One in five women in America experiences sexual assault at some point in her lifetime.
Yet, less than one percent of rape cases lead to felony convictions.
Why are women enduring rape and sexual assault, yet perpetrators are not being held accountable for their actions? This is the result of victim-blaming.
Women report sex crimes, yet few are taken seriously and many are accused of making a false report. More often than not, the woman gets portrayed as being partly responsible for the incident. Shifting the blame in rape cases from criminal to victim perpetuates rape culture and gender violence.
When a person engages in victim-blaming, everyone suffers. Let’s explore more about what victim-blaming is and how you can prevent it.
What Is Victim-Blaming?
Many people are guilty of victim-blaming because they don’t fully understand what it is. Victim-blaming is an attitude where the victim bears the responsibility for the incident, rather than the perpetrator.
Examples of victim-blaming attitudes include:
- Telling a victim to drink less or blaming alcohol or drugs
- Asking what the victim was wearing during the attack
- Implying the victim should not have been somewhere
- Asking what the victim did or said to provoke the attack
Victim-blaming is a product of rape culture, which refers to an environment where sexual violence is normalized and excused.
By blaming a rape victim, people feel assured that it won’t happen to them. Saying, “Well, I would never let that happen to me,” “It wasn’t really rape,” or accusing the victim of lying about the misconduct implies it was the victim’s fault (or they were “asking for it”).
According to Harvard University, between 2% and 10% of rape accusations are false. These numbers are the same for all other types of crime. Yet, when a person’s house is broken into, people do not accuse the homeowner of asking for it.
Why Do We Blame the Victim?
While each sexual assault case is unique, one common trend is victim-blaming. Why is this? Some psychologists believe these attitudes may be a natural response in our brains.
Psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman from the University of Massachusetts describes our way-of-thinking as having a “positive assumptive worldview.” Our brains are programmed to assume that all human beings are good people. As a result, we believe humans are rational, and criminal acts are an anomaly.
As we interpret the world around us, we have to make sense of the crimes that occur. We tell ourselves these acts happen to people who provoke their attacker. Therefore, they would never happen to us.
Our brains comfort us by separating ourselves from a victim and justifying why the attack occurred. This way of thinking makes us feel safe.
The Danger of Victim-Blaming
Victim blaming occurs far too often, and is dangerous.
It prevents people from coming forward and reporting the crime. It marginalizes the survivor and lessens the criminal act for the perpetrator. In many cases, victim-blaming leads to fewer resolved sexual assault cases and fewer charges for sexual abusers.
When coming forward about a rape or sexual assault could mean getting blamed for the incident, victims of crime are less likely to report it.
Research suggests only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported. In addition, out of those 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators walk away with no charges.
As you might have guessed, when victim-blaming prevents victims from coming forward, assaulters are more likely to continue their violent behaviors.
However, when the blame shifts from the perpetrator to the victim, he or she will feel shame, embarrassment, and may even blame themselves for the incident.
Being a victim of sexual violence is traumatic. But what’s worse is enduring a sexual crime, and then being told you are a liar or should have made better decisions to avoid the incident.
Real-Life Examples of Victim-Blaming
People blame victims, the department of justice blames victims, and media outlets blame victims.
Have you ever seen a headline that reads “Drunk Woman Assaulted at Frat House” or “Woman Walking Alone Raped in Alley”? Yeah, that’s victim-blaming. Sexual assault on college campuses is ripe with victim blaming, where rape myths are often perpetuated amongst the men and women in fraternities and sororities.
In 2014, the Los Angeles School District claimed a fourteen-year-old student was partly at-fault for her school teacher sexually assaulting her. The district’s lawyer stated the girl’s history of sexual activity contributed to the assault.
Also, in 2013, a woman working at a state prison in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, was choked and raped by a man incarcerated for sex-related crimes. A senior deputy attorney general claimed the woman’s actions encouraged and contributed to the rape.
How to Avoid Victim-Blaming
Blaming victims creates a culture where perpetrators are excused for their crimes and victims are left to feel guilty and embarrassed.
The good news is more people are becoming aware of what victim-blaming is and stopping it from happening. There are simple ways you can change the way you interpret crimes and help sexual assault victims.
First things first, educate yourself and others on victim-blaming and the effects it has on others. Being able to identify victim-blaming allows you to correct it and stand up for the victim, as a result.
When more people understand and avoid victim-blaming, the sooner society can shift away from rape culture and protect those who fall victim to domestic violence and sexual crimes.
Take Victims Seriously
Whenever you are approached by someone who claims to be a victim of sexual assault, and take their words seriously.
Listen and tell the victim you admire his or her courage to come forward. Let the victim know you are an ally, and encourage him or her to report the crime to the authorities.
Correct Those Who Blame Victims
Do more than identify when someone is guilty of victim-blaming. In other words, go a step further and correct them.
Educate the person on what they are doing (people may not realize they are blaming victims) and explain why it’s important to focus on the perpetrator, not the victim.
You may find yourself correcting family members, friends, or even authority figures. If you see a headline in the media that blames the victim, contact the journalist or media source and let them know. Give victim-blamers resources to learn more about the perils of blaming victims, so they can avoid it in the future.
Talk to an Expert
Holding victims accountable for the actions of the person who harmed them is damaging to the victim and society.
It makes women feel shameful and embarrassed about domestic violence and sexual assault. It prevents perpetrators from being held accountable and more likely to attack again in the future.
Do you want to continue the conversation about victim-blaming or sexual assault crimes? Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts. Contact us now to learn more.