Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Breathing In Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is as common to large chunks of our society as breathing. Men blame women, the media blames women, even women blame women. There was a rape case I remember from my early teens, back in the 80s. Though the specifics of the case elude me, even the verdict, one detail stands out. The victim was walking alone and was attacked and raped by a stranger. One of the lines of defence was that under the skirt she wore to work that day she was wearing a thong. A piece of clothing nobody could see was being used as defence for a violent crime against the wearer. The argument was, he couldn't help himself, she was clearly asking for it by not wearing sensible big knickers.

All the time when I was growing up I was told "Don't wear that, you're asking for trouble", and not just me but all my friends too. A short skirt, a V-neck top, a figure-hugging jumper, even skinny jeans; all were considered risqué as they showed off my developing figure. Not that I wanted to show off my boobs or my legs; I was incredibly shy and certainly didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to myself, but at the same time if I got beeped at and catcalled on a daily basis walking to and from school in my uniform, why should I not wear clothes I liked in case they caused me trouble.

The fashion of the late 80s and early 90s suited me well as a little hippy chick. I could wear floor length skirts and long-sleeved floaty tops with little ballet pumps and try to blend into the background. Yet still the onus was on me. I had to be home before dark (not easy in December!) because if I was caught out alone I was making myself an easy target and that made me stupid. My mum tried to act as negotiator between my dad and I; him on one side saying I looked like a tart (I'm paraphrasing but that was the accusation, that if I got raped it would be my fault for leading my attacker on) while I said I had every right to wear what I wanted when I wanted, and it was the mens responsibility to act like a human not an animal and keep it in their pants.

The daft thing was I didn't take risks because I had been taught if anything happened to me it was my fault. So I wore a thick leather jacket even in July so I didn't reveal I was wearing a vest top underneath; I avoided getting horrendously drunk so I was aware of what was going on around me at all times; I wouldn't go to certain clubs because I knew I'd have to risk getting a taxi home. See how it all becomes second nature?

But it's not just girls that get the rough deal. Pity the poor boys who, having not been put off by the multiple barriers I kept around me at all times, then got treated with suspicion because everybody knew he only wanted to get in my knickers and he couldn't control himself.

All those years I had a curfew to be in before dark (relaxed when I was old enough to go to the pub but I still had to be in by 11 initially, until I pointed out that would mean I'd be walking alone) yet my younger brothers could stay out much later at the same age. Statistically they were more likely to be attacked, but I was the one seen as taking risks by being out late.

I have to say though, my mum did teach my brothers to treat women as they would want me treated, but the idea was still there that if anything happened to me it would somehow be my fault. I can actually remember thinking that as long as I maintained an image of innocence and stayed a virgin I would find it easier to argue any potential rape was indeed rape. That's no way for a girl to grow up!

It still continues for me now. I got a flat tyre on the motorway coming back alone from a weekend at my parents' house. I managed to change out of my sundress and sandals and into jeans, a hoody and hiking boots so I didn't look like a potential victim stranded on the side of the road. Actually the worst thing about that was my husband was genuinely surprised I was smart enough to think of that. That still upsets me even as I write this, but he genuinely can't understand how that behaviour is second nature and both society and survival has made all us women think like that.

Because if anything had happened to me, it would somehow be my fault. I know that's not true, but if something were to ever happen to me, would I question my actions? Would my husband? My parents? Society? This needs to end, and end soon.



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