It’s not always blaming the victim

I don’t watch Tough Love, and I don’t even know who this Steve Ward guy is. I also think there is altogether too much victim-blaming when it comes to women and rape. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing. She does not deserve to be raped. It doesn’t matter if she’s a tease or a flirt. She does not deserve to be raped. It doesn’t matter if she’s a prostitute. It doesn’t matter if she’d previously had consensual encounters with that man. It doesn’t matter if he bought her an expensive dinner. No one deserves to be raped, and women should not be blamed for being raped.

From what I’ve read in another blog about what Steve Ward said in a recent episode of Tough Love his phrasing was terrible and invoked victim-blaming for sure:

Steve Ward tells Arian, who is on the hot seat for doing poorly on her date that night, that her sexually aggressive flirting will, and I quote, “get [her] raped.” She, unsurprisingly, leaves the room bawling and telling Steve that “you just don’t tell a girl that.”

But his follow-up email clarifying his position did make more sense to me:

I have been told many stories by victims of sexual abuse and listened to them describe in their own words how they put themselves in a position to be taken advantage of. These stories typically involved fraternity parties, binge drinking, promiscuous behavior, “roofies” and mostly that sort of thing. In Arian’s case she will sexually provoke anyone, anytime, anywhere for her own amusement and my only intention was to caution her that one of those people could end up being the wrong person to provoke.

The truth of the matter is that even if you are never at fault for being raped and you never deserve to be raped, you can put yourself in a position in which you are more likely to be raped. And you can choose the wrong person to tease.

I liken this to the whole road rage phenomenon. Does anyone deserve to get shot by a stranger in another car? Do you deserve to get beat up because you yelled at someone who cut you off? No. No one deserves to get shot because of their driving behavior.

But even if you’re in the right, and that asshole who cut you off or didn’t signal or ran a red light and almost hit a small child crossing the street is wrong, if you make a habit of yelling at other drivers in your righteous anger, you are more likely to get shot, because it’s more likely you will provoke the wrong person. That person will still be a psycho murderer. But you will also still be shot. And your actions made your likelihood of being shot by a psycho murderer go up.

I’m a little rusty on my rape statistics, but I believe 80% of date or acquaintance rapes involve alcohol. So, yes, you can put yourself in dangerous situations, and there are ways to lower your chances of being raped. That doesn’t mean if you drink alcohol you deserve to be raped or that your rapist has a right to have sex with you if you don’t want it. Nor does someone walking around in a dangerous neighborhood at night deserve to be mugged. But she is more likely to be mugged.

Every day we go through life making choices, and some of those choices lower our likelihood of being assaulted, robbed, raped, or harassed. We never deserve these things, and certainly the perpetrators of these terrible acts are in the wrong. And, more importantly, rape victims are overly scrutinized for their behavior in ways that victims of other violent crimes are not. So I understand why Arian was upset, and I understand why people attacked Steve Ward.

Eventually, though, we need to come back from our kneejerk reactions against what we know are constant injustices and take some of these case by case. Yes, in an ideal world, a woman can act however she wants sexually and that will have absolutely no bearing on whether the men she encounters will be rapists or not. In an ideal world, I can also carry around loads of cash in my front pockets and that will have absolutely no bearing on whether I get robbed by a pickpocket or not. In this same ideal world, I can leave my front door unlocked, and no robber is going to steal my stuff either. We should strive for that ideal world, but we’d be idiots if we ignore the fact we aren’t quite there yet.


  1. Sure, yeah, there are certainly locations that signal a higher chance of getting raped. Rapists often ply their victims with alcohol, so not drinking or not attending bars/parties might be one way of lowering one’s chances of getting raped. But people know this; women, in particular, know this. The problem is that hardly anyone talks about how guys should not rape. No one talks about places men should avoid because they might be more likely to commit sexual assault. They aren’t told to stop drinking or attending parties because their chance of raping another person is much higher. It’s always, always, always about how women should change their behavior in order to “prevent” “putting themselves in positions” where they are “more likely” to be raped. The more often we talk about how women can and should change their behavior in order not to be raped, the less attention we pay to the people actually doing the raping. I realize we can talk about both — changing rape culture is not a zero-sum game — but right now, the vast majority of the conversation about rape is about how women can change their behavior, their lives, their interests, etc. in order not to be raped.

