Why do we continue to blame the victims of sexual assault?
Editor’s Note: The following contains descriptions of sexual violence.
Whenever I hear someone state there are options for women when they are being confronted by a potential rapist, a shiver runs down the length of my spine and a knot forms in the pit of my stomach.
Nevertheless, I keep an open mind. Increasing public awareness is always a good thing, no? But when I hear someone say, “Perhaps rapists will think twice if they think they’ll meet fierce resistance,” those knots burst into frayed ropes.
It’s not that I disagree that fighting off would-be rapists is appropriate in some cases. I just don’t want to see one more guilt trip dumped on women who have been sexually assaulted and are made to feel that not screaming and/or not fighting is labelled “do(ing) nothing”!
Of course, the guilt trips are usually accomplished in subtle ways. Okay, sometimes not-so-subtle. Like when women are praised who use force to resist rape calling it a “viable alternative.”
Even worse, I grew up with “men and women of faith” telling me that a woman who does not physically fight off a rapist is guilty of “fornication.” Yes, I know, it’s right out there on the level of Indiana Senate Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s stating rape “is something God intended to happen.”
Methinks only the rapist comes out of both of these scenarios without blame. Am I right?
I can remember as clear as yesterday my mother delivering the message that she was taught: if a woman doesn’t fight she is a sinner. Even though I was uneducated on the subject, there I was, a child, arguing, “That just does not make sense. What if a woman is afraid for her life? What if she freezes in shock?”
But what did I know? A lot, apparently.
Well, it seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
I’m still arguing my points decades later.
I’ve heard of a male prosecutor who suggested that victims “should fight back and not submit,” adding, “physical injuries heal a lot faster than the emotional scars.”
Tell that to my close friends “Mary” and “Natalie.”
“Mary” was a sixteen-year-old virgin who was asked to join her workmate on a double date. Her twenty-something friend promised she would never leave Mary alone. They would go out for dinner and then back to the workmate’s home for a house party. Later that evening, as soon as the workmate and her boyfriend left Mary and her date alone in the living room to go an adjoining room, Max made it clear a sexual act was going to take place. Mary screamed for her friends’ help. Neither responded. She ran to the phone. Max grabbed the phone and used it to bash Mary on the head. She fought and screamed during the entire rape, but to no avail.
“Natalie” was asked if she needed a ride home from one of her fellow University students. Pulling to the side of the road, “Sam” pulled out a knife and laid it on the dashboard. No words were spoken. Natalie was raped and although she says she was emotionally numb to the experience itself, her survival was foremost on her mind.
Both rapes happened decades ago.
One fought. One didn’t.
Mary screamed. Natalie froze in silence.
Although both women reacted in completely different ways, both share emotional scars, feelings of guilt and shame, and both asked, “Could I have done more?”
Were their lives really in their own hands?
In the years since, Mary and Natalie have heard messages like, “Demonstrations of female power are well and good but the psychological mantle of victimhood has diminished such efforts.”
I suggest the psychological mantle of victimhood will be helped more by demonstrations of understanding and empathy and less by people who judge a woman’s choice to do “nothing” when a perpetrator is doing “something.”
Are we still asking, “Did she stop it,” instead of, “Why did he do it?”
Read more On Rape and Sexual Violence.
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