Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

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.