Putting End to Victim Blaming in 2012

by Mychal Denzel Smith

2011 was a busy year for anti-rape activists. Bookended one side by a discussion about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas and on the other with a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Boardad using the threat of rape to warn against excessive drinking with the text “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no,” there was plenty of outrage to go around.

A recurring them throughout the year in anti-rape activism was victim-blaming. It’s not just an attitude of “let’s wait until we have all the facts,” but a concerted effort to place the responsibility for rape on the shoulders of the one who has been violated. In the case of the 11-year-old who allegedly suffered a brutal gang rape at the hands of 18 men, the act being captured on cellphone cameras,thespinwas that the young Latina girl was known for being “fast” and dressing provocatively, which I gather is supposed to mean she invited the sexual attention of fully grown men.

Not more than a few months later, the sexual assault charges levied against then leader of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn by 33-year-old Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo brought in a fresh round of victim-blaming. Diallo was serving as a housekeeper for the New York City hotel in which Strauss-Kahn was staying and alleges the French diplomat forced her to perform oral sex. From there, Diallo was baselessly “maligned as an HIV-positive prostitute and bribery candidate,” in the words of Akiba Solomon for Colorlines, and from there it was uphill battle to not only prove her rape, though there was convincing physical evidence, but to establish her character as someone who could be raped. The charges brought against Strauss-Kahn were eventually dropped.

The PA Liquor Board ads (which MSNBC analyst Keli Goff inexplicably attempted to defend as some sort of warning against binge drinking, rather than as the victim-blaming tool that they are) bring to mind the case of the New York City “rape cops,” Franklin Mataand Kenneth Moreno, two New York City police officers who were charged with the sexual assault of a woman they were called to help. They were acquitted, in part because the woman who accused them was drunk at the time of the alleged assault and was, in some people’s minds, either a willing participant in any sexual encounter that took place or was completing making it up.

It’s in this context that the largest anti-rape demonstration since Take Back the Night, the worldwide SlutWalks grabbed headlines. The marches were prompted by a Toronto police officer offering “advice” to women looking not to be raped by stating they “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” It was an egregious and blatant form of victim-blaming that became the impetus for organized SlutWalks in cities across the globe, featuring thousands upon thousands of women pushing back against the idea that what one wears could somehow cause rape. SlutWalks were not without their criticism and controversy, namely from communities of women of color who felt marginalized, or by those who took umbrage with the use of the word “slut,” but the message was clear: rapists rape. To place responsibility elsewhere is to defend rapists, and we can not be a society of rape apologists.

Victim-blaming supports and perpetuates rape culture. If the only people we believe to be true victims of rape are native born virgin white women teetotalers from affluent backgrounds wearing turtlenecks who have never told a lie, then we have effectively rendered every other existing body communal property to which anything and everything can be done. That’s a huge step back when the FBI has finally updated to a more comprehensive definition of rape that is reflective of the true nature and viciousness of this crime.

When you consider that nearly 1 in 5 women American women report having been raped or experiencing an attempted rape in their lifetime, or that men cannot tell the difference between the quotes that appear in mens magazines and those of convicted rapists, or that more than half of black girls experience sexual abuse before they turn 18,  there is little room for setbacks.

2012 has to be the year that we end victim-blaming. There is so much more work to be done in anti-rape activism to ensure that one day the threat of rape no longer exists. Rape needs to be understood as an act of violence and not a crime of passion or uncontrollable sexual desire. It must be safe for rape victims to come forward without shame and fear. Police need to accurately report incidents of rape and sexual assault. Rapists must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Having to push back against the idea that victims are some how at fault for having their body attacked and violated makes this work that much more difficult.

  • chanela

    the article about not being able to tell a quote from a rapist from a quote from a men’s magazine is disturbing as hell!

  • CD86

    *Heavy Sigh*

    I clicked on the article and I was very disturbed. And I agreed with the sentiments of the people who commented and noticed how the subjects were referred to as girls rather than women.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    I don’t know if this is considered to be victim-blaming, but quite often when I explain to others how I get tired of street harassment (men following me in their cars, telling me to smile, approaching me as if we are familiar simply because they have seen me before, trying to force an interaction with me because they like the way I look…), I am told that they do it because I am ‘cute’ or they think I am ‘pretty’ as if to say that being ‘attractive’ to someone makes the harassment acceptable.

    Anyway.

    I do agree that victim blaming needs to stop.

  • QON

    Victim is really about making women, adults, responsible for their behavior. An 11 year old being ganged raped is not the same as warning women about what can happen if they become so intoxicated they arent aware of their surroundings. Unless, of course, it is true that women are in fact children.

    “When you consider that nearly 1 in 5 women American women report having been raped…”

    Right. That girl up at Hofstra University reported a rape. So did that stripper at Duke University.

    “Rapists must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

    What happens now? Are they given vouchers to Walmart.

  • Bee

    Thank you for this article! But, you know, I’m afraid that many people will never get it because they are too blinded by their own privilege and/or self-hate.

  • QON

    Maybe its just me but I didnt have a problem with most of the statements taken from both convicted rapist and men who read “lad mags.” Seriously ladies, a lot of what they said is absolutely true.

    Take this for instance, “What burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there.”

    Why do we do this? If you want to have sex, just do it, if not, why bother going through the motions? It makes women look so out of control and indecisive.

    “Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I’ve given up on girlfriends. They don’t know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.”

    What is so offensive about this statement? Its probably true.

