Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The normalisation of gendered violence:The importance of allowing women and girls to name their experience of violation as real.

I recently read a blog on The Guardian’s website describing how some male students at Oxford University are wearing white ribbons to protest against and acknowledge the very real experiences of their fellow female students of sexual violence and misogynistic behaviour on campus. The campaign ‘It Happens Here’ has seen a number of women come forward and disclose their personal experiences of gendered violence. Accounts range from them describing their feelings after experiencing a sexual assault, their sense of self-blame, questions about whether or not the behaviour was actually a violation, decisions not to report it or even tell anyone and their own inability to even articulate that their experience was a rape – to name but a few.

I have conducted much of my own research into rape and sexual violence both in relation to women’s decisions to withdraw allegations from the police and also police officers perceptions of the victims they encounter and as I read through these harrowing accounts as part of this campaign it was like hearing the voices of the very brave women I interviewed for my research a few years ago. The issue that comes back to me time and time again when I read accounts from women about their experiences is that the very factors that make them feel self-blame, question their violation and internalise their horror are often the same factors that officers utilise, and indeed society in general, to weigh up whether or not a victim’s story is credible.

How much has she had to drink, what position did she put herself in, what is she like as a witness, did she know the assailant and is her narrative credible are all issues I have heard used by officers to weigh up stories from the victims they encounter. My job here is not to portray the police in a bad light or question that they haven’t moved on from the days of Roger Graef’s TV documentary in the 1980s. I truly believe they have - however my concern sits with the impact that such accounts and perceptions have on other women when they are considering reporting an act of gendered violence.

Following my reading of this Guardian blog, I caught up on the documentary ‘Blurred Lines’ which was aired on TV some weeks ago. I was horrified to hear young women quoting in what seemed to be quite a blasé fashion that they would not report an experience of sexual harassment or abuse in their own college environment to anyone. When probed by the interviewer about their decision they openly stated that such behaviour was seen as every day and in a sense normal. Therefore they saw little worth in reporting it. The implications of the feelings these young women had about a: such behaviour being perceived by many as simply to be expected as a young woman even though they seemed to understand it was not acceptable and b: the sense of normalisation of such acts is immense. At what point should it be deemed acceptable to harass an individual because of their gender?

I do not necessarily believe that this is a new concept, indeed I remember in my teenage years a close friend of mine being, what I now know to be raped, and her not being able to articulate or even consider it as that for a range of reasons. Whilst these issues were similar to the factors that feature today it seems different from this described sense of normalisation. When I was in my teens I had no real understanding of what rape was aside from the stranger danger mythology that gave me the incorrect perception that rapists were unknown to their assailants and would jump out of a bush in the dark. It wasn’t until I went to university to study criminology that I understood the facts around this area. However such issues are now far more openly discussed and people are generally far more aware of issues about sexual violence, the real amount of women who experience it and indeed who likely assailants are going to be. Certainly in my friends experience the reason she never reported what happened was not because she felt the behaviour was normal but more that she didn’t have the knowledge about what a violation even was when it involved a boy she knew relatively well.

Surely now in theory with all the evidence, research and campaigners out there fighting for the rape and justice women should feel empowered to come forward and name their experiences as wrong. However, whilst I understand there are a plethora of highly complex reasons why women do not come forward and disclose experiences of gendered violence whether it be to the police, rape crisis centres or even their family the issue that this behaviour has, conversely become normalised and to be accepted is surely something we need to change and fast. Much research conducted suggests that women often don’t report because they do not know if what they have experienced is rape. If inappropriate touching and harassment is seen now by young women as normal and to be expected as a woman what are the implications of other forms of sexual violence. We need urgently to educate young people from early on about consent, gendered violence and teach them that none of such behaviours are either acceptable or indeed to be normalised.

Until we accept this and address these issues sexual violence will remain unreported, women will continue to perceive such behaviour as normal and self-blame and the questioning of whether they have even been violated will continue.

Women and girls need to be able to name what has happened to them as sexual violence and not something they should just accept as part of their gender.

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2 thoughts on “The normalisation of gendered violence:The importance of allowing women and girls to name their experience of violation as real.

  • Hecuba says:

    What constitutes male sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls has constantly been challenged and dismissed by men en masse who are determined to maintain their male pseudo sex right to female bodies. Rape myths do not happen in a vacuum, rather they exist because women and men live in a Male Supremacist System. This means the very institutions which are supposed to be ‘gender neutral’ are in fact male centric – institutions such as the police force and the legal system. Our educational system too reinforces and teaches girls that they have no right of ownership of their bodies and must expect to be subjected to male sexual harassment/male sexual violence.

    This is why police, Crown Prosecution Service and malestream media continue to focus on the behaviour/character/sexual history/life story of females who have been subjected to male sexual violence. Focusing on the behaviour/response of the female victims ensures the actions/accountability of the male sexual predators remains ‘the elephant in the room.’

    Malestream media is a very powerful propaganda tool in constantly promoting mens’ lies that women and girls are always responsible for causing ‘their own rapes (sic) serves to reinforce dominant male-centric thinking that only man (sic) is human and has rights whereas woman has no rights because she is merely males’ disposable sexual service stations.

    Almost everyday malestream media reports that ‘yet another woman/girl has falsely accused an innocent male of rape!’ Malestream media does not routinely report mundane everyday male sexual violence against women and girls which ensures that innumerable female victims of male sexual violence believe their experiences are unique not commonplace.

    This is why men collectively work so hard to trivialise male sexual violence against women and girls because if men were to be held accountable for their sexual predatory actions this would curb one of mens’ most powerful rights – namely their male pseudo sex right to female bodies. Our Male Supremacist System continues to promote male propaganda that women and girls are always responsible for male behaviour and this serves to hide the sexually predator behaviour of innumerable males.

  • Red says:

    Such a lovely article. Thank you.
    However, can writers and reporters still not recognise the powerful use of the (damaging, hurtful) words they choose to use? Try this one…

    “When ””probed”” by the interviewer about their decision they openly stated that such behaviour was seen as every day and in a sense normal. Therefore they saw little worth in reporting it.”

    Why-oh-why use ‘probe?’ really, the thought process (especially if you are speaking to someone who has been violated) takes this word and causes a shut down of processing. What is need is an enquiring word that allows for open minded thinking and possibilities :)

    There is really no need to question why these true and correct complaints have such little impact. People reporting them only add to the difficulties.

    We reflect what we see, do, hear and read – this is in part known by ‘the hologram world’ where repeat patterns replay throughout all parts of our society. Until reporting and the words used stop reflecting what has been seen and said, and someone (women?) start reporting the truth of what they experience and see, this is doomed to continue in the hologram way. Once you start to notice it, you can’t help but start to notice it!

    A perfect example is the very clever and wonderful human body. We are reflected within ourselves in several ways on and in every single body… palmists ‘read’ our hands – which reflect our whole body, reflexologists use the feet to work on our entire body as our entire body is reflected in our feet, the same can be argued for the ear and there are two systems in our brains, easily represented by the homunculus (based on Penfield’s classic diagram) please see this article for a clear image (http://www.intropsych.com/ch02_human_nervous_system/homunculus.html)

    thank you