How Humor Intersects with Rape Culture

Sexual assault is an epidemic, and its roots are wide and far-reaching. We find them in media, in social interactions, and around our own dinner tables. One of the most difficult aspects of rape culture to combat is the way we talk about sexual assault. The words we use, the jokes we make, the way we assume intent, and how we trivialize harmful attitudes enable rape culture. Humor is an especially pervasive tool that is weaponized against survivors and belittles the horrible reality of sexual assault.

When rape jokes appear on television or are uttered by comedians – even if the intention is to lighten a mood – they only contribute to the trauma and misunderstanding that survivors have to deal with already. Insinuations that survivors, usually women, “can’t take a joke” are harmful and unacceptable. Rape jokes are never funny, and sexist forms of humor that belittle women and women’s choices – especially in sexual situations (for example, the “that’s what she said” joke) – contribute to the foundation of rape culture. The only remedy is for people to make it clear that such jokes are harmful and wholly unjustifiable.


Is it really “Just a Joke?”

Language is a foundational part of the pyramid of rape culture. It forms the way we think about important issues and the vocabulary we use to express harmful or positive ideas. When rape jokes are an accepted part of language, they excuse and minimize the horrific reality of sexual assault. When someone makes a joke about sexual assault, statistically, a survivor of sexual assault is highly likely to hear it. When they do, it only serves to convey that rape is not considered a serious issue in society. When we laugh at rape, we push survivors further into the shadows and delay justice from being served.

Another important notion about using rape as a humorous device is that it is almost always wielded in jokes by the very people who benefit from rape culture. There are cases of survivors using humor as a mechanism to combat and dismantle rape culture, but their efforts are ignored. Instead of ridiculing and tearing down the culture that makes rape permissible, comedians and others ridicule those whose lives have been irreparably damaged by rape. Clearly there is a productive way to engage with rape culture with humor, and a way that perpetuates it.


Responding to Rape Jokes

If someone you know or encounter makes a rape joke, the appropriate response, if it is safe for you to do so, is to confront them and explain why such jokes are unacceptable. The term “rape” has found its way into online cultures and is wielded as a way to exercise power over others in a group, or a way to express that someone has been bested or overpowered in social activities, and so on. When we try to take the concept of rape and put it into different contexts, we are opening the door for more people to believe that sexual assault is not an awful reality for many, but a simple joke or innocuous phrase with no repercussions.

We all have a responsibility to show that the words we use matter, and those who joke about sexual violence need to be held accountable for the way they contribute to rape culture. As a prime example of this, the comedian Louis C.K., who has made many rape jokes over the course of his career, was accused of sexual misconduct in late 2017. Confronting rape jokes is an act of dismantling rape culture, since people who make rape jokes are likely to be people who don’t understand consent and have unhealthy ideas about power and violence. Changing ideas is essential to changing culture.

At the Survivors Justice Center, we are committed to providing resources and free legal services to victims of sexual violence. We fight to give power back to survivors and give them the justice they deserve. You can help us develop resources and support survivors with a small donation here.


Consent: What is It, When Does It Count, Why Does It Matter?

In the discussion of sexual assault and rape culture, the topic of consent may be the most important point of all. The dictionary definition of consent is “permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something.” In the context of sexual assault, consent is the specific agreement between individuals to engage in sexual activity; it implies a sincere desire that is freely given, not the product of any kind of coercion or duress, and made with full presence of mind.

Consent is the defining factor in whether or not an assault has taken place. Despite a clear-cut definition, the idea of consent is frequently contested in situations involving alcohol or even social pressures. Consent is essential: It should be continuous and enthusiastic, and it can be revoked at any time for any reason. Until our society begins to adopt a deeper understanding of consent, rape culture will continue to run rampant.


How Does Consent Work?

Consent is communication. It is the backbone of any sexual encounter, and the border between sex and rape. But consent isn’t just about sexual activity, either. Couples consent to hold hands, kiss, or even simply touch. In any relationship, consent is a vital factor in healthy communication, and when it is broken or manipulated, there is never any justification.