    “You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.”

    What the hell does this even mean?

  • isolde

    This rape apologizing @ss-wipe and its multiple logic fails . . .
    ____________________________________________________________________“Victim is really about making women, adults, responsible for their behavior. An 11 year old being ganged raped is not the same as warning women about what can happen if they become so intoxicated they arent aware of their surroundings.”
    ___________________________________________________________________

    Because women are only run the risk of being raped while drunk. STFU. Victim blaming is really about misogynist pricks like you, who scrape the bottom of the barrel, looking for any and every excuse imaginable to infantilize criminals, the majority of which (rapists) are male.

    Per your straw example . . .Surprise, surprise. According to you, women (oh adults) should be held “responsible” for their behavior, and not the actual rapists who violated them. Being intoxicated to the point of not being aware of their surroundings definitely makes victims deserving of rape, and their rapists are entitled to rape them, because according to you the victims should’ve never gotten drunk in the first place.
    ____________________________________________________________________
    “Right. That girl up at Hofstra University reported a rape. So did that stripper at Duke University.”
    ____________________________________________________________________

    Ah, ye ole’ straw exceptions used in a weak attempt to disprove a rule . . . Two well publicized cases where the accusers were exonerated automatically proves that the overwhelming majority of rape victims are liars. Well I guess my broken clock really does work, seeing as that it’s right twice a day.

    You just can’t help yourself, can you? I mean, you’re like the rapists who assault these drunk women, who according to you are responsible for being raped, because they were intoxicated. it’s not your fault that you’re a rape sympathizer, and you’re not responsible for your victim blaming. It’s Janelle’s fault. You wouldn’t have spewed your bile on this thread, had Janelle not posted it. Janelle should be more aware of trolls like yourself and post on these subjects at all.

  • isolde

    *mychal denzel smith is the author of this piece, not Janelle Harris

  • Natalie

    You MUST be a man…

  • QON

    @isolde

    Youre so incredibly childish and incoherent.

    I never said only drunk women get raped but you increase your chances of being a victim of all kinds of crimes if you are drunk. Not just rape. Whats so hard about informing people of the dangers? Grow up.

    I never said the overwhelming majority of women who accuse men of rape are lying. But 100% of men who are accused of rape are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law and not some feminist lynch mob trying to score points against men.

    I think you are the one who infantilizes women by arguing time and time again that there are no measures that they can take to INCREASE their safety and security.

  • QON

    Not a man, just a woman who admits that women do themselves no favors when they are indecisive, manipulative, and play games with people. And if men decide to play video games than be in your company, you have few people to blame.

  • Tonton Michel

    The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Boardad ad is debatable, it was heavy handed but I do not think it falls under victim blaming.

  • Michelle

    @QON

    Are you just forever trollin’, or are you actually the way you seem?

  • QON

    @Michelle

    Calling me a troll isnt going to cut it. Either you engage with my views or just ignore them. Im not here to blindly follow Clutch’s editorial line.

  • Natalie

    She must be…

  • apple

    ive been on here a year… its the later.. i’m sure of it now

  • iQgraphics

    to explain this
    ” “Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I’ve given up on girlfriends. They don’t know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.”

    What is so offensive about this statement? Its probably true. ”

    is to simply say that men pay escorts to leave, not to stay.
    its a non-committal and objectifying statement

    That guy is a di*k and could probably only get it via paypal.

    the entire statement is offensive. but I can let that one rock because its a personal passe way of admitting his own childish issues.

  • isolde

    “Youre so incredibly childish and incoherent.”
    ______________________________________

    @JON

    Oh yes, my calling you a rape apologizing @ss-wipe is far more childish and incoherent than blaming women for being raped.
    ___________________________________________
    “I never said only drunk women get raped”
    _____________________________________

    No, you just equated victim blaming to holding (drunk) women (oh, adults) responsible for “their behavior” which (coincidentally) based on your statement means holding drunk women responsible for being raped.
    _________________________________________________
    Whats so hard about informing people of the dangers? Grow up.
    __________________________________________________

    No, this is what you said. . . “Victim is really about making women, adults, responsible for their behavior. An 11 year old being ganged raped is not the same as warning women about what can happen if they become so intoxicated they arent aware of their surroundings.”

    Even the blind can see through your BS trolling. You’re not informing anyone of anything. You’re blaming victims for being attacked and insinuating that rape victims are culpable in their own assault. This piece isn’t even about the dangers of public drunkenness, no matter how many times you try to derail the discussion. It’s about rape apologizing @ss-wipes, such as yourself, who would rather blame victims for being victimized than hold their attackers accountable for their crimes.
    ________________________________________________________________
    “I think you are the one who infantilizes women by arguing time and time again that there are no measures that they can take to INCREASE their safety and security.”
    _________________________________________________________________

    Have a fcuking seat with your feigned concern for the “safety of women.” You’re not fooling anyone. Short of public lewdness, disrupting the peace, or driving while intoxicated, being drunk is not a crime. However, rape is a crime. So, no, the one doing the infantilizing (of criminals, mind you, cause you’re just that sick) is you.

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  • Walt

    I enjoyed your article and whole heartedly believe that victim blaming needs to stop along with our nations pervasive rape culture in general. I am actually a grad student working on a policy paper aimed at addressing American Rape Culture. I just wanted to ask if you could direct me to the most common/popular examples of victim blaming that are out today. I’d like to incorporate them in my policy project. Any help would be much appreciated.

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