Fierce Resistance

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.”

Really?!

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.

Image credit: xlordashx/Flickr

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About Donald D'Haene

Donald D'Haene started his own successful theatre/opinion web site: http://www.donaldsdish.ca, is an author (Father's Touch), Huffington Post Blogger, and was one of the male Survivors on the Oprah 200 Survivors Episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, November 2010. Follow Donald D'Haene on Twitter @TheDonaldNorth.

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    This is one of those pieces where I’m moved to inquire, “Who is this “”we”” of whom you speak”
    The first person plural includes the speaker and one or more others.
    Donald is the speaker, and so we know he blames the victims. He said so. I would appreciate it if he would stop. I’m sure the victims would appreciate it, too. Then he should name the one or more others.
    Mourdock said something considerably more complicated, but, as any republican should anticipate, his words were twisted.
    The common use of “we” means “all you unenlightened except me”.
    It’s insulting to those who don’t blame the victim. Given that we have north of 300 million people in this country, you can always fiind some nutcase saying something nutty and pretending we all do it.
    Isn’t it possible that everybody knows better? (ed. Yes, everybody knows better.)

  2. Interesting post…First of all we who write for The Good Men Project have a great editor. In my case he picks the titles for my columns here so perhaps you should address the “royal we” with him. I don’t know who you are and if you knew anything about me, you would know that I certainly a. wouldn’t blame a victim being a survivor myself. ( see my column here: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-take-care-of-yourself-and-your-soul/ ) and b. certainly never misquoted Mourdock taking it directly from a video in which most of the world has seen since it went viral. there is no need to misquote anyone. It’s very clear what Mourdock said.. (http://www.indystar.com/viewart/20121023/NEWS0502/210230326/Richard-Mourdock-s-response-abortion-question-provokes-controversy-Indiana-Senate-debate)

    • I put my comment in the wrong place..I wanted it to be a reply for the first comment above

      • Thanks Donald for Clarifying who is making so many guilty by association and how they write.

        I’m so glad that you have clarified your position and concern about being misrepresented as a writer – and your admission that other than the Strap line all the rest is your own work and any questions or concerns are for you to address! P^)

        I’m known for being pernickety and even highly crotchety over the use of pronouns and misused language which create false groups (Deliberately – Unwittingly – Stupidly – Dogmatically) – and with them false realities that so many are then placed under the burden of addressing and being made to live with …. well it’s that, or find a web-forum where you are innocent until Proven Guilty and save your blood pressure.

        I would also like to point out the following “Are we still asking, “Did she stop it,” instead of, “Why did he do it?””

        It may be improved by making it gender neutral – because I know of far too many men and women who have been sexually assaulted by “Women” – and making them none existent due to a unwittingly highly gendered pen is equally distressing for them as matters evidently have been for your associates. Sometimes being so close to personal stories can blind one to the bigger pictures and issues.

        It is a known issue that either deliberately or unwittingly denying the existence of abuse survivors – irrespective of sex – gender – sexuality – race and a number of other modifiers, pisses them off and adversely affects not only their self esteem but also feeds into the invisibility that is imposed by silly people who aint with the program.

        The gender neutrality issue has been repeatedly raised here in so many articles and comments, so it’s not just the editors who may need to read more carefully and write with a better focus that prevents false accusation or unwittingly dismisses sexual assault survivors of all types – sexes – genders – sexualities etc.

        So glad you clarified that strap line issue and the odd accusatory we – it makes so many of the accused feel better – but I do have to wonder about a few others who got excluded by default? P^)

  3. The comment at the very top did not address what you are referring to..he is suggesting I blame the victims and that I misrepresented Mourdocks’s quote. I am glad that my reply to his answered some of your concerns but….
    This column published here is a work in progress 10 years in the making…every word is there for a reason. No slip ups. I have written on the male experience for 30 years – thank GOD there is an army of men/writers out there now. The sad part of that is that so many men have experienced abuse/rape. I have written so many columns on the male experience I couldn’t count them. Heck, I wrote a memoir on it. I wrote this column on the female experience from MY vantage point. No apologies here for writing it the way I did, the wording I chose.
    The issue of writing on this subject so that every possible victim/survivor is included is not new to me.
    As a gay writer, I find the same issues come up…”Why didn’t you include your bi-sexual, trangendered , and so on and so on….brothers and sisters?”
    After I submitted this piece, I wrote my editor here that I have no doubt I will receive letters like your comment. I did NOT expect the first comment, I confess.
    This is The Good Men Project. I am but one voice.

