Victim Blaming – Tuesday Bonus Post

(Disclaimer: Most of the language in this post is gendered.  Yes, women rape men and men rape men and women rape women.  However, the nature of my original conversation means that the original language was gendered, and statistically this is a gender issue along the lines of the original conversation.  So while a lot of the conversation has “you” and “someone” instead of “him” and “her,” I apologize for the gendered bits that should not be gendered.)

The conversation went on to ask about the logic of compliments and harassment.  If you can say, “in a perfect world this would be fine, but we don’t live there” for why not to compliment random women, how is that different from using that logic for giving women advice on how not to get raped?  Is saying “stay safe” or giving out rape whistles victim blaming?  How about telling someone not to wear skimpy clothes in bad neighborhoods?  How about suggesting they take a self-defense class?

First, here’s the difference between not complimenting random women and telling a woman how “not to get raped.”

In one situation, you are making a conscious choice not to make people uncomfortable.  In the other situation, you’re saying that the person’s clothes and level of self defense has a direct and universal impact on whether she gets raped or not.  In one situation you’re saying because we don’t live in a perfect world, I’m going to be extra careful not to hurt people.  In the other situation you’re saying, because we do not live in a perfect world, you’re at fault for someone else making a conscious decision to hurt you, because if you hadn’t done x,y,z then they would not have decided to hurt you. 

But still, where’s the line between victim blaming and good advice?

A very simple way to figure out if you’re victim blaming or not is to replace “got raped” with “got punched in the face.”  If it doesn’t make sense as “got punched in the face” then it doesn’t make sense as “got raped” either.  And if it doesn’t make sense it’s victim blaming.  (Punched in the face is a good example because it’s a personal space intrusion that leaves lasting trauma.)

(Try it: Because she was flirting with that guy, she got punched in the face.  Huh?  How about, because she was drunk, she got punched in the face.  Also doesn’t work.  But if you say, every single girl who goes to that party gets punched in the face, and she definitely completely knew that beforehand and then she went to the party and got punched in the face…that works.  But how many situations are like that, really.)

If you didn’t quite get that argument, here’s another one.

Let’s say you get in your car to drive home from work and someone says, “drive safe!”  (That’s like giving out free rape whistles.*)  But let’s say you’re driving during a thunderstorm (the correlation being a woman walking through a bad neighborhood that she has to walk through in order to get home, or wearing a tank top and shorts because it’s a hot day out), and you stop in traffic.  You’re stopped for quite a while.  But then the person on the road behind you doesn’t stop and hits you.  Let’s say your car is totaled and you end up in the hospital.  Is anyone going to tell you that you shouldn’t have been driving?  Is anyone going to tell you that it’s your fault you were driving – you should have expected to get hit?  It’s true that car crashes are the number 1 cause of death for people between 1 and 34 years old.  And that 95% of accidents are caused by human error.**  So despite the fact that someone else obviously hit you, you could have prevented your accident by telecommuting or taking the day off.  So it’s your fault you got in the car accident.

*(And I found no studies that say that rape whistles actually work.  Actually, I didn’t find studies at all.  I mostly found public opinion in chat forums and people seemed to be fairly skeptical.  Personally, I wouldn’t think they work very well.  I’ve been told that yelling “fire!” is the most effective thing, that people ignore pretty much everything else, including “help!”)

**From a Forbes article about car crashes.

So, where is the line drawn?

The line is drawn when a tactic used to prevent rape is suggested before a rape happens and is proven to be effective.  That’s when it’s merely a concerned person giving advice, like don’t text and drive. 

Rape whistles, unproven.  Carrying mace, probably a better idea (but I think you need a permit for that).  Wearing different clothes, proven to be completely ineffective.***  Walking through bad neighborhoods, I have no idea, but probably a good idea to have a buddy if possible (but it’s also potentially ineffective because you can be raped by walking through a good neighborhood too).  Saying no in an acquaintance rape, proven to be ineffective.****  Teaching a girl that when she says no to something small with acquaintances or friends she needs to stick to her word even when pushed and bullied to change her mind, likely effective, but not always.  Teaching boys that yes means yes instead of no means no, as yet unproven in America, but considering that rape is not universal and doesn’t exist in some societies, probably effective.  Taking a self defense class, especially one that focuses on how to get away from someone stronger than you even if they’re on top of you, probably effective, depending on the situation, (not necessarily effective during an acquaintance rape, especially if you’re drunk).

***There’s an article below that proves this.

****Also proven below.

The line is drawn when a tactic is suggested after the rape, that if she hadn’t done such and such then she wouldn’t have been in that situation, so she wouldn’t have gotten raped.  When in fact, very few tactics suggested are effective.  That’s like saying, if you hadn’t been driving during a thunderstorm, you wouldn’t have gotten into a car crash.  Although possibly true, it’s also possibly false, and it ignores the fact that the other person hit you and it was clearly their fault for hitting you. 