    Besides all that, all this talk about how women can prevent rape is hinged on the myth that rape is a crime committed in dark alleyways at night some unknown assailant. Many rapes happen this way, but the majority of reported and unreported rapes/sexual assaults are committed by people known to the victim: dates, partners, spouses, family members, etc. Should women never drink? Never leave the house? Never interact with other human beings just in case they know and might become the target of a rapist? (Chances are that we all do, so this may not be that far off the rocker.)

    So, yeah, I see where you’re coming from and walking the line between self-preserving caution and living a life you enjoy is difficult. I just think that spending so much time warning women not to do this or that OR ELSE is a waste of time.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with you, L. It’s a matter of emphasis, certainly.

    What Steve Ward said in his follow-up email is technically true. But it is also overstated. I just didn’t like that some people appeared to be discounting entirely the truth of what he was saying instead of—as you have done eloquently in your comment—counteracting the overemphasis on what women should or should not be doing.

    Of course, part of the problem with telling rapists to avoid situations in which they’re more likely to rape is that rapists don’t really care to avoid situations in which they might rape… they tend to want to rape. They just want to avoid situations in which they’ll be caught raping or be easily convicted of raping.

    You’re absolutely right, though. Women know the risks, so I don’t know why people waste their time saying “You should be doing this” or “You shouldn’t be doing that.” My point was simply that whether you are at fault or not, you can affect the likelihood of something bad happening to you. It’s a game we all play in some way or other. If you’re a “bubble boy” and just avoid all contact, all risk, then you’re not really living. But if you take all risks you can, you’re going to end up dead, injured, or taken advantage of.

    And as I noted through examples not directly related to rape (robbery, murderous road rage), this truth is something that extends beyond sexual assault.

    I think it’s a shame that we have a victim-blaming culture when it comes to rape victims. Society will often ask what a woman was wearing or how many men she’s slept with. But if someone is mugged for money, no one cares what that person was wearing or how often she had made philanthropic donations in the past.

    I just want to be clear that the real problem here is one of emphasis, not of statement of fact.

  3. Ok, so since these ladies “put themselves” in that position, then am I right to also blame “Caucasian culture who introduced alcohol, pedophilia, sadism, etc.” for their true behavior? Because I know many men who have been there and fought for justice for me and other victims and survivors. To me I see a partial liability in language…and the ignorance of this society.

    Example…Modern English writes, “I am drowning”. Other cultures translation of their language(s) is, “The water is killing me.” Are those drowning, truly wishing to drown? Not me…were is not for the water, I would not be dying…Whether I fell in or jumped in.

    The survivor/victim of rape faces the same…the ignorance “civilizaion” defies me sometimes.


  4. Dawn, I think you miss the point; if you can’t swim, stay away from the water. Whether you fell or jumped in doesn’t matter, being that close and unable to swim you were increasing your change of drowning by 1000 fold. As for drowning vs being killed, who is doing the action? The water isn’t killing you, you are killing yourself, you can choose to do things, water has no will, just basic properties. Saying ‘the water is killing me’ is giving the water purpose that it can’t have.

    Language is only the symptom of the mentality behind the speech. Rape is based on inequality and on a lack of respect for the other being. How many times are guys raped at fraternity events? More than we hear I’m sure but a whole lot less than females. A man will percieve another as equal and therefore it’s not ok to try and rape them, but we, as society, devalue women so much, that often with alcohol, a womans personhood disappears and they become tools to be used, not people to be cared for.

    Only when women are actually treated as equals in word and act, will rape start to be looked down upon and seen for what it is, violence against a person because that person appears to be weak.

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