Victims are not to blame in sexual assault situations

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six women and one in 33 men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In addition to enduring the pain and difficulties of being sexually violated, many of these women and men may face additional trauma in being blamed for their assault.

Often times when a man rapes a woman, the public, and especially the media, places blame on the victim. News stories portray women who are raped as highly sexual and provocative individuals. Women are frequently blamed for "putting themselves" in dangerous situations by walking alone or drinking too much.

At George Washington University, for example, a student entered residence halls early one morning looking for open doors, behind which he sexually assaulted several women.

After news of the assaults broke, The Hatchet, GWU's campus newspaper, printed an editorial stating that the event should serve as a "valuable reminder of the necessity for students to lock their doors at all times and to take responsibility for guests [brought] into residence halls." What the paper failed to address was the issue of sexual assault perpetration, instead targeting the victims specifically.

Although it may seem like all sexual assault victims are women, men too can be victimized by sexual assault and subsequent blame. There are cases of men being assaulted by women as well as other men, but such incidents are seldom reported.

Victims are usually associated with female stereotypes, so admitting victimization may challenge a male's sense of masculinity. In our society, a "real man" is expected to be strong and to be able to protect himself. Male victims may feel as though they deserved to be sexually assaulted because they were unable to protect themselves. They may place blame upon themselves and as result, fail to report such attacks.

Many sexual assault victims hide what happened to them because they feel ashamed and place partial blame upon themselves. It's shocking to realize that even today – in a culture that so heavily emphasizes equality between women and men – sexual assault victims are often disregarded or even held responsible for simply living their lives. Compounding the problem is society's expectation that men should be invulnerable – always perpetrators, never victims.

As a result of victim blame, women are told to drink less and to be more careful going out. Men are not warned of risks, and if they should encounter a dangerous situation, they are expected to be able to fight off assailants. The victim-blaming implications are clear – if a woman doesn't act stereotypically feminine or a man doesn't act stereotypically masculine, then assault is their punishment.

No one asks to be sexually violated, and it is not the behaviors of the victims that need modification – it is the behaviors of the assailants. Rapists make the choice to commit a crime, and victims do not choose to be harmed. Sexual assaults do not occur because of how a victim looks or acts; they occur when an assailant disregards another's person's basic human rights.

This piece was submitted by students who attended the Facilitator Training for the Sexual Assault Teach-In sessions.