Because by saying “if she hadn’t been walking through that neighborhood then she wouldn’t have gotten raped” implies that the victim is at fault for someone else’s conscious action.  It’s focusing on the victim (why was she there?  what was she wearing?) instead of the perpetrator (how many times has he done this before?).

If this was done in a vacuum, people would be more likely to say things like, well, I guess that’s technically true, but… just like I said about the car accident.  But the fact is that most of these tactics are suggested after the fact to throw a rape case out of court.

And not only are these tactics used to throw a rape case out of court, they’re used to deny the fact that a woman was raped to begin with.  When someone can say “I decided to let him rape me because otherwise he was going to kill me” and someone else can respond, “so it wasn’t rape, then,” we have a problem with victim blaming.

Victim blaming focuses on the victim, not the perpetrator.  Victim blaming says, “she was raped” rather than “he raped her.”  Victim blaming erases the perpetrator from the picture, or makes excuses for him while telling the woman “you are less likely to get raped if you do such and such.”

“While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing. (140) In a study to test whether males could determine whether women were high or low in passiveness and submissiveness, Richards and her colleagues found that men, using only nonverbal appearance cues, could accurately assess which women were passive and submissive versus those who were dominant and assertive. (141) Clothing was one of the key cues: “Those females high in passivity and submissiveness (i.e., those at greatest risk for victimization) wore noticeably more body-concealing clothing (i.e., high necklines, long pants and sleeves, multiple layers).” (142) This suggests that men equate body-concealing clothing with passive and submissive qualities, which are qualities that rapists look for in victims. Thus, those who wore provocative clothes would not be viewed as passive or submissive, and would be less likely to be victims of assault.”

“Drawing on the conversation analytic literature, and on our own data, we claim that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’, and we suggest that male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals which conform to culturally normative patterns can only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behaviour.

In support of this proposition, they cite to some things men and boys have said in from other papers:

responded with posters of their own including slogans such as ‘no means kick her in the teeth’, ‘no means on your knees bitch’, ‘no means tie her up’, ‘no means more beer’ and ‘no means she’s a dyke’ (cf. Mahood and Littlewood, 1997). Similar evidence comes from a recent study of 16-year-old boys who were asked ‘if you wanted to have sex and your partner did not, would you try to persuade them to have sex? How?’: the researchers comment that there was ‘clear evidence of aggression towards girls who were not prepared to be sexually accommodating’ and quote interview extracts in which boys say that in such situations they would ‘root the fucking bitch in the fucking arse’, ‘give her a stern talking to’, or just ‘shove it in’ (Moore and Rosenthal, 1992, cited in Moore and Rosenthal, 1993: 179). The problem of sexual coercion cannot be fixed by changing the way women talk.

It seems clear then that young men, in these focus groups at least, are capable of displaying not only that they are competent at the offering of refusals, but also of hearing forms of female conduct (e.g. ‘body language’, l. 263, 268; the ‘shortness’, l. 270 or ‘abruptness’ of conversation, l. 272) as ways in which women may clearly communicate their disinterest in sex. It is also clear that the men can hear both ‘little hints’ (l. 278) and ‘softened’ refusals as refusals—thus statements like ‘it’s getting late’ (l. 273) or ‘I’m working early in the morning’ (l. 276) are not taken at face value as comments by women on the time or their employment schedule—but rather as indicators that, in the moderator’s words, ‘sex is not on the cards’. Of note here is that in none of the examples given do the men indicate that the explicit use of the word ‘no’ is necessary for a woman’s refusal of a sexual invitation to be understood as such.

One might read this and conclude that it doesn’t matter how women communicate boundaries, because rapists don’t misunderstand, they choose to ignore.  That is pretty much Kitzinger’s takeaway, and I think from the perspective of moving the focus from what women do to what the rapists do that’s a useful thing to say.  However, I think there’s more to it.

I’m no communications theorist, but communications are layered things.  As we’ve seen, the literal meaning of a message is only one aspect of the message, and the way it’s delivered can signal something entirely different.  Rapists are not missing the literal meaning, I think it’s clear.  What they’re doing is ignoring the literal message (refusal) and paying very close attention to the meta-message.  I tell my niece, “if a guy offers to buy you a drink and you say no, and he pesters you until you say okay, what he wants for his money is to find out if you can be talked out of no.”  The rapist doesn’t listen to refusals, he probes for signs of resistance in the meta-message, the difference between a target who doesn’t want to but can be pushed, and a target who doesn’t want to and will stand by that even if she has to be blunt.  It follows that the purpose of setting clear boundaries is not to be understood — that’s not a problem — but to be understood to be too hard a target.”

