Victim Blaming 101

i dont care about Rush Limbaugh.  When his agent was asked if it was problematic that Rush had completely lost his hearing he replied “Rush does not listen to anyone else anyway.”  And while his incendiary comments about the Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke finally woke up scores of advertisers and caused them to dump him, Rush will continue to blame survivors of sexual violence and advance his racist, misogynist agenda. He does not need to listen to do what he does.

But its not Rush, it is the “well intentioned” men who really get me. Recently, one wrote an article for the Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon paper in Eugene, because April is sexual assault awareness month. The author clearly thinks sexual assault is the biggest problem on campus and then in his well intentioned way goes on to blame the women who are targeted by this crime for the problem.

By focusing on the perceived problem of  women joking about being raped, and suggesting that women stay out of high risk areas, the author is giving a pass to the structural institutional problems around rape and ignoring well known best practices.  What we know is that first off rape survivors need to be believed.  What we know is that the legal institutions mandated to deal with sexual assault (especially the police) often discourage, down play and outright deny rape accusations.  What we know is that very few rape allegations turn out to be false (between 3% and 8% the same or less than most crimes) and that the vast majority of rapes, 76% according to DoJ, don’t get reported at all.  And what we know is that rape happens everywhere.  The problem is not women going to “high risk” locations, the problem is a culture that teaches and condones sexist violence and fails to hold perpetrators accountable. And, the problem is men (even well intentioned men who claim they are allies) who don’t challenge and recognize their own privilege, who don’t realize they are perpetuating sexist beliefs even when they are directly asked not to spew sexist crap to an entire student body (as was this author who asked for an expert opinion prior to writing the article and then chose to ignore it).

And until those of us that are well intentioned “male allies” are willing to really listen to those we hope to support, none of us have a chance at beating the complex social and cultural structures which make sexual assault pervasive in this country.

[Disclaimer – Sara and Abigail helped me in being a good ally for this post. Thx.]


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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

10 responses to “Victim Blaming 101”

  1. Becca says :

    Thanks Pax. I would love to be able to walk at night without being afraid of male humans. I would like to go backpacking or do a wilderness meditation retreat without my first thought being “who could I get to go with me or watch over me so that I will be safe?” Thanks for co-creating with us a world where that may at some point be possible.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Becca:

      Of course and your welcome. And there is stuff for all of us to learn in this, i certainly did not have a response to this letter which was complex and rich enuf until i asked for help.


  2. angietupelo says :

    I’ve always appreciated this list of sexual assault prevention tips. My favorite is #7 “USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.”

  3. Sigrid says :

    Pax, Unfortunately I did not see the comment area on here and unfortunately (for me) you stayed out of the conversation on FB in response to this blog piece where I asked you some questions about your process in producing this piece. It has taken me a few days to think about it and yes, read it all again to be open to reading it a different way than I did initially. Part of what I see is that there is a whole layer of information that I would not know by reading the article, such as “who don’t realize they are perpetuating sexist beliefs even when they are directly asked not to spew sexist crap to an entire student body (as was this author who asked for an expert opinion prior to writing the article and then chose to ignore it).” I don’t know who did what here…
    What I keep being left with in maybe my severe gullible nature is that at least he is trying to think about this issue, write about this issue. Even if you think he is not the best ally and is not listening, maybe he is not being heard as well, maybe how things were presented to him made it hard to listen, I do not know. Maybe it is because we all go through each other continually growing up and know that this an evolving process. I think some of it is that I read what he wrote and think of my own boys who I have tried so hard to educate amidst a backdrop of a still very misogynist society. What if in good intention, they had written that thinking they were an ally?
    I think what I have a hard time with is not so much the critique, but the imbalanced lack of acknowledgement of all the good things he said, all the real issues that make us uncomfortable to talk about that at least for me are not black or white or all obviously PC about how women and men talk about and deal with sexuality and sexual assault. I think if he were my son I would hope your intention is to mentor and teach, not slam him. This is a process and you know my bias is that it is one of the heart. Maybe I am totally off the mark here and will wake up at some point. However, you know that this is an important and sensitive issue to many of us who have dealt with sexual assault in our own lives or the lives of loved ones. Everyone needs to develop their ability to be an ally and I love that this issue continues to be important to you. But we also need to figure out a way to talk about this where we don’t blast each other and shut each other down (as you know I have been guilty of many times and am still learning). I would suggest to not just toss him out. To me the author is still one of the good guys. Maybe you would say he is young or naive, but I do think he is on the right path, just as you and I and Willow and my boys are even as it is bumpy and challenging along the way. I would appreciate hearing from you. Z

