Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Why is only sexual abuse involving physical violence deemed ‘real’?

CHILDREN WILL BE children, especially teenagers it seems, and what is an older, powerful man to do if they will throw themselves at him? This was the plea made by Mr Eddy Shah this weekend when he described the ongoing UK investigations of certain men’s sexual activity with underage children, largely girls, as ‘easy policing’, ‘easy prosecutions’ and a ‘witch hunt’.

What he clearly expressed was the understanding that sexual violence committed by coercion, deceit and manipulation was largely a victim’s own fault, and this standard to even apply when the victim was a child. In contrast sexual violence that is committed with physical violence is deemed ‘real’. Yet the majority of sexual violence involves power and coercion and little if any physical violence.

Mr Shah, who was recently cleared of raping a girl between the age of 12 and 15, came out with a set of statements about powerful men (of whom he is one) and celebrities engaging in sexual activity with underage girls. He asked us to have sympathy for those men, whom he does not deny had sex with minors, who are now being investigated by the police, and rather to direct our ire at the girls and boys involved whom he claims have largely only themselves to blame.

Do the laws of decency not apply to powerful men?

The particular case Mr Shah is making is that the law and common understandings of decency should not apply in the same way to men who were and are famous and powerful. After all a 40 year old man having sex with a 12-year-old is altogether different from a 40 year old famous rockstar bestowing on a 12-year-old the privilege of his sexual attention. While the first are clearly criminal child abusers, the later are not to be held responsible as the children in question most likely threw themselves at the rockstars is the argument being made.

Mr Shah goes on to describe a child’s vulnerability, compounded by the vastly disproportionate power of the older celebrity, as mitigation for abusing that child. Exposed in this argument is an overriding sense of entitlement that sweeps away legal and common sense understandings of child abuse and responsibility. Put simply, positions of power, particularly fame, come with entitlements. Those entitlements include sex, with whomever, and the younger the better.

A sense of entitlement underlies most sexual crimes

As Mr Shah rightly points out children have always wanted to ‘appear adult and do adult things’. Does a person’s – and in particular a child’s –desire to get close to power and fame ever justify abusing and/or taking advantage of that vulnerability? If you take advantage of a grown woman in those circumstances you, at the very least, deserve to be called out as a cad. If you do it to a child you are a child abuser. No ifs, buts or maybes.

The perpetrators’ utopia that Mr Shah describes, with its stark and extreme sense of entitlement, exists in a privileged world of powerful abusers. Yet we should not forget that a sense of entitlement underlies most crimes of sexual violence. Most abusers take what is not given freely because they convince themselves they deserve, have earned or are in some way are entitled, to that other person’s body.

The challenge for us is to take the lesson from this exposure of a culture of entitlement and see how that culture plays out in everyday responses to sexual pressure, coercion and crimes.

Clíona Saidléar is the policy and communications director for the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.

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2 thoughts on “Why is only sexual abuse involving physical violence deemed ‘real’?

  • Redskies says:

    Thank you – I have spent several days considering answering Mr Shah’s comments and you have expressed what I thought, and more, far better than I could have.

  • Maria says:

    I can’t help thinking these sorts of attitudes will only encourage victims to blame themselves, and put them off asking for help or reporting the abuse.

    I was sexually promiscuous from quite a young age, and ended up in sexual situations with far older men. Hard to say for sure if that was just as result of my own desires to be grown-up or wanted, or in response to aggressive sexual attention from men, but whatever the cause a number of older men certainly took advantage of it.. generally just by encouragement, but not always. Thinking back I can’t quite believe that grown men took sexual advantage of such a young girl, but at the time I didn’t see it that way. I felt I was entirely to blame for the situation, that I had caused it by being places where I shouldn’t, flirting and so on.

    Now of course, in a totally non victim blaming way that is partially true. If I hadn’t been out drinking, hanging round with undesirable types, and being alone with older men, some of those situations may not have arisen, but others would have regardless of how I behaved, so why did I convince myself I deserved to be taken advantage of? It’s sometimes easier to pretend you wanted something to happen, or at least aren’t bothered by it, than admit to yourself how powerless and disgusted with yourself you feel.

    I’m sure there are young girls right now in the same situation, who have been raped or taken advantage of, who desperately need help and support, but fear being blamed. The sad thing is while these sorts of attitudes exist it’s likely she would be.