The Multiplied Injustice of Victim-blaming

I was really going on vacation this week, friends. But then this happened:

Conservative columnist George Will, in response to the movement to overturn rape culture on college campuses:

[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

We’ll be looking at biblical texts that involve sexual assault in the coming weeks and what God thinks about rape [spoiler alert: He’s adamantly against it], but I can tell you the facts are these:

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[Source: rainn.org , and apologies that these are screen grabs. Go to the site if you want working links to the articles cited.]

Rape happens. And it doesn’t happen in a cultural vaccuum. Rape is notoriously underreported and difficult to prosecute. One of the better definitions I’ve read from Marshall University’s Women’s Center:

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

In our society, we have a number of ways of subverting justice when it comes to rape. That’s what rape culture does. (If you need a quick primer on a few examples of rape culture, BuzzFeed, of all places, has one.)

Honestly, not a day goes by where I don’t see some piece of this play out in front of me. Twenty minutes of television usually does the trick. Today, one of those moments was when a friend posted an article by Zaron Burnett on Facebook entitled, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture.” The article was but one point of view on the subject, but it was immensely helpful, written by a man for other men. My friend had but one commenter, a male friend, who said, “I read this. Interesting, but a lot of BS, also.” No other comment or elaboration. Just dismissal. And a perfect example of rape culture. In rape culture, survivors, survivor advocates, activists, are all “just playing the victim.”

George Will even argues, being a victim is a status thing: everybody wants to be a victim. Everyone wants to claim victimhood, he says. Progressives are conferring a special status upon victims, thereby making victimhood desirable. This idea of this is utterly deplorable. To be victimized is horrific. Rape survivors are consistently retraumatized by a culture that is openly hostile to them.

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We’ve reached a place in our society where we treat victims of injustice with contempt. We do this with victims of racism and sexism, and we do this to victims of sexual assault. But we don’t do this with murder victims. We don’t talk about how someone was walking around all alive and stuff. Just breathing and flaunting it in front of people like that. We don’t ever say to someone calling for justice in a murder, “If you keep talking about how your loved one was murdered, murder will never go away. Stop being such a victim.”

We don’t do it with armed bank robbery. What were they thinking opening a big business right there? Just putting out all the signals that it was a place where you could go and get lots of money if you had some guns, a president’s mask, and a team of criminals/surfers.

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The only thing more ridiculous than George Will’s claims is the possibility that Keanu Reeves could pass for an FBI agent.

Blaming victims for their victimization multiplies the initial offense and it intensifies injustice. Why is rape one of the few crimes addressed this way? Could it be because it predominantly (definitely not always) affects women? It seems so.

Another way we do this in our society is by insisting that women be prepared for eventual (or inevitable assault). While we all see the statistics above and agree that rape is a problem, we disagree about how to solve it. Generally, the burden for rape prevention falls heavily on women, who we tell to take precautions: check under your cars, don’t wear a ponytail that makes you easy to grab, travel in pairs or groups, don’t leave your drink unattended. We hear “Rape is bad, don’t get raped.” We rarely hear, “Rape is bad, don’t be a rapist.”

Like many of you who are parents, when the time comes, I’ll be talking to my sons and daughter about how to navigate all of this. Like Miss Nevada, now Miss USA 2014, I will likely teach my daughter how to defend herself, or hold her car keys like a shiv, as one tweeter said. But I’ll be damned if I stop there without telling her that such preparation is unfair, that it won’t necessarily save her, and that if something so brutal and unjust ever happens to her, it’s never her fault. I will tell her that we don’t beat rape with our martial arts training, or our keys, or our whistles, or our less-snatchable hairstyles. We defeat rape with justice. We fight it with compassion and with advocacy. We tell our men how we want to be treated and we expect them to listen, as any decent human being (ahem, GEORGE WILL) would.

Because once we acknowledge the presence of rape culture and are horrified by it, our effort to change it should start with listening to survivors, and not blaming victims in the first place. Victims are not the problem. Being a victim is not the problem. Victimizing is. Assault is. Misogyny is. Racism is. The fact that we even have discussions about how we shouldn’t BE victims/shouldn’t “make ourselves” victims/shouldn’t “talk about being victims” is the problem. Victims are people unfairly imposed upon and acted upon. Let’s start focusing our attention on stopping perpetrators before they victimize people. Instead of giving victims lectures about their victimhood, let’s give them the hope of justice.

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