Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shouldering the Blame

Following my recent post about a comment in my university newspaper and its troubling attitude toward the victims of sexual assault, I submitted a longer version of that blog entry as an opinion column to the university newspaper.

They printed it, but, as I should have predicted, they made several unapproved changes to it in the process. Last time I submitted an opinion column (four years ago) they did the same. Remembering that, I made it really clear this time that if it needed to be cut in any way, I would take care of it, but that's not all that's going on here. It doesn't even seem that all of the changes were related to length; some are just stylistic changes that mangle a couple of my sentences and shift the emphasis of the end of the column.

At any rate, you can read the printed version here or you can read my intended version right here:
In The Shorthorn’s October 2nd article about the increase in crime on campus, Assistant Police Chief Rick Gomez was interviewed about the rise of sexual offenses on campus, and, when addressing the issue of date rape, 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 goes on to say, “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."

Women do 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.

This blame-the-victim mentality is not new. It surfaces repeatedly in our culture. It says that child molesters can accuse 5-year-olds of seducing them and be believed; it says that women who wear miniskirts or Victoria’s Secret underwear are “asking for it”; it says that not saying “no” is the same as saying “yes” or, worse, that saying “no” but not forcefully enough, is equivalent to a “yes.” After all, “her lips say ‘no,’ but her eyes say ‘yes.’”

Ultimately, despite many of its proponents’ claims to the contrary, this mentality provides no real help for women. I have little doubt that with his statement to The Shorthorn Assistant Police Chief Gomez was trying to do his job, which consists of protecting UTA students, both male and female. However, telling women that the responsibility for their victimization belongs to them and them alone does no more than exacerbate the guilt and shame women who are victims of sexual assault already feel. It does not prevent men who are willing to sexually assault their acquaintances from doing so.

In place of insisting that women protect themselves by developing the ability to pick out date rapists from a crowd and by being perfectly and constantly vigilant against all men, women would be better served, in the short term, by increased availability of self-defense training so that, instead of a passive defense of avoidance and the mere hope that they are not attacked, they will have at their disposal a method of active defense that will be able to deter an attacker (at least until help arrives) and, in the long term, by a shift in cultural attitudes that eliminates the sense that some women are just asking for it and places the blame where it truly belongs.

No comments: