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.



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