Eradicating victim-blaming attitudes necessary to fight sexual assault

With Sexual Assault Awareness Week upon us, it’s important to discuss not only what we can do to raise awareness, but also what we can do to help survivors around us. Believing their stories is the most important thing we can do to help our fellow students and friends in the aftermath of sexual assault. The many misconceptions surrounding sexual assault can create a hostile environment for survivors. Most misconceptions point back to victim-blaming attitudes that position rape as avoidable if one chooses not to walk when it is too dark or avoids certain types of clothing.

Due to the high percentages of women who are raped, victim-blaming attitudes are frequently misogynistic in nature. Specifically, blaming women for dressing “provocatively” – one would never blame a murder victim for not wearing a bulletproof vest. All of these ideas implicitly remove responsibility from the rapists.

When University Police sent out a community notification about a sexual assault that occurred on campus in Geneseo last week, it noted that victims are not to be blamed for their sexual assault.

Yet, recommendations to “never walk alone, especially at night” and to “pay close attention to your surroundings at all times” are given as precautions.

Other common tips given to avoid sexual assault include ideas like anti-rape underwear and self-defense classes. While well-meaning, these tips often place the responsibility of avoiding and deterring rape upon the potential victim.

The presence of precautions implies that there is something preventable on the part of the victim, implying that sexual assault cannot be prevented on the part of the perpetrator. While these are established “tips” to avoid danger, perhaps we should be focusing prevention on the perpetrator rather than the victim.

University of Illinois-Chicago reports that 76 percent of high school boys and 56 percent of high school girls believe forced sex – rape – is acceptable in some circumstances. These include if a man spent a lot of money on a woman, if a man and woman were married and if a man and a woman were in a long-term relationship.

Additionally, 84 percent of men who committed rape did not believe it was rape. This is, in part, due to misconceptions about what rape is and who can be raped.

First, most discussions about rape are shamelessly heteronormative. The rapist is not always a man, and a woman is not always the victim. Rape can happen between people of any gender and any sexuality – the silence about rape in the LGBTQ-plus community increases the stigma of coming forward as a victim. Furthermore, this narrow idea of rape also contributes to the trivialization of other types of rape and sexual assault.

Second, rape can indeed occur between long-term partners, acquaintances, friends and even married couples. Sex is not “owed” for time, money or commitment, and the idea that it is simply perpetuates the notion that there are some instances in which it is not okay to refuse sex.

There are few other crimes where our society so quickly attempts to disprove victims when there is no good reason to feel disbelief. For this reason, I believe such pervasive disbelief of survivors comes from a place of misogyny, especially when the perpetrator is a friend or a prominent figure.

In light of Sexual Assault Awareness Week, we should recognize that blame ought to be placed upon perpetrators. I believe we should contemplate the importance of supporting survivors. Don’t sensationalize. Imagine the openness and empathy you might have in any other crisis – this is the attitude we ought to have toward all rape survivors.