In the context of rape culture and the conversation about sexual assault, we often hear the adage of “no means no.” This is an important facet of consent, but the issue is often not as simple as simply saying no. Though every no must be respected, it is equally as important to foster a culture of sincere, continual yeses that have not been made under any sort of duress or the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It’s also vital to remember that consent can be revoked at any time, and consent to one act is not consent to others. One individual may consent to holding hands, but not to kissing, or consent to sexual intercourse one time and not in the future. Even in the middle of a sexual encounter, any party has the right to say they would like to stop or are not comfortable engaging in certain activities, and to violate their wishes in any of these situations is to commit sexual assault.


The Dos and Don’ts of Consent

The key to maintaining consent is to always ask permission and never assume someone’s boundaries. And remember: the absence of a clearly communicated no does not mean yes. Only yes means yes.

A few examples of communicating consent:

Asking, “Is this okay?”
A partner confirming, “I’m ready.”
A partner saying, “I want to __” or “Are you comfortable with __?”

Consent does not look like:

A partner who agrees while intoxicated or incapacitated.
Saying nothing.
A “maybe.”
Saying “yes” after being pressured, blackmailed, or coerced.


It is essential that consent be communicated in every sexual encounter, even if you and your partner have had sex before. Assumptions are not consent, and past communications of consent are not consent in the present. Every healthy relationship should involve discussions of one’s boundaries, and respect of those boundaries. No matter what, everyone has a right to make choices about their own bodies, and no one has a right to your body without your consent.

At the Survivors Justice Center, we are committed to providing resources and free legal services to victims of sexual assault. We fight to give power back to survivors and give them the justice they deserve. You can help us develop resources and support survivors with a small donation here.


How Sexual Predators Use Grooming Techniques to Prey on Victims’ Trust

The sheer magnitude of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse rocked USA Gymnastics and grabbed headlines all over the world.  Over the course of two decades, Nassar routinely sexually abused hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of young women under the guise of necessary medical treatment. And it all happened under the noses of parents, coaches, and higher ups at the organization.

Twenty years. Hundreds of lives affected. Dreams shattered.

As Nassar and various USAG higher-ups continue to face criminal charges, one question continues to linger on: Just how did he get away with it for so long?

Nassar did what so many predators do: He discovered his victims’ vulnerabilities, gained their trust, and then began abusing them. Nassar used grooming techniques on his victims and their families by pretending to be an advocate for the athletes, buying presents for children and their parents from his Olympic travels, and painting himself as someone the gymnasts could trust. When survivors of his abuse eventually spoke up, Nassar had already tricked those in the position to stop him into believing he was a good guy and a concerned doctor. And the cycle continued for decades.

Sexual predators like Nassar use grooming to camouflage themselves as a true friend to victims and their families and ultimately use that relationship to buy victims’ compliance – and their silence.


Anyone Can Be Groomed

While the conversation about grooming is often centered on children, the reality is that anyone can fall prey predatory behavior. Grooming has more to do with insecurities, culture, and exploiting trust than with age.

In addition to those being abused, sexual predators work hard to gain the trust of families to quell any suspicions about inappropriate behavior and reduce the likelihood that a victim would be believed if they told. By befriending parents, predators build up enough social capital that adults couldn’t fathom that someone they know, like, and trust could possibly hurt their child.  In Nassar’s case, his first known victim was the daughter of his closest friends – and when she told her parents about the abuse, they believed Nassar’s denials.


Grooming Builds Over Time

Grooming is a slow process that grows over time, with abusers first building up a friendship before engaging in sexual misconduct.

Sex offenders first work to gain trust by gathering information and then using it to encourage their victim to let their guard down. Nassar would use food to groom gymnasts. As the team doctor, he was aware of the strict diets to which the gymnasts were forced to adhere. He used the one thing they couldn’t have – candy – to show them he was “one of the good guys,” an adult they could trust not to tattle on them for breaking the rules.

