blame to the victim, have inflamed critics.
“The one thing that keeps me up at night is the vulnerability of women, when they are well affected by alcohol, to sex assault,” he said. “They are more likely to be preyed on. That certainly doesn’t excuse the actions of perpetrators. It’s just a fact.”
This, coupled with media coverage of a committal hearing for the Melbourne man accused of the rape and murder of Jill Meagher, proved too much for some.
“I don’t know why intoxication is necessary for news report,” fumed Fairfax blogger Clementine Ford of an ABC article which mentioned pathologist Matthew Lynch’s testimony that Meagher’s ability to resist would have been limited by her level of intoxication.
And to anyone so foolish or insensitive to truly believe that it was alcohol that saw Meagher meet a terrible fate then Ford’s outrage is warranted.
After all, it is that Meagher was so desperately unlucky to encounter a violent stranger – when the overwhelming majority of rapes and homicides are committed by family members or acquaintances – that made her chilling tale resonate with so many.
But to merely acknowledge the insight of an expert into the potential impact of alcohol on her capacity to have protected herself is not to imply her drinking somehow made her culpable for the horrendous and random nature of her attack.
It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. And in our haste to rightfully condemn those still engaging in a tedious game of blame-the-victim, we must be careful not to deny women access to factual information that might be of assistance.
In Australia it is, as it should be, the right of every woman to drink, enjoy herself and stay out as late as she chooses. And if she does so then not even the most wily of lawyers should be able to use those circumstances to shift the blame for a sex offender onto his victim.
But it’s also the right of every woman to take on board statistics and expert knowledge so she can better equip herself in reducing the likelihood of running into danger.
We don’t, and never will, live in a utopian society where sexual violence is non existent. It’s not victim blaming to acknowledge that. It’s just common sense.
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