Blaming Victim Blaming
Let us start by saying that we at the Bear are massive believers in women’s rights and equality. Anything that helps the fairer sex close the gap on…well..us is fine in our book.
Having said that, the concept of ‘victim blaming’, initially well intentioned, has become a muzzle on free speech which has the potential to cause far more harm to women than it does good.
Victim blaming is most prevalently used in relation to sexual assaults. Granted, suggesting that a woman ‘deserves’ to be sexually assaulted because she is
- out by herself;
- drinking heavily;
- dressed scantly; or
- a woman
is disgusting and we at the Bear denounce it in the strongest terms.
Where it becomes dangerous, however, is where people are subsequently banned from any sort of analysis of how the crime happened. In a famous rape-murder case in Melbourne, a young Irish woman was violently sexually assaulted, strangled and then dumped in a shallow grave. She had been walking the 800m route from the bar she was at with a colleague to her house at around 1.50am.
Well intentioned police cautioned residents to be careful walking home alone late at night. Sounds fair enough doesn’t it?
What followed was a nuclear explosion of vitriol towards the patriarchal police force, accusing them of reinforcing age-old views that women must be accompanied by men at all times and that a woman is the one that is really to blame for her sexual assault. One well-known comedienne tweeted that police should ‘tell the rapists to stop raping’ rather than tell women to be cautious walking home alone late at night.
Others continually tried to shut down the discussion by pointing out that more women are sexually assaulted/killed at home than in random attacks, which is completely irrelevant in this case, noting that this was a random attack by an unknown assailant.
If all sexual assaults could be halted by lecturing the perpetrators to ‘stop raping’ then make no mistake, police would do it in a heartbeat. While there’s no doubt that improving men’s attitudes towards women will have an impact on the rate of sexual assaults, the reality is that it has never been entirely safe for women or men to walk home alone late at night, no matter how safe it may often feel. There will always be some offenders who are beyond help (the offender in this case had been convicted of numerous violent sex offences before and been jailed).
What the police were doing was not victim blaming. It was merely alerting women to a potential risk to help reassure them and to prevent further crimes. Sadly, people like the offender in this case exist and will continue to do so, in spite of any amount of education about respect for women and speaking about women respectfully. Many offenders will, for example, be intellectually disabled, mentally ill and/or just be narcissistic, empathy free people concerned with nothing but their own gratification. There is no obvious way to eliminate the risk of a random sexual assault, though in cities like Melbourne they are relatively rare.
Ironically, by trying to silence people on this point under the guise of protecting women, the screaming minority run the risk of creating a more risky environment for women by shutting down discussion on what women can do about minimising the risk of an assault. No one wins in that case.