Friday, October 3, 2008

The Blame Game

From yesterday's university newspaper, in an article about the increase in crime on campus:
Forcible sex offenses increased from one in 2006 to five in 2007, and burglaries more than doubled from 31 in 2006 to 72 in 2007, according to the [university's annual crime] report.

Assistant Police Chief Rick Gomez said most of the sexual offenses were "date rapes," crimes where the victim knew the offender. They often happened in residences and involved alcohol, he said.

"Women need to be smarter about who they date and be careful about what they drink, so that they'll have their senses about them so things like that won't happen," he said. "But as far as women just walking out around campus and being raped by a stranger--that's not happening."
In other words, if women were more discriminating and didn't drink so much, "things like that [wouldn't] happen."

I do believe that women need to be prepared to protect themselves if a man tries to rape or assault them (whether they know the man responsible or not), but the logic of Gomez's statement is not the logic of "just in case" but the logic of causality: if they "have their senses about them," are smarter, and behave themselves, then they won't be assaulted. After all, they're not assaulted when doing something innocent like walking across campus, he notes. It's true that most sexual assault and rape is perpetrated by someone the victim knows, but that doesn't indicate that the victim made a bad decision in getting to know that person (rapists don't wear signs) or that the victim invited the assault. Instead it indicates something about the sexual offender.

I am appalled at this statement. I am appalled that this logic is still so prevalent, that it comes from a source of supposed authority, and that it was published on the front page of a university newspaper.

I do believe I'll submit a version of this post to the school paper as an opinion piece in response to the article.


whatiwore said...

Victim-blaming is such a pernicious problem that it even comes from other women sometimes--I remember when I was a teenager, and issue of Seventeen interviewed a girl who got upskirted. In the next issue, another teenage girl wrote it and said, "No wonder she got upskirted--look at what she's wearing!" Even as a teenager, it disturbed me hugely. You should write a response, and more power to you for it!

Christy said...

Yeah, that's a major problem with issues like this. I teach college freshmen and sophomores and too often it's the female students who are most judgmental about other girls or women who are victimized.

I read in an article by Jean Kilbourne once (I don't remember if this was her idea or her quoting someone else's idea, though) that this happens in part because this mindset allows women to maintain the fiction in their own minds that they have some level of control over what happens to them. In other words, it's easier for them to see other victims as somehow responsible for their fate than it is to acknowledge that they could easily become the next victim and there's really nothing they can do to prevent it.

That makes a lot of sense to me; it doesn't, of course, change the fact that blaming the victim is wrong and deeply troubling, but it does provide a way of understanding why it happens in some cases.