Feminist Friday – The Blame Game

rapist-victim-blaming

Each week the Fawcett team will be scouring the media and blogosphere to bring you our top essential feminist posts from the past 7 days – the good, the bad and the ugly…

This week’s Feminist Friday is not as festive as we’d like it to be. Possibly in the light of the Rolling Stone’s decision to backtrack on their report of the alleged gang rape of a student, Jackie, at the hands of a group of University of Virginia fraternity brothers, questioning the victim’s credibility on the grounds that there were “discrepancies” in her account; or perhaps, as Laura Bates notes, because at this time of year, as the evenings draw in and the Christmas parties get going, people start telling women not to get raped – this week victim blaming has been at the front of our minds. (Please note that many of the articles referenced in this week’s post may contain triggers).

Laura’s article for The Guardian is a good place to start. She explains how “the idea that women should take precautions to avoid sexual assault both erases male victims and feeds into popular myths and misconceptions by suggesting that some victims play a part in bringing it upon themselves.”

With Laura’s article in mind, Benita Dass-Grasse’s post for Vagenda,’I was raped while couchsurfing’ is particularly poignant. Benita gives a personal account of being raped, and explains the impact that the stereotypical idea of what rape is supposed to look like (i.e. a stranger in a dark alley) has on people who are raped in circumstances that don’t fit that narrative. In a context where, as Rape Crisis reports, 90 per cent of rapes are committed by perpetrators known to the victim, and currently only 15 per cent of female victims of the most serious sexual offences report them to the police, Benita’s decision to write about her experience is all the more important in starting to address the ‘stranger-myth,’ and may even go someway in helping others to recognise their own experiences, so that some might also feel empowered to come forward and report.

Heading to the other side of the Atlantic, Kate Harding wrote for Dame Magazine on the links between denying misogyny and blaming victims of rape, and denying racism and blaming victims of racism: she writes “We live in a country full of racism, but no racists; rape, but no rapists. And the common denominator is power. To believe a rape survivor’s word over that of her male classmate, colleague, teacher, or superior officer is to upset the natural order of things, privileging the voice with less cultural authority over the one we expect to have all the answers. Likewise, believing Dorian Johnson’s testimony over Darren Wilson’s means rejecting lessons we’ve been taught from childhood, both explicitly (the police are there to help you) and implicitly (White people are more trustworthy than Black people)We must listen to victims and resist injustice, even if it means confronting unpleasant facts about people we love, respect, and admire. We can’t keep defending a status quo that allows murderers and rapists to walk free.” Kate’s article gives the important reminder that inequality and injustice, be it racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or other forms of discrimination – are always linked when you look beneath the surface.

Our next piece comes from a firm Feminist Friday favourite, Rhiannon Cosslett, who wrote for Time Magazine on the same topic. Like Benita above, Rhiannon goes above and beyond by engaging in the really difficult process of writing about her own experience of rape, and the psychological response she had to it. Rhiannon explains how the Rolling Stone’s assumption that a victim is not credible because of inconsistencies in her story stems from a much broader lack of understanding about how we deal with trauma: “I have no doubt that our tendency as a society to victim-blame women has its roots in misogyny. But I also think it shows a fatal misunderstanding of the effects of trauma on the brain. Retraining those working in the field is expensive and laborious but of urgent necessity. Your brain does strange things when it thinks you’re about to die. We owe it to victims to try to understand this, to help them piece their ruptured selves back together.”

Rhiannon’s article throws into sharp relief just how complicated trauma recovery can be. Dana Bolger wrote for Feministing on the victim vs. survivor dichotomy – arguing that again the onus is put on the victim to be the one to “get over it” and “hurry up and heal.” Reading her post made us think again about Jackie, from the Rolling Stone article, having to deal with that trauma while having her credibility questioned on an international scale by journalists, public institutions and the general public alike. If you want to show some solidarity, to Jackie or to all of those other victims who have been blamed for the assaults that have been inflicted upon them, join in with #IStandWithJackie.

Do let us know what you’ve been reading and watching this week in the comments section below. Love Fawcett x

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Ava Lee
Ava is Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Fawcett Society

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