Once this initial trust is established, predators will then test boundaries using seemingly everyday behaviors layered with inappropriate undertones: tasteless jokes, a lingering touch on the arm, sharing secrets about their own lives. As the behavior continues, things slowly start to escalate until eventually, the methodical grooming process desensitizes victims to a point that they may not even realize it when those behaviors cross a line into sexual abuse.


Blurred Lines

Sexual offenders use the grooming process to intentionally blur the lines around inappropriate and “normal” behavior. The end result of these blurred lines is that victims may instinctively feel like something isn’t right, but their relationship to the person hurting them may cause them to question their intuition or even make excuses for the behavior.

At its core, grooming is a means for predators to protect themselves by weaponizing trust and preying on false senses of security. Victims are left questioning their own thoughts and feeling powerless to stop someone their own family may trust. But, by educating children, parents, schools, and law enforcement on how predators use grooming to exploit their victims, we can change the conversation around sexual abuse.

At the Survivors Justice Center, we fight to give power back to survivors and help them get the justice they deserve.


What Do Sexual Assault Survivors Remember?

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”

These words by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, describing her strongest memory from the night she was assaulted have become a vital point in the much-needed discussion on the important role memory and psychology play in sexual assault. During Dr. Ford’s testimony, questions of what she remembered quickly became a topic of contention. When asked how she found her way home that night, or what day it was, she could not remember. Instead, she remembered the sound of laughter, the fear of being suffocated, the visceral trauma she experienced in the moment.

Dr. Ford’s experience is far from unique. The psychology of sexual assault is complex, and survivors rarely react to an assault in the way that many expect. Trauma has a shocking effect on the brain, which makes recalling certain details difficult, while putting others in sharp focus. Unfortunately, the hazy details are often the ones inquired about during an investigation. When we accuse survivors of lying simply because of a misunderstanding of the psychology of trauma and assault, we are only making the problem worse.


Why Survivors Don’t Remember Everything

The very details that inspire many to doubt survivors of sexual assault are actually hallmarks of it, according to experts interviewed by The New York Times. A fear of coming forward with allegations and difficulty recalling the events are exceedingly common experiences shared by survivors. Accusations that a survivor’s story doesn’t “add up” are used to discredit them, when the aftermath of trauma is rarely ever clear-cut or formulaic.

James Hopper, a psychologist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School consulted by the Times summarized the reaction like this:

Not only does memory fade with time, but when the brain’s defense circuitry is activated, the prefrontal cortex, which normally directs attention, can be rapidly impaired, affecting what information is recorded in memory . . . So the victim may remember a wallpaper pattern or a heightened sensation, but not the order of events.

Dr. Ford’s memory of her attackers’ laughter is an example of this sort of reaction. In the moment, survivors’ brains catalogue many small details instead of seeing the big picture. This same reaction happens across many different types of trauma, not just sexual assault. Soldiers who witnessed the deaths of their comrades in battle share this response. They remember fragments and details in hyper-focus, but not the peripheral information, Hopper explained in a separate statement.


Trusting Survivors’ Memory

The Washington Post cited a study in which rape survivors and survivors of other traumatic experiences were asked to describe the events in as much detail as possible. The results showed that traumatic experiences were widely poorly remembered, sexual and otherwise. The Post cited another study that assessed the memory of survivors of vehicle accidents; those with acute stress symptoms were more disorganized in their recollection of the same type of events. And the hippocampus, the center of the brain responsible for memory, is actually smaller in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Trauma physically, measurably diminishes the brain’s capacity for memory.

The who, what, when, where, and why approach to sexual assault investigations gives no consideration to the reality of memory after trauma. The details that cause many to discredit survivors just so happen to be the tell-tale signs of the validity of their stories. Science tells us that trauma distorts memory, yet when a survivor can only give small details in their account of the attack, we take it as a sign of falsehood.