So without quibbling over the precise statutory definition, this equates to rape or attempted rape. 120 men admitted to raping to attempting to rape. This is actually a relatively slim proportion of the survey population — just over 6% — and might be an underreport, though for part of the sample, the survey team did interviews to confirm the self-reports, which tends to show if there is an undercount in the self-reports, and found the responses consistent. But the more interesting part of the findings were how those rapists and their offenses broke down.

Of the 120 rapists in the sample, 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3, so there were some super-repeat offenders in this group). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes. 

The breakdown between the modus operandi of the rapists also tells us a lot about how wrong the script is. Of all 120 admitted rapists, only about 30% reported using force or threats, while the remainder raped intoxicated victims. This proportion was roughly the same between the 44 rapists who reported one assault and the 76 who reported multiple assaults. (What the authors call “overt-force rapists” committed more sexual assaults, on average, than the “intoxication rapists” by about 6 to 3, but the parts of the sample are so small that this result did not reach statistical significance and could be sampling error rather than a real phenomenon. I’d really like an answer to that, though.)

Lisak & Miller also answered their other question: are rapists responsible for more violence generally? Yes. The surveys covered other violent acts, such as slapping or choking an intimate partner, physically or sexually abusing a child, and sexual assaults other than attempted or completed rapes. In the realm of being partner- and child-beating monsters, the repeat rapists really stood out. These 76 men, just 4% of the sample, were responsible for 28% of the reported violence. The whole sample of almost 1900 men reported just under 4000 violent acts, but this 4% of recidivist rapists results in over 1000 of those violent acts.

If we could eliminate the men who rape again and again and again, a quarter of the violence against women and children would disappear. That’s the public policy implication.

“A third of Britons believe a woman who acts flirtatiously is partially or completely to blame for being raped, according to a new study.

More than a quarter also believe a woman is at least partly responsible for being raped if she wears sexy or revealing clothing, or is drunk, the study found.

One in five think a woman is partly to blame if it is known she has many sexual partners, while more than a third believe she is responsible to some degree if she has clearly failed to say “no” to the man.

In each of these scenarios a slightly greater proportion of men than women held these views – except when it came to being drunk, when it was equal.

In fact more women (5pc) than men (3pc) thought a woman was “totally responsible” for being raped if she was intoxicated.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,095 adults aged 18+ by telephone.

They were given a series of scenarios and asked to indicate whether they believed a woman was totally responsible, partially responsible or not at all responsible for being raped.

If the woman was drunk, 4pc said she was totally responsible and 26pc said she was partially responsible.

If the woman behaved in a flirtatious manner, 6pc said she was totally responsible and 28pc said she was partially responsible.

If the woman failed to say “no” clearly to the man, 8pc said she was totally responsible and 29pc said she was partially responsible.

If the woman was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, 6pc said she was totally responsible and 20pc said she was partially responsible.

If it is known that the woman has many sexual partners, 8pc said she was totally responsible and 14pc said she was partially responsible.

If she is alone and walking in a dangerous or deserted area, 5pc said she was totally responsible and 17pc said she was partially responsible.”



About mybodymystory

Looking at things differently. I write about my personal experiences with society, especially regarding what messages I, as a woman, have received over time. I write about my body, not the body the media thinks I have or wants me to have. I write about my responses to sex, relationships, and political issues. This is my story of my body. There are a lot of things I write about that I believe overlap with other women. Come check out my story and see if you agree. Feel free to disagree, just be respectful about it.
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4 Responses to Victim Blaming – Tuesday Bonus Post

  1. Aimee says:

    You made so many good points here. Obviously, I try to live my life in a safe and careful way, and avoid danger if I can. That’s just good sense, but one can’t stop other people’s actions. When I hear all of these “rape safety” tips, I just cringe. My rapist raped me in his home (a trusted and safe place), while I was sober, in broad daylight, in a nice part of town, while I was wearing jeans and a tee shirt.

    I particularly liked your line “Victim blaming focuses on the victim, not the perpetrator. Victim blaming says, “she was raped” rather than “he raped her.” I do that myself. I say, “I was raped by…” I’m going to change that to “My ex-boyfriend raped me”. That definitely puts the blame solidly where it belongs.

  2. I’m glad that what I said resonated with you. I was trying to be clear, but at the same time I didn’t want to discount people who are legitimately trying to be helpful.

    Grammar can be tricky sometimes because it sends messages in subtle ways.

  3. Bridgette says:

    I blog quite often and I really appreciate your information. The article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to bookmark your website and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.

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