Sit down, this may come as a surprise to you…
A rape is never the victim’s fault.
Hopefully, Dear Reader, you read that line, rolled your eyes in exasperation and thought to yourself “sheesh, crazy lady, tell us something we don’t know!”.
Most of you will read no further for fear of encountering more mundane obviousness. But some of you will cock your head, maybe, say something like “weelllllll sometimes maybe it’s her fault… just a little bit…”. So this is for you douchebags in the latter group.
Let’s start again. A rape is never the victim’s fault. A rape is when you have sex with someone against their will so it can never, ever be their fault.
In India, six men raped a woman to death. To death. The details are something from a dark, twisted nightmare. Rape is rife in parts of India for a range of reasons, not least because some people consider a woman alone, or out at night, or dressing ‘immodestly’ or hanging with the wrong crowd, or - heaven forbid - riding a bus with a friend - indicates she is of ‘loose morals’. Or ‘asking for it’. Women often don’t report rape out of shame - because they are shamed by it, ferchrissakes - and when they do, they rarely get justice.
In Swaziland over Christmas the powers-that-be banned rape-provoking mini-skirts and crop tops. It’s not up to the men to control their urges, but up to the women not to tempt them. Classic uber-conservative logic.
There’s an archaic law that police have said they will now enforce for women’s own protection. A police spokeswoman said that “the act of the rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women” and that women should strive not to excite men.
Luckily the women are free to wear a tiny traditional belt when they dance for the king. It leaves their bums and boobs exposed but apparently no one’s been raped while wearing it.
Then there’s the Italian priest who blamed provocative women for domestic violence and sexual abuse.
These are all versions of Australia’s Sheik al Hilali’s now infamous remark blaming women for sex attacks by comparing them to ‘uncovered meat’ that attracted predators. It’s victim blaming. It’s a bizarre belief in a strange world where men’s wills are so weak they cannot refrain from hitting or raping a woman at the slightest provocation. Where women are Sirens, luring helpless men.
A picture popped up in my Facebook feed last week. A woman with a sign reading “I drank too much, flirted and my shorts (were) too short. I was asking for it”. The sign is from a 2011 Slutwalk but the comments on it are raging today.
She shouldn’t have been out that late. She shouldn’t have been drunk. If you dress like a slut you are a slut. If you dress like that you deserve it.
India. Africa. Italy. The US. Australia. The victim blaming is happening everywhere.
In Australia many people try to disguise their shaming by cloaking it in terms of personal responsibility. They might say, for example, that for their own safety women – or vulnerable men - shouldn’t be out late, or drunk, or in sexy clothes. You can say that to your daughter, maybe. Because when it comes to someone near and dear to you you want to reduce any risks to their wellbeing, and there are increased risks of assaults by a stranger if alcohol is involved.
But what about all those rapes that occur inside? By relatives, by friends, by colleagues?
By saying women shouldn’t be out late, or drunk, or in sexy clothes, you may as well say; women shouldn’t be gadding about without a chastity belt; they shouldn’t be alone with their uncles or their fathers or the guys from school or the footy team. They shouldn’t have been on a date, or with people from work.
No one has come out and blamed this poor, unnamed Indian student for her own heartbreaking trauma. But every time you suggest that a woman, by her behaviour or her dress, is even a little bit at fault for her own rape, that is what you are doing - blaming and shaming.
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