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COMMENTARY: Victim is never at fault or to blame

Growing up in Bemidji, I remember as a young teenager walking down by Paul and Babe enjoying the beautiful weather with my friends. You know those perfect sunny days with a cool breeze coming across Lake Bemidji.

On more than one occasion we would get honked at by men driving by. I was 13 years old. Have you ever heard the phrase, "She wanted it"? Or "boys will be boys?" At 13 did I "want it?" Or was I "asking for it?" No, I was a young girl hanging out with a friend but these actions are so readily acceptable in our society that those offensive behaviors are seen as OK.

Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of prejudiced language against women, the objectification of women's bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women's rights and safety.

Within a rape culture environment, women are taught to avoid rape rather than potential aggressors being taught not to rape; sexual and street harassment are tolerated and considered normal; victim's clothing, lifestyle and other personal choices are scrutinized as causes for experiences of sexual violence; and objectifying concepts such as the "friend zone" are utilized to devalue women from autonomous human beings to sexual objects. We live in a rape culture.

Rape culture is:

1. Pop music that tells women "you know you want it" because of these "blurred lines" (of consent).

2. A judge who sentenced only 30 days in jail to a 50-year-old man who raped a 14-year-old girl (who later committed suicide), and defended that the girl was "older than her chronological age."

3. Mothers who blame girls for posting sexy selfies and leading their sons into sin, instead of talking with their sons about their responsibility for their own sexual expression.

4. Supporting athletes who are charged with rape and calling their victims career-destroyers.

5. Companies that create decals of a woman bound and gagged in order to "promote their business."

6. People who believe that girls "allow themselves to be raped."

7. Journalists who substitute the word "sex" for "rape"—as if they're the same thing.

8. Politicians distinguishing "legitimate rape" and stating that rape is "something that God intended to happen," among other horrendous claims.

9. Calling college students who have the courage to report their rapes liars.

10. The commonality of street harassment—and how victims are told that they're "overreacting" when they call it out.

11. No means "convince me."

12. Rape jokes—and people who defend them.

13. Reddit threads with titles like "You just have to make sure she's dead" when linking to the story of a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan being raped and buried alive.

14. Twitter hashtags that support accused rapists and blame victims.

15. Publicly defending celebrities accused of rape just because they're celebrities and ignoring or denouncing what the victim has to say.

16. Assuming that false reporting for sexual assault cases are the norm, when in reality, they're only 2-8 percent, which is on par with grand theft auto.

17. Only 3 percent of rapists ever serving a day in jail.

18. Women feeling less safe walking the streets at night than men do.

And the list could go on.

Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames them for the abuse, they will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.

Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what the abuser has been saying all along; that it is the victim's fault this is happening. It is not the victim's fault or responsibility to fix the situation; it is the abuser's choice. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows the abuser to perpetrate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for their actions. No matter where or how sexual assault happens, the victim is never at fault or to blame. Sexual assault is a criminal act for which the perpetrator(s) is/are solely responsible. Support Within Reach does not support rape culture and will continue to work to change the societal norms. Be a part of the movement and support survivors of sexual violence.

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