Why women blame rape victims

A new survey showing female finger-pointing over sexual assaults should come as no surprise

Published February 16, 2010 10:46PM (EST)

When it comes to rape, women may not be a girl's best friend. That's according to a new survey finding that more than half of women think sexual assault victims should take some responsibility for their own attack. By the speed at which this news is whipping around the Web, you might think it came as a shock -- but there's no surprise here.

The online survey, creepily titled "Wake Up To Rape," of 1,061 Londoners between the ages of 18 and 50 also found that a fifth of women believed the victim was responsible "if they went back to the assailant's house" and one in eight said "that dancing provocatively, flirtatious behaviour, or wearing revealing clothing made them partly to blame," according to Reuters UK. Another behavior meriting culpability, according to nearly three quarters of lady respondents, is willingly climbing into bed with the eventual attacker. In other words: Personal rights are forfeited at the bedroom door.

So, why am I not taken aback by the prevalence of these attitudes? As Feministe's Cara Kulwicki writes in the Guardian, women are taught from a young age that they are charged with guarding against rape and, since they "are much more likely than men to be the recipients of messages about their responsibility to not become victims of sexual assault, they are also more likely to internalise them" -- and project them onto other women. 

It isn't just an issue of cultural learning, though. It's also a way for women to emotionally distance themselves from rape victims: I won't be attacked, because I'm not one of those girls. Rules give the illusion of control; if you abide by them, you'll be safe. Thinking of rape as it is -- a random, unwarranted violation -- can be terrifying and paralyzing. It's much easier to think about any kind of assault as being predictably triggered, and therefore preventable. It's a sort of armor women can put on to feel safe and invulnerable.

Even in pretty enlightened circles, "she asked for it" is usually talked about as strictly being a rapist's defense, but it's also a victim's defense. You know: Next time, I won't wear such a short skirt, walk down that dark alley, accept that free drink or flirt with a stranger. The upshot of all this deeply entrenched victim-blaming is that 20 percent of women surveyed ventured to guess that they would skip reporting their own rape out of embarrassment -- presumably in part because it would mean they must have done something to deserve it. And thus the cycle begins again.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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