Blaming the victim?

British police find that some rape victims who believe they were drugged were actually just drunk. Does it matter?

Carol Lloyd
November 17, 2006 2:44AM (UTC)

A couple of weeks ago Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, Australia's highest-ranking Islamic cleric, provoked a storm of outrage when he suggested that unveiled women were like "uncovered meat," asking for whatever they got even if the getting meant gang rape. Pundits and politicians alike rushed to declare that enlightened society shouldn't tolerate this sort of misogyny.

Couldn't agree more. But when the bilious blame-the-victim rhetoric isn't spewed from a mosque pulpit, and issues instead from an enlightened government's "study," the idea that women are actually to be blamed for being raped still seems to carry serious currency.


Yesterday BBC News reported that a new study by the British Association of Chief Police Officers had "sparked a sparked a debate over how much the victims themselves are to blame." The study, which found that many sexually assaulted women are drunk, prompted Tory M.P. Ann Widdecombe to tell the BBC: "It is time women accepted that part of liberation is taking responsibility for themselves and their safety." Widdecombe and other supporters of the study insisted that the point was not to blame women for being sexually attacked, but to point out that many women who are victims of sexual assault are getting blitzed and later claiming to have been raped.

Hmmm ... smells like a distinction without a difference to me.

Brit feminist writer and activist Julie Bindel nailed the point that there's a growing backlash regarding women, drinking and rape. "Alcohol has undoubtedly become the new short skirt in the way that people are looking to put the blame and the onus and the responsibility on women rather than men.

"The media doesn't want to look at why men want to have sex with comatose, drunk women, often covered in vomit, often lying in streets, on the floor, without any notion of what's happening to them."

The BBC also notes that "men drink too, and they do not expect to be raped." What's interesting, though, is that the study didn't seem to look at whether men were drunk when they were raping women. Shouldn't that be a fact of more concern?

Loutish lads and ladettes have become notorious for promoting retching excess in Britain's urban pub culture, and there's been plenty of consternation about women's role in the sinfest. So it's not surprising that the police should try to sound alarms about a culture of drinking and bad behavior that no doubt leads to more crimes and makes their jobs harder (not to mention stinkier).


Whether you're a man or a woman, getting so pissed that you're half comatose isn't exactly worthy of admiration -- but come on! When people are mugged for walking down the street in the middle of the night, we don't commission studies to suggest that people should be more responsible about where they walk. Is it any less of a mugging because the victim was foolish enough to make him- or herself vulnerable?

Criminals have always targeted the vulnerable. But the fact that some women put themselves in harm's way shouldn't prompt moral finger-pointing.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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