    • An odd and even troubling response! P^)

      If I was your editor, and as you put it “I wrote my editor here that I have no doubt I will receive letters like your comment.”, I as editor would be asking why you expect concerned criticism – and suggested may it not be better to address that before publication? It’s what you do as editor … well normally.

      I note that you have not addressed the concerns about “Are we still asking, “Did she stop it,” instead of, “Why did he do it?””

      I’m wondering why “Are we still asking, “Did they stop it,” instead of, “Why did they do it?”” is such a troubling concept to consider – Gender Neutrality?

      It’s subtle, does not detract from what has gone before or the reported experiences – and yet also does not promote false paradigms and ideas about gender – sex – sexuality – Only Men Can Stop Rape because Only Men Are Rapists etc. Words are tricky and loaded with meanings – but as you have been writing for so long you know that, don’t you?

      … and how it all relates to being gay, at any business for 30 years … ????? Unless you is my evil twin and wanting to hook up later!

      And – I is also Abuse Survivor, so playing gambits with that one also tends to lead to a pissed off state. If you know what it is to be dismissed – ignored – made to not exist as a Victim-Survivor,…. well I’m sorry if you don’t grasp the issues for all Victim-Survivors, and as you put it “No apologies here for writing it the way I did, the wording I chose.” – so you will be most gracious and understanding if I unapologetically have to point out that such an attitude and response is insulting not only to the people denied existence – but to both “Mary” and “Natalie” – and it even raises some issues about your view of yourself that may need attention.

      You not only missed out so many with your chosen words – the words actually make you vanish too!

      • Your response is proof that a column like mine is an alternate voice – perhaps a voice that you do not want to hear or read but this column is my most-read on Huffington Post of the 20 I have written. Perhaps it sucks. I’ll leave that to all readers to decide. But I have received responses from around the world. Obviously it’s touched a cord with someone – many – rape survivors who appreciate my honesty, my take. I can’t write your take. I don’t know you. I don’t write other peoples’ takes on issues. I am an opinion columnist. I don’t speak for anyone but myself. I only used the gay example that when someone writes on gay issues, some expect every single member of the gay community to be represented. This is not possible. I can tell you that “Mary” and “Natailie” do not feel like their existance is denied…they OF COURSE saw this column before printing as I used their story. Had they not wanted me to use it or felt THE SLIGHTEST negative, I would never have used their stories. In my column I said, “Your response is proof that a column like mine is an alternate voice – perhaps a voice that you do not want to hear or read but this column is my most-read on Huffington Post of the 20 I have written. Perhaps it sucks. I’ll leave that to all readers to decide. But I have received responses from around the world. Obviously it’s touched a cord with someone – many – rape survivors who appreciate my honesty, my take. I can’t write your take. I don’t know you. I don’t write other peoples’ takes on issues. I am an opinion columnist. I don’t speak for anyone but myself. I only used the gay example that when someone writes on gay issues, some expect every single member of the gay community to be represented. This is not possible. I can tell you that “Mary” and “Natailie” do not feel like their existance is denied…they OF COURSE saw this column before printing as I used their story. Had they not wanted me to use it or felt THE SLIGHTEST negative I would never have used their stories. In my column above, I write: 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?” These are universal truths …as you wrote in your first response, change this to a male being raped by another male: I suggest the psychological mantle of victimhood will be helped more by demonstrations of understanding and empathy and less by people who judge a man’s choice to do “nothing” when a perpetrator (whether female or male) is doing “something.”
        Are we still asking, “Did he stop it,” instead of, “Why did she/he do it?”
        Yup universal truths…I stand by the content of my column.