The odds are stacked against survivors in our justice system today. Join us in our fight to change the conversation and culture in America, to create an environment where survivors are believed, and to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable. We are a non-profit law firm with a mission is to help survivors heal by holding perpetrators accountable. We believe that money should not be a barrier to justice. You can help us develop resources and support survivors with a small donation here.


The Truth About On-Campus Sexual Violence

More than to 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault or some form of sexual violence while attending college, along with 15% of male college students. Combined with the fact that 90% of survivors do not report their assaults in college, this side of the sexual assault epidemic has become impossible to ignore. These statistics by The National Sexual Assault Resource Center should prompt us all to take a hard look at colleges and universities and the environments students encounter.


The Reality of Campus Sexual Assault

On college campuses, the interpersonal dynamics between young people dramatically shift. Many students live in dorms and have less frequent contact with their parents or familiar adults. New social situations present themselves, which present new power dynamics to navigate. Especially if students have moved far from home, the push toward independence can result in unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situations. While independence empowers some, it makes others vulnerable.

In college, students are most likely to deal with some form of sexual violence near the beginning of their first or second years, according to RAINN. The newest students are at the highest risk, as many of them are put into unfamiliar situations, particularly with drugs and alcohol. For some, time in college can be extremely isolating, and if a sexual assault occurs, many don’t know to whom they can turn. LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students are also at a higher risk of assault and the added discrimination they face can hinder reporting and justice.

The culture on college campuses often involves parties, alcohol, and drugs, and these factors influence the likelihood of assault. One study showed that 15% of female students were raped while incapacitated during their first year of college. Incapacitation in this case means that the victim was unable to give consent due to a lack of mental presence or understanding during the situation—the kind of incapacitation associated with drugs and alcohol. For abusers, these substances can be used as weapons to victimize the vulnerable. And though it is never the victim’s fault if they are assaulted while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, using them can affect one’s judgment and lead them into dangerous situations with perpetrators who seek to take advantage of them.


Fighting Sexual Violence on College Campuses

Reporting sexual assault is one of the most conspicuous ways to fight it, but not every survivor can do so safely and with support. Because the circumstances surrounding the assault may be unclear, it can be difficult for disciplinary measures to be taken at colleges. Students like Emma Sulkowicz, who found her report of sexual assault by a fellow student handled unjustly, are common. Sulkowicz used her voice afterward in a protest wherein she carried a 50-pound mattress, similar to the one she claimed to be assaulted on, across campus every day until she graduated. The display drew national attention and opened the door for more conversations on campus sexual assault.

The effects of sexual assault on students can be devastating, leading to depression, isolation, and difficulty keeping up with their studies. No student deserves to grapple with such an ordeal while working to build their future. College campuses must adopt more transparent practices when handling accusations of sexual assault, and incorporate comprehensive education on healthy sexual situations and consent into the curriculum.

Though students can take individual steps to be safe and stay in control of social situations, the real answers to the campus sexual assault epidemic are awareness, resources, and education. Everyone deserves to feel safe in school.

Join us in our fight to change the conversation and culture in America, to create an environment where survivors are believed, and to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable. We are a non-profit law firm with a mission is to help survivors heal by holding perpetrators accountable. We believe that money should not be a barrier to justice. You can help us develop resources and support survivors with a small donation here.


When Men Are Victims of Sexual Assault

Every 98 seconds, a person in America is sexually assaulted. And when we discuss the sexual assault epidemic in this country, the conversation centers often on the stories of female survivors. While it is true that the majority of sexual assault survivors are women, that by no means exempts men from experiencing sexual violence.

According to The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in 71 men will be raped in their lives, and one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence. While the numbers for women are double this or more, there is no acceptable sexual assault statistic. Until all of these numbers are zero, we cannot stop fighting for survivors, no matter their gender.

