Victim blaming often comes from a place of fear. It’s a lot easier to believe that sexual assault only happens to people who’ve done something “wrong". People want to believe that attacks are the fault of the victims, so that they feel empowered to prevent it from ever happening to them. That as long as you stay sober, don’t wear short skirts, and don’t walk alone at night, you are safe. They really want to believe that bad things only happen to people who deserve them because this helps them to convince themselves that they always have control over what happens to them. But the reality is that sexual assault can happen to anyone. Perpetrators sexually assault victims who were sober, conservatively dressed, and even people who weren’t alone.
It’s not uncommon to hear things like: “She was flirting with him!” “Men can’t be assaulted!” “If she didn’t want to be assaulted, she shouldn’t have drank so much!” “He’s so lucky that he got to sleep with his teacher!” These statements are all wrong. They not only make it harder for victims to come forward, to feel safe, and to heal from their trauma, they also validate attackers and assure would-be attackers that their behaviour is okay as long as they pick people who are drinking, flirting, or doing anything else that society can use to invalidate their suffering.
I was 23 years old when I was sexually assaulted by a third person. The shame and guilt I felt were enough to set me into a cycle of emotional breakdowns. When I finally got the courage to speak to my friends, they asked a lot of questions, trying to figure out why it happened. Trying to reassure themselves that surely there was something I’d done, something they could just avoid doing to be safe from assault.
“Were you drinking?” “What were you wearing?” “Did you lead him on?” “Why were you alone with him?”
The answers were, “No.” “Sweatpants and a t-shirt.” “I told him that I wasn’t interested in him before hanging out.” And the last one, people seem to get stuck on. “Yes, I was alone with him, but I thought he was a friend.”
One person seemed genuinely shocked at my answers as if they were somehow hoping to pin me at fault. It was hard for them to understand that it could happen to me even though I did the "right" things.
But the truth that should always be remembered is that even if I was drinking or met him completely naked, it would still be his fault for assaulting me. Even if I had flirted with him, or led him on, that didn’t make it okay to force himself on me without my consent.
This person, after getting over their initial shock, then spoke up again. “Well, you shouldn’t have been alone with him.”
I told them, “Well, he shouldn’t have assaulted me.”
And that’s just it. He shouldn’t have assaulted me. When people tell me what I did to bring the attack on myself, it only makes me question if I could have stopped it. It’s not uncommon for victims of assault to feel guilt, shame and many other negative emotions. By saying things like that or asking questions like that, you’re just making things worse and making it harder for assault survivors to heal! We should be easing their pain instead of adding to it.
Many people argue that it’s not the attacker’s fault. That being a “tease” and “asking for it” are what contribute to sexual assault and/or sexual violence. That the attacker simply “can’t help but take it.” But after talking to survivors, I've seen over and over again that most sexual assaults occur when the victim isn’t being a tease or "asking for it". That attackers may think the victim is leading them on, even when there are clear signals that the person isn’t interested. And that a huge amount of sexual assaults happen even when the attacker knows that their victim doesn’t want it.
Let's also say that someone is teasing someone, but still does not give consent. Are you really telling me that the attacker has less self control than my dogs? I can dangle meat in front of my dogs, or even put it down in front of them and leave the room, and they will not touch it if I tell them "no." (On that note, you should check out our what is consent page to find more information on consent and how it's more than "no means no".)
It’s important to note that victim blaming doesn’t just happen to victims of sexual assault, but victims of any kind whether they be victims of robbery, fraud, or even other types of abuse. Victim blaming is especially strong toward people who stay in domestic abuse situations.
It’s time to stop blaming victims, and time to start putting blame where it belongs. On the perpetrator.
You can also check out our podcast on Victim Blaming here.