      • MediaHound, I am Donald’s editor. If we never published articles that we thought would be provocative, we wouldn’t be fulfilling our mission. The criticism that he has received so far in comments, would not have prevented me from publishing this article or have caused me to edit it differently. I think it’s derailing to the conversation to ask “who is ‘we’” or “what about male victims/female perpetrators” instead of addressing the substance of what D’Haene’s talking about. Rather than question whether his content belongs here, both you and Dick Aubrey are actually detracting from the quality of the content on the site, overall. It’s why our commenting policies prohibit derailing. If comments continue to be hostile and abusive, I’ll be deleting comments.

  4. This was interesting to me because a few days ago I had heard a story about a woman’s experience of being raped while she was enlisted in the Air Force. She didn’t talk about it exactly after it happened. Alot of the responses to her story, from men and women alike, ran along the lines of telling her what she should have done or the people giving advice would have totally had that situation under control. It was very strange. They seemed to blame her for all her choices regarding the situation. No one made any mention of the actual rapist. I don’t really know why people blame the victim. I didn’t understand the responses from the people who took on a superior attitude toward her based on what they personally thought they would have done in that situation and what she should have done.

    • Because no one likes thinking they could be that vulnerable. It’s a kind of magical thinking. If I find the thing to blame the victim with, and I don’t do that thing, then I won’t wind up a victim (of whatever it is).

      • Which is exactly the rationale I’ve heard given to explain that female jurors are less likely to vote guilty than male jurors are in rape cases (with presumably a male accused and a female victim).

        • …and in said criminal trial, the DA is not always adequately prepared or inclined to attempt proper education of those male jurors. I have spent years trying to feed one friend the realities vs. the myths…the social jabs vs. the subtle hurts of the victim’s “resistance character.” And years later, i get…categorized as “one too small to think he could have done anything else.”

      • derrington says:

        I think you missed out sexism. Beliefs that all men are essentially good and all women and children are essentially evil are inherent in every religion and so rape challenges that belief. Therefore it is more socially acceptable to blame the victim rather than go against the flow and stand up for them. People are bullies, particularly of women and children.

    • HI Erin and Julie, you both make some good points..I feel that humans say insensitive things to victims…I’m glad you pointed out that both women and men are guilty of this. And I agree Julie, my mother was abused and her sister always said to her, If it was me, I would have done this and that and it wouldn’t have happened. How is this helpful? I told her. Love you Auntie but Mom is not less because you would have done something different.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was raped twice as a child and since coming out about it, I have parted company from my family through their continuous victim blaming. Most people like to think that rape is the victim’s fault due to sexism – an inherent belief in the goodness of men and the evilness of women and children. Hence why Jimmy Savile Rolf Harris et al get away with rape and no matter how many times the victim reports the crime, the perp is always believed and the victim rarely. Rape doesn’t follow the mantra of gender supremacy that people buy into, so it has to be denied. The victims are collateral damage to that belief.

  5. Categorizing and classifying people in any theater of human crud makes it all so much easier for the armchair judges. I had the same “bursting knots” of horror during the examination of the Sandusky case.

    Maybe its quite subtle to the gen public, but as one of the categorized, I found so many observations and comments to be quite painful.

    Joe Elbow at the corner bar and Mary Suburb in the SUV all devour those subtitles to ensure another few decades of your observations Donald.

    Thank you for writing and righting this.

  6. Thank you. I appreciate your insight.

  7. This piece is clearly about women being raped by men. Yes, we should be a stand for more pieces about rape to be written with gender neutrality. Expecting this to be the case in this piece is distracting from the point that it makes for all of ‘us’. As a woman I am part of the ‘we’ this speaks to for I, like so many, have been indoctrinated with the false teachings of mainstream culture that continue to blame the victim (regardless of gender). After many a self-defense class and years as a feminist, I catch the voice in my head saying things like, “If I was in that situation, I’d fight tooth and nail, do it differently/better/stronger/louder.” Then I set aside my ego and I see I’m full of shit. Especially given the fact that I’m a tiny woman with a quiet voice. The point of the piece is to call all of ‘us’ into our humanity and generously give victims understanding and support they deserve–not the scrutiny, blame and questioning they often receive. The gender of the audience and the author make no difference, for the message is universal.

  8. Your comment speaks to me in so many ways. Most writers hear from people when they don’t like something. Your comment is unique in that you are brutally honest about your path, your reactions. thanks for taking the time to comment and share your observations.

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