Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Blaming the Victim

NOTE: I'm going to preface this by saying that this post is about rape (generally, not a personal experience) and something I consider very ignorant that was said about it. If that will trigger any terrible emotions for you, please don't read this because I don't want to upset you. I'm just very angry about something that was said and wanted to bring it up here, but I don't want anyone who will be really hurt by reading about the subject matter if s/he doesn't want to.


It takes a lot to get me rip-roaring mad. I tend to get annoyed, yes. I get annoyed pretty easily sometimes. But angry? Like throw something and scream at the top of my lungs angry? That emotion is usually reserved for when my mother and I have a particularly heated argument. There are certain issues that will set me off, though.

One of them? People who think rape is the fault of the victim.

There is a story to this.

In my William Faulkner class, we read Sanctuary, which is, for the purposes of understanding this post, about a girl, Temple Drake, who made a bad decision to go out with this guy when she wasn't supposed to, and ended up getting raped with a corn cob. While the plot calls into question whether Temple could have escaped this awful event, the point still stands that she was brutally violated.

When we first read this text, a girl in our class actually decided to pipe in that since Temple had decided to go out at night with this boy when she wasn't supposed to, she had it coming to her. And furthermore, that if you act or dress like you're "easy," you deserve to be raped.

The word "deserve" was used.

Of course, the class went into an uproar because this is an extremely old-fashioned, ignorant way to view sexual violence, especially coming from a woman in the 21st century.

For awhile, we forgot about it.

We read another book about Temple, Requiem for a Nun, a couple weeks ago. I was making a comment in class that I found the character development disappointing. Temple is really not a great human being and does a lot of awful things, but I felt Faulkner could have made her a really inspirational character.

I forget exactly what I said, but the girl chimed in again.

"She got what she deserved," she said. Some of the girls in class let out shocked/exasperated noises.

"No one deserves to get raped," I replied. I was extremely angry at this point. The girl tried to continue arguing for the fact that, since Temple was basically a slut, she got what she asked for.

I hate any phrase used in the context of rape that involves the words "asking for it." No one (unless you are of a select group of people who are genuinely turned on by the idea of it, and even then most women who have these sexual fantasies are more likely to role play them actually seek out assault) asks for rape. No woman hopes that a man will enter her home and force her to have sex with him. No one wants to be walking home from work and be attacked by a stranger. No woman wants the man she's dating to coerce her into a sexual situation through violence. No one wants to be abused by a relative and told to keep quiet or else.

I don't care if you skirt is too short and your top is too low. I don't care if you wiggle your hips when you walk, if you wear heels, if you flirt too much. I don't care if you enjoy sleeping with as many men as possible because that's what pleases you.

No one deserves to be raped. No one is asking for it. If it happened to you, to anyone you know, I know it wasn't your fault. I don't believe it is ever the victim's "fault."

One can argue that you shouldn't walk around looking provocative or that you shouldn't get drunk at parties, and while I realize there are without a doubt times and places where you shouldn't do certain things, where you should be extra careful, rape should not have to be a consequence of a bad decision. No one should have to fear that what they say or do will result in being violated by another human being.

No matter what you did to "ask for it," no one should have given it to you.

I am too frustrated to put everything I feel about this into words. The very idea that anyone feels this way, would blame a person (fictional or not) for this, makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me wonder what the parents must have taught. I know I was taught that my breasts made me a prime target, that I should conceal them because showing them would be, essentially, asking for it. And on one hand, I have to say that there is some sad truth in there, but there shouldn't be. If I want to walk around in my bra, no one should rape me because that's just not okay. It's not okay no matter what, despite whatever rules of proper decorum exist. It makes me sick and sad to wonder what would happen to the girl in class if she were raped, what she would feel about herself, how she would question her own culpability in such a horrendous situation. And would she believe rape victims are "asking for it" then?

I guess what I wanted to do was just say I don't think any of you who may have been through an awful experience like this are to blame. No matter what you may have done "wrong," no one should have felt s/he had the right to take advantage of you.


Anonymous said...

You know, it's not at all unreasonable for somebody to feel that a person who regularly and deliberately places him or herself into dangerous situations should indeed understand the consequences of those choices. If a girl places herself in bad situations over and over again and something bad happens, it doesn't accomplish anything to "blame" her, but she should learn a lesson about the choices that led to that situation. People aren't going to disagree with you saying that "nobody deserves to get raped," so your rant is a very safe one, but the point needs to be made that just because something terrible happens to the girl in this situation, that does not absolve her of any bad decisions that she might have made leading up to that point. People can and should feel bad about the end result, but it's still worth noting that the victim may not have been entirely acting as she should have as well. I'd be surprised if something like this wasn't what the person in your class was saying, and flying off the handle like this is hardly warranted for that.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Vanessa.

Part of what irritates me about the argument that a woman is 'asking for it' is the implication that a man somehow can't stop himself from raping. It's like, if a dude sees too much cleavage he has NO CHOICE but to rape, and thus it's the woman's fault.

I can agree with Anonymous' sentiment that one should understand the consequences of their actions and learn from their mistakes, but it's sadly true that there are PLENTY of people who would disagree with you saying, "nobody deserves to get raped". The idea that rape can be a fitting punishment for a woman who dares to provoke a man's sexual tendencies is ridiculous. Anonymous, I don't believe Vanessa was arguing that Temple was absolved of any wrongdoing here, just railing against the idea that rape is anything but a heinous crime. It is not the natural result of a woman's action, nor a lesson.

Vanessa said...

Anonymous: Thanks for bringing this up.

