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Blaming Rape Victims Indicates Social Prejudice

Cara Palmer |
August 19, 2011 | 1:30 p.m. PDT

Staff Columnist

(two gypsy hearts, Creative Commons)
(two gypsy hearts, Creative Commons)
Why is blaming the victim of a rape such an automatic reaction in our culture?

Three fairly recent rape cases illustrate the prejudice against the victims of rape.

Jennifer Moore, eighteen years old, was raped and murdered in 2006. She was blamed for what was done to her because she apparently was asking for it. On his radio show, Bill O’Reilly insulted and criticized the victim. After calling Jennifer "moronic," and emphasizing that she was drunk, he stated, "She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning." It was not Jennifer’s fault that someone decided to attack and assault her that night. Her memory does not deserve to be attacked again by someone who blames her for being raped.

In 2009, a twelve-year-old girl was raped by one of her classmates. She reported the rape and school officials told her she was lying.

AlterNet reports:

"They even demanded she write and hand-deliver an apology letter to her attacker. Twisting the knife a little deeper, the school expelled her for the rest of the year…School officials refused to believe her, and after suffering through 'multiple intimidating interrogations,' she recanted the claim." She was readmitted the next year, and after the school refused a request made by her mother to separate her from the boy who had raped her, he raped her again. "In February 2010, the lawsuit says her attacker ‘was able to hunt [her] down, drag her to the back of the school library, and again forcibly rape her.’ This time, she and her mother reported the rape to the police, and a rape kit tested positive for her attacker's semen. He plead guilty to charges in juvenile court."

Rather than sympathize with the victim, the school suspended her for disrespectful conduct and public display of affection. According to AlterNet, she is suing the school to receive damages for "medical expenses, emotional distress, and attorneys' fees, in addition to ‘punitive damages to deter School Officials and others from similar conduct in the future.’ But the school district denied every one of the girl's allegations, as well as responsibility for the attack…" Instead of believing the girl and taking measures to prevent a subsequent attack, the actions (and lack of actions) by the school officials caused the girl further emotional damage and she was subjected to another attack.

And, this past March, an eleven-year-old girl was gang-raped in a small town in Texas. Not only did the residents of the town blame her for the attack, but the media did also. The New York Times published an article reeking of sympathy for the rapists. There were eighteen. The reporter for the Times wrote, "Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands – known as the Quarters – said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said." As if it was not enough to imply that an eleven-year-old was asking to be gang-raped, the reporter focused on the damaging effect the discovery of the rape had on the rapists. "…[H]ow could their young men have been drawn into such an act?…'It’s just destroyed our community,’ said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. 'These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.'" So does the child who was traumatized by their actions.

She was asking for it. She was walking alone. She was drunk or on drugs. She was dressed provocatively. She was promiscuous. She was flirtatious. She was at a party. She didn’t fight hard enough. She was asking for it.

How about changing those all-too-common excuses for a rapist’s behavior to the following: He raped her. It was his fault. He must be punished accordingly. There is no justification for rape.

A woman does not give up her right to protection under the law, just because of the way she is dressed, from a man who attacks her. The fact that a woman is out late alone, or at a party, or dressed a certain way, does not automatically mean that she is looking for sex. If she says no, the excuse that "she was asking for it" is abominable. Especially if the victim is a child. An article posted on Feminist.com, entitled "Blaming the Victim," reads:

"Many of us heard from our parents, 'Boys will be boys, so girls must take care' – the message being that we can avoid unwanted male attention if only we are careful enough. If anything goes wrong, it must be our fault. Blaming the victim releases the man who commits violence from the responsibility for what he has done. Friends or family may blame the victim in order to feel safe themselves: 'She got raped because she walked alone after midnight. I'd never do that, so rape won't happen to me.'"

Not only does blaming the victim relieve the perpetrator of responsibility for his actions, but it also dramatically increases the feelings of shame and guilt a rape victim already feels upon being violated, and the fear of being blamed prevents many women from reporting rape.

That is why women around the world are beginning to take action. SlutWalks around the world are taking place, demonstrations attended by multitudes of women who believe that the culture surrounding rape needs to be realigned. Huffington Post reports:

“Their goal: to shift the paradigm of mainstream rape culture, which they believe focuses on analyzing the behavior of the victim rather than that of the perpetrator…SlutWalk organizers, both domestically and internationally, hope that the movement creates a global dialogue in which women feel comfortable discussing sexual assault without fear of blame.”

Stop blaming the victim. Start helping instead.

In the words of one blogger:

“Because whenever one of us is attacked, victim blaming will be a part of it.

Even if you’re a senior citizen.

Even if you were in your own home.

Even if it was by someone you thought you could date.

Even if you’re 11.”


Reach Staff Columnist Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.



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