The victimization of men is one critically overlooked or minimized point in this conversation on sexual assault, and the numbers for these cases are often higher than commonly believed. Rape culture manifests in different ways for different genders, and we who advocate for survivors must never prioritize justice for one group over justice for all.


Examining the Gender Divide

Though in this conversation on sexual assault, the fear of false accusations against men is widely asserted, men are actually more likely to be raped than falsely accused of rape. As stated by the NSVRC, one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. And while sexual assault is severely under-reported in general, men report their attacks even less than women.

An important distinction to make in this discussion, especially when rape culture is concerned, is that while the majority of assaults are committed by men, men are also victimized, and the harmful culture that has developed from this is just as detrimental to the well-being of men as to women. Rape culture teaches men to wield sexual violence as power, and this has devastating effects on our understanding of masculinity and autonomy. “Being a man” is often conflated with being violent or predatory, and so when men are victimized, it damages their sense of masculinity or self.

The discussion of masculinity and its ties to predatory behavior needs to be brought into the conversation of femininity and its ties to victimhood. Masculinity does not predicate sexual violence, and femininity does not predicate being a victim of sexual violence, but both of these concepts are inextricably tangled in rape culture.


The Experience of Male Victims

Harmful gender stereotypes have a hand in every side of the discussion on sexual assault. Girls and boys are raised and socialized to view sexual encounters differently, and those socializations follow them throughout their lives. Analysis has shown that 46% of male survivors have reported female perpetrators, 89% of boys in juvenile facilities were abused by female staff members, and 79% of self-reported gay male victims were attacked by members of the same sex. Clearly, the discussion of victimization by gender needs to shift its focus.

While the discourse for female victims has become very clear, male victims don’t share the same focus. The notion that “real men” could fight off a sexual attack and the proliferation of jokes about rape in prison are just a few examples that add to the trivialization of male rape victims’ experiences. The thought that men can’t be raped at all is still rampant, and to combat it we must change the way we discuss predatory behaviors and power dynamics between the genders.

A male sexual assault survivor is no less traumatized by their attack than a female survivor, and their assault is by no means less deserving of justice. By masking the victimization of men, socializing them to associate sexual situations with power, and mocking their trauma, our society has only worsened the problem.

A broader discussion on various gender dynamics and how they function in rape culture is sorely needed in this country. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people also experience a different side of this issue, and treating their experiences as outliers is also counterproductive.

At Survivors Justice Center, we understand that sexual violence has no gender, and we work with survivors of all genders to hold their perpetrators accountable and start the healing process.


What is Rape Culture?

In the midst of discussions on the prevalence of sexual assault, you have likely encountered the term “rape culture.” This idea has existed for decades, coined in the 1970s by second-wave feminists in an attempt to educate the public on the pervasiveness of rape. In the past, many people simply didn’t believe that sexual assault happened as often as survivors claimed it did. Additionally, the accounts of violence and sexism that facilitated the proliferation of rape were normalized by society, giving way to a culture desensitized to the suffering of survivors.

When a society ignores or justifies the causes of rape, continually places the blame on victims instead of perpetrators, and encourages toxic, predatory behaviors, then this society is plagued by rape culture.


What is It?

Especially regarding the sexual assault epidemic in America, rape culture has been a constant topic of contention. It is a deep-seated problem that will take education and time to dismantle, but accepting the existence of the problem in the first place is both necessary and potentially unpleasant. Acknowledging all the ways many of us, our friends, and our families have contributed to the harmful culture around sexual assault and violence is understandably uncomfortable, but all necessary changes are.

The activist group FORCE explains rape culture as:

In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make sexual violence and coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”

Countless moving parts create a culture, including the attitudes we raise children with, how we teach them to treat others and react to how they are treated, and much more. Rape culture is entrenched in every aspect of media and life, and it would take a focused, widespread effort to actively combat it. A few small groups of activists cannot realistically change the way every citizen thinks. All of us need to work to break down the ways we have learned to discredit the stories and pain of survivors.


