Content warning: sexual assault.
From a very young age we are surrounded by a culture that teaches and perpetuates victim blaming attitudes. ‘He fancies you, that’s why he pulled your hair’. We are taught that ‘boys will be boys’. Although to some this phrase may seem insignificant, it essentially teaches young boys that they can do what they please to women and get away with it. That the blame will somehow be redirected onto the girls. ‘It’s because he likes you’, we are told. These types of remarks may later transcend into comments such as ‘well what were you wearing?’ or ‘how much have you had to drink?’. We need to address the root cause of victim blaming. Sometimes bad things happen and people do bad things: it’s their fault, not yours.
Grace Millane was a 22-year-old graduate travelling around the world when she was tragically murdered whilst in New Zealand. This news seemed to provoke some questions such as ‘why would she go travelling alone?’ and ‘why was she meeting people on tinder?’. However, shouldn’t the questions be centered around things such as ‘why would he do that to her?’. There are safety concerns when you’re alone, you’re more open to dangers when there is nobody else there to look out for you. However, women should be allowed to be alone, allowed to live their life as they please.
As a woman, I feel like I live in a constant state of low-level fear. People argue that if we didn’t go walking late at night with headphones in, or if we didn’t get so drunk, if our dress wasn’t that short, then we wouldn’t get assaulted. No. If they didn’t assault us, we wouldn’t get assaulted. If it was widely taught for men to accept the word ‘No’ without taking it as a personal attack. If it was widely taught for men to value a woman’s voice as much as they value their own. We don’t want to have to resort to saying ‘don’t wear headphones’, because headphones do not assault women. We don’t want to say that there is ultimately nothing we can – or are willing – to do to prevent this from happening to us, so instead we fall into victim-blaming based approaches.
An explanation for this is just-world bias theory. People want to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, so we often search for justifications behind these types of events. However, the issue is not in what you are doing or wearing, the issue is simply the presence of a rapist. This being said, taking safety precautions is still an important, proactive thing to do. We want to be safe and we want our loved ones to be safe.
The thought is that if someone doesn’t take an extra safety precaution and are attacked, it is not their fault, it is the fault of the attacker. You shouldn’t have to take these steps in the first place. We need to teach the idea that if someone hurts you, the blame shouldn’t be directed onto you. Perhaps we need to teach this as much as we teach ways to avoid assault. What a person was doing when they were assaulted should not play any part in the questions we ask. It does not matter. The person who assaulted them simply should not have assaulted them, regardless of the surrounding contexts.
Rape is always the fault of the perpetrator, it is never the victim’s. In no situation, ever, is it your fault. A victim blaming culture leads to a lack of accountability for perpetrators: putting responsibility onto victims pushes the narrative that these crimes can be gotten away with. Education surrounding rape prevention needs to be extended. While, in my experience, it is primarily directed towards women, the responsibility needs to fall on everyone.
Written by Tender Youth Board Member, Kyanne