I'd like to clarify that I don't think that if someone is raped it absolves them of a bad choice-- maybe I should have made that clearer. I think, for instance, if you get drunk at a party and you're raped, it doesn't mean that being drunk at a party or walking around the bad side of town wasn't a bad idea. You knew you were putting yourself in a very vulnerable position and you shouldn't have. What I'm saying, though, is that I don't believe that a bad choice should WARRANT anyone taking advantage of another person. Perhaps the drunk girl at the party was doing the wrong thing, but I also think ANY kind of assault is the wrong consequence.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is sort've idealist in the sense that I wish the world worked in a way where people don't have to fear that their actions will result in being harmed. Because I don't believe being a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time should mean punishment (of course, men get raped, too, so this also can be applied there).

I also agree with Jessica that part of what really bothers me is that men are almost absolved by the "asking for it" argument-- "well, that girl was being slutty/stupid/etc so I just couldn't help it" and somehow that's supposed to be okay.

StephanieDJL said...

I completely agree with this post and completely disagree with anonymous. Yes, you should take the consequences for your actions if you sleep in, miss the bus and end up getting to work late; but since when is rape a consequence?

When it comes to rape what 'bad choice' can you make to put yourself in that situation? Who has the right or the power to say that because you got too drunk at a party you should be fully prepared to get raped?! It's absolutely ludicrous and disgusting that we're in a world where such limitations are put upon us. If I want to, I should be allowed to wear revealing clothing, get ridiculously drunk and walk home through a dark alley without the fear or expectation of getting raped. I don't care if you walk around in a bikini or a burqua, no one has the right to violate your body in such a way.

Jem said...

Ughh... I find it horrifying that those comments, she "deserves to be raped," came from a girl! Normally, whenever I have encountered people "playing the blame game", it has been from men(which is equally wrong). No one should have to fear for their life and safety, even if they did do something dumb (such as have too many drinks). I think Vanessa, that you said everything so perfectly, and I couldn't have said it better. By the way, I wanted to thank you for your sweet little honor of a blog award, it made my day! :)

Laells said...

I whole-heartedly agree with that point, there.

You're entirely right too that it is an extremely idealistic point of view. Which also makes it seem very impossible to achieve something like society realizing that you don't just go around sexually violating people because you feel like it or they looked like they wanted it.

What I find sad is the idea that there are millions more people that truly believe such a horrible thing like this. Not even just people, there are cultures that condone this sort of thinking as well.

At this point in our highly sexualized society, where would we ever begin trying to prove reason to the unreasonable, such as this girl in your Faulkner class?

I feel a pretty good answer to that question is what you're doing right now.

Safely venting in a forum where you can intelligently express, even defend your point, and still come across as the smart one in the end. You can educate as many people that care to listen and then take every comfort you can in knowing that at least YOU are doing something. It may be a really tiny, small difference but YOU are making the choice to be classier (and much more educated and well informed) than this other girl.

Anyways. I hope that all made sense and I didn't get too run-on-y there or anything.

Just close your eyes and count to 10 next time she opens her mouth. lol

Alex said...

Thanks for posting about this; it is such an important topic. The people who have commented before have discussed this issue so well I have nothing further to add except that I saw this today and it raised a frightening number of issues:-

Vanessa said...

Thank you all for your comments! You're such a wonderful, intelligent bunch of people.

And by the way, Alex, I saw that article and it... ugh, I absolutely confounds me! Messed up.

kittykill said...

As someone who has worked with sexual assault survivors for over 8 years, regardless of the situation, no one deserves to be raped. If a person is drunk at a party then it is up to the rapist NOT TO RAPE HER/HIM! How about some accountability for the rapist? They are clear minded, they can stop themselves. If someone is not able to make clear choices because they are under the influence or find themselves in a bad situation it is up to the attacker to stop. They are just as capable of making a good decision too.

So instead of blaming the victim, how about holding the rapist accountable. They can leave the situation, walk the other way, tell a friend to take the person home.

amanda said...

I feel so sick reading about that unbelievably ignorant person/stance.

A lot of really good points have been brought up already, but I want to highlight the point that men are more than capable of controlling themselves -- hell, of acting like HUMAN BEINGS and just plain not raping women. I know that rape is not at all about sex, but control of one's own demons is what this is all about, not about whether or not I'm showing too much cleavage.

miss anonymous said...

i didnt read your post because of the note, but i thought i would share.

i put myself in a stupid situation at a party a year and a half ago, leading to my best friend's ex completely taking advantage of me, and for SO LONG it felt like I had done something wrong (because best friends don't sleep with best friend's ex's!!).

i broke into tears in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago, because it dawned on me that it wasn't ok to blame myself and brush it off as something stupid that i let happen, it is definitely not ok what he did to me, and it is a big deal.

obviously i don't want to put myself in stupid situations such as that night again, but i just wanted to thank you for posting about how its not ok to blame the victim, because i know what it's like to blame yourself and i hope other people who have been raped or abused come to realise that no matter what stupid situation you end up in, that sort of stuff is never ok and it is ok to NOT blame yourself, let alone let others blame you.

Zmaga said...

I agree with you, but I also understand the "asking for it" point. I think that, of course, no one wants to get raped, but that some girls seem eager to have sex, so the raper thinks there will be no violence. Do you see my point? I am by no means defending the raper, no one has the right to abuse just because "it seems it is wanted" by the victim, but the fact remains: you have to be careful.
I agree with SaturdayJane: the woman is the problem because a man can't control himself?! That doesn't make any sense and that is what is served to us.

Vanessa said...

Miss Anonymous: Thank you SO MUCH for sharing what happened to you. I'm so sorry you had to experience what you did. I'm glad you came to terms with the fact it wasn't your fault.


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