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the daily telegraph – thanks for contributing to victim blaming



Last week I was unlucky enough to come across an article in the Daily Telegraph entitled ‘More women are getting drunk on Sydney streets than ever before. It was the usual article about women and sexual assault, i.e. how women can avoid getting assaulted if they simply stop being so darn silly and reckless all the time. In this particular piece, their reckless behaviour was consuming alcohol.

Now I’m risking quite the backlash here, but I do understand Janet Fife-Yeomans’ and Daniela Ongaro’s argument in the article. I do see the point of view from those who cry ‘we are just looking after their safety!’. Because it is easy to look at the statistics and the vulnerability that things like too much alcohol can contribute to, and decide that there is an easy solution. What people don’t realise is that by blaming the victims or acting as if sexual assault is somehow within a victim’s control, they themselves are contributing to a society that will never be safe for women.

What I found interesting about this particular piece was that in the first paragraph, it is mentioned that ‘more than 80 per cent of all sexual offences, including rape and indecent assault, involve either the victim or the offender being affected by alcohol, an analysis of police data for Sydney shows.’ They clearly state that the offender may often be affected by alcohol, and yet not once was this mentioned again. Women were urged to stop drinking to keep them safe, but there was not a word about men (and women) avoiding alcohol because, according to their statistics, they will be more likely to sexual assault someone.

I have been so frustrated with attitudes like the ones expressed in this piece, having seen so many articles and news stories in the last year urging women to ‘look after themselves’ and avoid alcohol, dark streets, strangers, and wearing ponytails (yes, you read that right); yet at the same time having seen nothing targeting the offenders – at least not in mainstream media.

Sexual assault has almost been put down as a fact of life that can’t ever be changed, and with this idea comes an attitude that we all need to make sure we take precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Because of this, it is assumed that if we do not take precautions (which are forever changing and growing, so one can’t possibly know what all of them are) then we are partly if not entirely to blame if we are sexually assaulted.

Sexual assault doesn’t happen because of the victim’s actions. It happens only because of an offender’s actions. The onus should not be on people to not get sexually assaulted, but should be placed solely on the shoulders of those who are to blame: the offenders themselves.

Safety advice on how not to get attacked doesn’t stop sexual assault. It just makes victim blaming more deeply ingrained in our culture. And as long as we continue to focus on what the victim is ‘doing wrong’, the easier it is for offenders to get away with it. After all, in the eyes of the media, it’s not their fault – the victims should have been more careful.

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2 thoughts on “the daily telegraph – thanks for contributing to victim blaming

  1. While victim blaming is a thing in the West, a lot of the responses, such as the mantra espoused in this article of “we have to teach the rapist not to rape”, are more about symbolism than practicality. As The Guardian’s Barbara Ellen recently observed; “I agree, let’s make rape men’s problem! But hang on, we already did. Sadly, in the real world, away from women’s studies modules, rapists don’t seem to care that we are “on to them”. They just carry on raping.” The other effect of this mantra is the vilification of safety advice and the confusion it provokes regarding at what point offering concern or advice becomes victim blaming, or is it always victim blaming? Should people really feel emboldened to travel through unsafe places simply because they are emboldened by their right not to be assaulted or robbed?

    “After all, in the eyes of the media, it’s not their fault – the victims should have been more careful.”

    Sorry, but when I think of the media’s response to the most prominent sexual assault and murder case of the past 12 months- that of Jill Meagher – I don’t see the sort of victim blaming you imply. To the extent that a media publication would acknowledge the fact Meagher walked home late at night increased her risk of assault, there was no one seeking to exonerate, glorify, or mitigate the agency of Adrian Bayley in any way. The slippery slope from *explaining* to *justifying* the incident did not seem to occur in the way you imply.
    It is not contradictory to simultaneously argue that a victim could have been more careful BUT that it is still *entirely* the fault of the rapist.

  2. I do not see any victim blaming here. In general, men who raped are criminally responsible and they should be punished for their crime. Legally and morally they are to be blamed. There is absolutely no legal victim blaming here. But then, if she could have avoided getting raped by taking reasonable precautions, then it was her moral duty to take those precautions to spare herself, her family and friends, the medical team, etc from a lot of agony. If she hadn’t taken those reasonable precautions, then there is a moral blame that can go towards the victim as well. Women are advised not to drink too much alcohol because they are likely to become the victim. If my friend (a man) decide to go to a dangerous part of Washington, D.C. at night and got mugged, of course he is not legally responsible for the attack. The criminals are. But he could have avoided that mugging by not going to that place known to be dangerous. In this case, a man could have been advised to take certain precautions. In an ideal world no one should steal anything from my house if I leave the door unlocked. But if I left my door unlocked and some thieves stole everything from my house, the thieves are still to be legally blamed for their criminal action, but a certain degree of moral blame goes to me as well for not taking reasonable precautions by not locking the door. Is that victim blaming? If it is, it is only a legitimate victim blaming. Note that we never said that I deserved to be robbed because I left the door unlocked – that would be blaming the victim.

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