Possible Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault, Violence
Is it just me or has rape has been in the news a lot recently?
In December, a 23-year-old Indian was so severely sexually assaulted that the emergency medical team who treated her had never seen wounds as severe. A 16-year-old girl’s assault was brought to headlines when the Hacker group Anonymous found that the Steubenville press had covered up the story to protect its football program. And, most recently, a Swiss woman on a bicycling holiday in India was gang-raped as her and her husband were camping on their way to the Taj Mahal.
In each of these cases, the victim (or, from some perspectives, survivor) was put through the ringer to determine if they in any way brought on the attacks. In the first instance, defense attorney Manohar Lal Sharma, representing 3 of the 5 accused, told the press that “(u)ntil today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady…Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.”
The 16-year-old victim in Steubenville was unconscious when the assault occurred, with two football players inserting fingers into her vagina and filming the incident. One of the boys then shared the photos and video with friends and on the internet. After their sentencing yesterday, CNN appears to side with the boys, ‘grieving’ for the loss of ‘promising’ young lives. Those internet savvy have also added their opinions on the matter.
And, in the case of the attack on the Swiss woman and her husband, a gang of men came upon their camp, physically assaulted the woman’s husband with sticks, and tied him up before forcible sexually assaulting her. The Indian police have recently said that the woman must take some responsibility for the attack, saying the pair should never have camped there in the first place.
Victim blaming plays a very important part of patriarchy and perpetuates the idea that women are responsible for not only the sexual fantasies but also the actions of men who rape. The tendency for the media, as well as society, to ask if the victim ‘deserved’ to be sexually assaulted is heavily damaging to both women’s rights as well as women’s agency. Christina Diamandopoulos, of the Rape Crisis charity, describes victim blaming as the “myth that women are responsible for men’s sexual behaviour. From this stems the idea that what a woman wears, says, where she goes, or what she does can make her responsible for the crime committed against her.”
The news articles and media interpretation of these events show just how prevalent victim blaming is and, equally, just how damaging. Not only do women become responsible for the assault, they also become liars and deceivers if they protest their innocence. Articles like these add to the ‘fear’ that women are going to use rape and sexual assault accusations as power plays, necessarily meaning that the ‘alleged’ sexual contact was consensual. Recently, the Guardian posted an article discussing the conflicting views on ‘false rape’. In England, during a 17-month period, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence in England and Wales. During that same time period, there were 35 prosecutions against false allegations of rape and six for false allegations of domestic abuse.
Do women need to be aware of their surroundings and protect themselves from danger? Absolutely. If they trust the wrong person, have one last drink before leaving the bar, want to wear the cute new skirt they got, or even do nothing more than walk down the wrong street, should women be held responsible for anything done to them by anyone else? Absolutely not.
We are all responsible for our actions, men and women alike. And we alone should be held responsible for the consequences of those actions. Being raped is not a consequence of wearing a skirt, camping in the wrong place, or putting your trust in the wrong people. Rape is an action done by someone to someone else. Rape is NOT a punishment and we as a society need to stop searching for ways to portray it as one.