How Do We Fight It?

Something so deeply entrenched in our society takes constant effort to make a meaningful chance. Rape culture is implicit. It’s all the little things we say and do that allow for perpetrators of sexual assault to hold power over their victims and all the ways we take power from survivors. It ranges from the ways women and men are depicted in media, to the ways we react to allegations of rape, to the percentage of rapists who actually go to jail for their crimes. The list goes on and on. Everyday Feminism outlined 25 examples of rape culture that we encounter every day, proving how pervasive this issue has become.

The more our society persists in believing that rape culture doesn’t exist, the stronger it becomes. Sexual violence should never be the status quo. And any culture that believes it is has failed the people that comprise it.

One major pillar of rape culture is victim blaming, though this is mostly concerned with the aftermath of assaults. The other major contributor to rape culture is the way perpetrators, most often young men, are being raised to view themselves as powerful and entitled to the bodies of others. The Nation posed this point: “Here’s a tip: the right question is not, ‘What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?’ The right question is, ‘What made him think this is acceptable?’” We as a society must examine the ways we normalize misogyny, ignore the intricacies of consent and autonomy, and delegitimize survivors’ stories.

Rape culture is not simple or clear cut. It impacts people of all genders, races, ages, and backgrounds, and in different ways. All of us have a hand in the prevalence of rape culture, and so all of us have a responsibility to eradicate it.

Join us in our fight to change the conversation and culture in America, to create an environment where survivors are believed, and to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.

Please follow us on Twitter @SurvivorsJC.

You can contribute to our cause here:


Why Survivors Don’t Report Their Assaults

In light of the recent allegations of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, many people in this country have expressed concern over why it took her 36 years to speak openly about a devastating, life-altering attack. The chorus of voices demanding to know, “If it was so bad, why didn’t she report it when it happened?” echo a common point of contention in discussions of sexual assault.

A sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds in America, and tens of thousands of reported cases never get prosecuted due to the burden of proof required to achieve a conviction. The odds stacked against survivors by the justice system are only one example of why they may not come forward. But the fear of coming forward in itself does not discredit a survivor’s testimony. Ultimately, it is a personal, and very difficult, choice grounded in countless individualized factors. Those who repeat the tired refrain of, “If it was as serious as [the survivor] claims, they would have told someone,” have no awareness of the emotional toll it takes on survivor to open up about what was likely the most horrific experience of his or her life.

In response to this recent influx of doubt, survivors have taken to social media with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport to tell their stories. They highlight many of the complicated and often dangerous circumstances that inhibit survivors from speaking out.



  • Fear of retaliation and violence. During or after assaults, many victims are threatened with violence to prevent them from coming forward. Assault is a violent act, and perpetrators are often able to physically overpower victims. Especially if the survivor and perpetrator are known the each other, the threat of future violence can intimidate and silence them for years down the line.
  • Fear of not being believed. Victim blaming is rampant in the discussion of sexual assault. Many survivors who have come forward with the truth have regretted this decision because of the reaction of others. Recounting such a terrible ordeal to family members, law enforcement, friends, doctors, psychologists, and the media, only to have it met with unbelief can traumatize survivors further. Many deem the consequences simply not worth it.
  • Fear of alienating family or friends. 80 to 90 percent of reported sexual assault cases are committed by someone the victim knows. If the assailant is a family member, or very commonly, a spouse or partner, revealing the truth could have a disastrous ripple effect in one’s close circle. People very often don’t want to believe that someone they trust could do something so horrible, so they discredit the victim instead.
  • Fear of not getting justice. According to RAINN, only 7 out of 310 reported rape cases will result in convictions. In a survey conducted between 2005 and 2010, 13% of sexual assault survivors said they didn’t report their assault because they believed the police would not help them. In criminal court, the burden of proof is simply too high, and many survivors have no physical evidence of their attack, especially if they didn’t report the assault immediately. The odds are stacked against them.



