One of the many myths still perpetuated in today’s society is that a survivor can be at fault for being sexually assaulted.
When a woman is assaulted, offenders sometimes say, “She was asking for it,” immediately shifting blame to the survivor. Or, we may hear, “Look at how she was dressed,” as if what a woman wears is the reason she was raped. As if the offender couldn’t control his own urges.
By concentrating on the actions of the survivor, rather than the perpetrator, society has sometimes been persuaded to justify sexual violence. And when this happens, survivors are far less likely to report abuse going forward. Without support and validation, survivors suffer shame as well as blame which can seriously damage self-esteem and confidence. They do not heal from the experience and remain vulnerable.
It is important to recognize that committing a sexual act through force or coercion is a choice made by the offender.
It has nothing to do with “what she wore or how she walked or talked or how much she drank.” Women and men, both, should be able to dress and act the way they choose, within the confines of law.
Advice often given to women is based on not dressing provocatively, not walking alone at night and not drinking too much, as if not engaging in these specific actions will keep them safe, as if sexual assault is always preventable. The truth is, sexual assault is not always preventable. Rape is a crime of opportunity by an offender looking for someone who is vulnerable. Rape is a crime of entitlement. Rape is a crime of power and control over others. Rape is never complicit, consensual, excusable or justifiable. Rape happens to men as well as to women.
But survivors are often asked questions that make them feel they are responsible for preventing the attack, that they should have done more to prevent the attack—leaving them confused and ashamed and unable to heal.
The only way to stop sexual violence is to hold offenders accountable for their actions. Every time. No matter the circumstances. And if the offender is not held accountable, the community must stand up and demand accountability. Because the offender—the rapist – is the only one who commits this crime.
OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.