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Z:

      So the backdrop, which is not completely clear, unless you read everything carefully, is that before the letter was sent to the paper, the author was challenged by pros in sexual assault prevention who asked him not to print it unedited. Who pointed out, probably in a more friendly way, the problems which i bring up in this post. He refused, he had his article, he did not want to change it, he did not care what the people working on the issue thought the problems were and he was going forward with it. In this environment, i think slam is the right response.

      In my own being pressed about this piece (which was deemed too weak and simplistic by my helpful editors in its pre-publication form) Sara made me put “male allies” in quotes, saying “you dont get to claim you are an ally, if the people you are supposedly helping dont identify you as such”

      i agree there are a couple of fine points in the original post – certainly folks can be more careful and respectful around the use of the term rape, sexual assault is an issue for both genders. But these are counter balanced, in my never humble view, by victim blaming around “stay out of high risk places” when over 70% of rapes are by people known to the survivor. It is inappropriately shifting the responsibility to the women assaulted, and pretending (counter to the articles earlier point) that it is a womens issue.

      Paxus in Cville
      28 Not Here 2012

  4. Cynthia Parkhill (@CynthiaParkhill) says :

    At Anat’s invitation I read guest blogger Angie’s post and followed the link back to this post because it is an area of direct experience.

    I recently began speaking out publicly as a survivor of childhood peer abuse and have been the target of a vicious backlash.

    A person with whom I never went to school (he graduated from my school 20 years before I did) denied that bullying ever happened at my school and that what happened to me was my fault because “students like me” like to stand on the sidelines and criticize instead of getting involved. He knew nothing of me but felt entitled and knowledgeable to make these sweeping claims.

    I’ve observed other victims of bullying speak out about what goes on today at their schools and similarly become targeted. People dismiss the abuse as “kids will be kids,” and act like it’s no big deal.

    Anyway, since the post was about rape victims I hope this doesn’t place me in the category Angie describes where the person makes it about them.

    As a woman on the autism spectrum, it is sometimes difficult for me to correctly gauge social rules or to discern if I’ve given offense.

    My intention with this post was to corroborate:

    Victim-blaming does happen and the viciousness with which they can be attacked rivals the original abuse. Thank you Pax for addressing this.

    • angietupelo says :

      Cynthia- I think you’re incredibly brave speaking out about your own abuse experiences, and that your story is totally on topic here. You summed it up really well when you said “the viciousness with which they can be attacked rivals the original abuse.” After all, eventually the abuse ends (in most cases) but the social, cultural, and media messages blaming survivors don’t stop.

      I agree with you that “kids will be kids” is a terrible, terrible thing to say. It also trivializes the very real issue of emotional abuse. We wouldn’t say “kids will be kids” if a child punched, shot, or otherwise physically injured another child. I wish you luck as you continue to speak out as a survivor- you’re doing a challenging, sometimes painful, and really important thing.

    • paxus says :

      @Cynthia: If this blog feels like a safe and appropriate place for you to talk about your personal story of survival, than i am flattered and you are on topic.

      i am unfamiliar with bullying and will add it to the list of topics to watch for and learn about. Peoples personal stories, like yours take this blog from being my personal monolog into something which has the beginnings of community and depth. Thanks for showing up.

  5. Cynthia Parkhill (@CynthiaParkhill) says :

    Thanks Paxus and Angie for making me feel welcome. Here is a direct link to complete blog post on this subject:

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