An article in The New York Times explained, “experts say that some of the most commonly raised causes for doubt, like a long delay in reporting or a foggy recall of events, are the very hallmarks of sexual assault.” The fact of the matter is that every survivor of sexual assault reacts differently, and the factors that keep them from reporting for long periods of time (if at all) are as diverse and complex as survivors themselves.

When survivors don’t come forward until days, weeks, months, or years later, it is extremely rare that they are lying. According to research, only about 0.5 percent of reported sexual assaults are false. And when survivors risk alienating all their loved ones, having their reputations dragged through the mud, being hurt or even killed for telling the truth, it is no wonder why they hesitate to report.

No matter how long it takes for you to report your assault, at Survivors Justice Center, we understand. We are committed to filling the gap in our justice system by providing free legal services and access to a network of not-for profit organizations to restore hope and enable healing for survivors of sexual violence.


What Does Victim Blaming Look Like?

When a sexual assault occurs or an accusation of sexual assault is made, the responses often vary. We tend to hear: “What was she wearing?” “How much did she have to drink?” “Why didn’t she fight back?” All of these questions can be described as victim blaming.

Victim blaming has become increasingly common and can take many forms. In many cultures, including our own in the United States, the onus for avoiding a sexual assault is placed squarely on women and not on potential attackers. Plainly put: Society tells people not to get raped instead of telling rapists not to rape. This ridiculous thought process has played a leading role in deterring survivors of sexual assault from reporting these crimes.


The Myth of “Asking for It”

After an assault, survivors are often barraged with questions, many of which frame the assault or their behavior in such a way that shifts the fault onto them instead of their attackers. If a girl is raped at a party, she is questioned about how much she had to drink. If a woman is raped while walking home at night, she is questioned about what she was wearing, how she acted, and if she was in some way “asking for it.” And the prevalence of responses like these often result in victims pausing to consider how their actions may have “caused” the attack. They take responsibility for their own assaults, which often results in intense guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

What many survivors fail to realize is that there is no action they can take that justifies a sexual assault. People are responsible for their own choices, not the choices of others. The more we assign prevention of an assault as the victim’s responsibility, the more we are enabling and empowering abusers. Unfortunately, this is a cultural mindset that has been developed not just for years, but for decades and centuries.


What Can We Do?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix. When an entire society has been ingrained with the impulse to question survivors first, we cannot simply flip a switch and undo the harmful thought processes. It takes conscious determination every day to combat the internalized ways we discredit survivors. One significant step would be to strike the idea that “boys will be boys” from our belief system, as it is one of the most prevalent lines of thinking we use to trivialize harmful behaviors. Though boys are not always perpetrators, they are more often than not, and much of victim blaming is gendered.

Before you give your daughters pepper spray or encourage them to take self-defense classes, teach all your children about consent. Talk openly about making good choices and taking responsibility for their actions. Focus on identifying the trivializing language that imply blame on people erroneously and be prepared to speak up for victims when their behaviors are shamed instead of the behaviors of those who victimize them. Victim blaming is a mindset so entrenched in our culture that it will take continual awareness and effort to make meaningful change; but until we do, survivors will never get the justice they deserve.

Being raped is not a crime, but raping someone is. So why is a survivor of rape treated with more scrutiny than the perpetrator? Let’s be clear: It is never the victim’s fault, or their responsibility to prevent an attack. Likewise, it is our responsibility as a society to create a culture of accountability that respects victims and the severity of sexual assault. The “be safe” mindset can’t realistically prevent assaults, but education and a focus on holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, can.

Victim blaming is one of the biggest roadblocks to justice. We must dismantle this practice once and for all if we ever hope to truly turn the tides. At Survivors Justice Center, we are committed to filling the gap in our justice system by providing free legal services and access to a network of not-for profit organizations to restore hope and enable healing for survivors of sexual violence. We welcome you to join us in our mission to put an end to victim blaming and make sure justice is served.