Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

“Brave victim speaks as vile York rapists are jailed. She says “I’m a survivor” and urges other victims to come forward”

*Trigger Warning* Rape; victim blaming

“Brave victim speaks as vile York rapists are jailed. She says "I'm a survivor" and urges other victims to come forward”

My friend sent me a link to an article the other day that infuriated her. It had the same effect on me too. Now that I am a little less shouty and a little more coherent I would like to take you through some of the victim blaming attitudes it referred to. You can read the full thing here  but for now I have just highlighted the parts that struck me most and I will take you through those.

First off though, I would like to mention that the victim and her family are urging other victims to come forward. I have incredible respect for those that come forward, it takes immense courage to report a rape. But I also believe it takes immense courage to stay silent, to keep such a horrible truth to yourself. I recognise that these comments are coming from a good place, a place of incredible bravery and relief at finally having justice and wanting other victims to share the same feeling she is now – of being a survivor and of it all being worthwhile. I would like to share with this woman how much respect I have for her and how much I support her in however she chooses to deal with this.

However I would also like to add that everyone’s choice to report or not is entirely different and based in different circumstances. With the way victims are treated and the low chances of receiving justice anyway, it is completely understandable to not want to come forward and I support that decision just as much. I am worried that encouraging victims to come forward exacerbates the feeling that victims often face when they don’t - that they are somehow to blame for future rapes this rapist might commit. Instead I think we should be telling victims that the rape was is no way your choice. But the choice to come forward or not is entirely yours. What feels right to one victim might not to another, and that’s completely ok.

And now, for the article.

“For Bambridge, Geraldine Kelly said: "He feels like his life is already over because of the convictions and because of the sentence he faces for them." And “For Oliver, Laura Addy said he had been a promising engineering apprentice with a "bright future" who had lost two jobs because of the rape case and lost friends.”

Is this supposed to make us feel sorry for them? That they are experiencing the consequences of their actions? Actions which, unlike the victims, they chose freely; consequences which, unlike the victims, are not traumatic, don’t leave them concerned for their health and probably won’t last the rest of their lives; actions which, unlike the victims, deserve some kind of punishment? I am exhausted with these kinds of comments that give rapists the sympathy card; how their actions effected themselves, how hard their life is now. I also think it’s pretty telling how far we’ve got to go in fighting violence against women given that this kind of sympathy is almost never expressed for those accused of other crimes such as burglary or physical assault. I am sure that having the public find out you are a rapist is hard, I am, I really am. But I am also sure that however difficult that is, it is nowhere near as bad as being raped and have people feel sorry for the rapists who chose to do it. Holding rapists accountable for their actions will result consequences they don’t like. There’s a reason for that. They actively chose their own sexual pleasure at the expense of someone else’s basic human rights. Out of all the consequences on all the people that that decision entailed, those on the people who actively sought that decision are by far my least priority.

We are then told that “during the trial he had made a suicide attempt” (referring to Bambridge.) Suicide is a serious issue and I wouldn’t wish suicidal feelings on anyone. It does make me wonder though how a person who is so seriously affected by people knowing that he committed rape, can be so okay with, dare I say it…committing rape? It strikes me that he is feeling this way not because he is now remorseful and understands the extent of what he has done, but because he got caught. And like I said – no one deserves suicidal feelings, and everyone deserves help to cope with suicidal feelings if they are suffering with them – but it does not make him any less accountable for raping someone or any less deserving of justice, and I am concerned that this information will be used to argue that.

“His girlfriend was standing by him and he had shown that he could have a "normal, healthy, respectful relationship with a female."

…As if his relationship with his girlfriend has any kind of bearing on how he treats (raped!) someone else. Most rapists do have normal healthy respectful relationships with females. It does not stop them from raping anyone else, it doesn’t even stop them from raping them too.

“There had been no threats towards the victim during the rapes.”

Great! So what are we worried about then?!

I really struggle to see why this is included. Are we meant to think that so long as the victim wasn’t threatened during the rape that it wasn’t that bad? That they could have threatened her but didn’t, so well done them? I fail to see what good including this information does for anyone. Some people are threatened before or during being raped, some people aren’t. Unless particularly relevant for some reason, I feel like giving this information just plays into the hands of those who like to place rape in some kind of hierarchy of ‘whose is worse’, and that really just ends up hurting everyone.

“Recorder Tahir Khan QC read character references for both men and said: "I accept you are ordinarily decent law-abiding citizens and what you did on August 4, 2013, was very much out of character."

It is baffling to me how anyone can hear about this ‘brutal three hour ordeal’ where the victim is left with nightmares, flashbacks, no job, health concerns, and describes herself as having ‘lost her identity’ – and then comment on how decent and law-abiding the rapists are. I am shocked.

It also reinforces this divide, this stereotype, that rapists are evil monsters and different in some major way to ‘ordinarily decent law-abiding citizens’. The title of the article describing the rapists as ‘vile’ also has this problem. I understand why people paint rapists as evil monsters; the act of rape is evil and monstrous. But an incredible, overwhelming, painful amount of evidence shows that the people committing it simply aren’t. Rapists are friends and partners and family and colleagues. Employers. That acquaintance you’re interested in. People who volunteer and give to charity. It’s incredibly tempting to say that these things are inconsistent with the character of a rapist, but that’s not true, and all it does it make it more difficult to believe that the next ‘ordinarily decent’ rapist is a rapist. And all that does is benefit rapists. When we define rapists outside of humanity, we will always fail to catch them. If we believe rapists are evil monsters hiding behind the bushes with a knife and not ‘ordinarily decent law-abiding citizens’, then those are the only ones we will catch. It’s already difficult enough for victims to accept that a friend/family member/partner etc.. has raped them, and encouraging this false belief that ‘ordinarily decent’ people don’t normally rape only makes this worse.

I am also disappointed to find a column by the same writer here, which I believed for the most part was going well, avoiding the ‘evil monster’ stereotype of a rapist, calling out false beliefs about rape, and holding the rapist entirely accountable for the rape. However this last sentence is problematic: “The key question for a man who thinks a woman in drink is "coming onto him" is: Am I absolutely sure she will have sex with me when she is cold sober in 12 hours' time? If the answer is "maybe not" or "no" then he should forget all about sex. Because if he doesn't, then he risks facing that gut-wrenching moment the morning after the night before when a policeman knocks on his door and arrests him for rape.” This seemingly tries to deter rapists from raping for their own sake, again returning to the consequences of rape on the rapist and not those on the victim. It implies that they should learn some self-control to avoid jail - rather than to avoid putting another human being through trauma by denying them their right to bodily autonomy.

I believe that publicizing such victim blaming views is incredibly harmful, and I hope The Press avoids including these kinds of comments in future.

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