We lived in this culture, where sexual harassment and rape are “part of the deal”, where telling a woman that in order to build a career they have to ‘suck it up’ is acceptable, for too long. We still live in a world where women ‘deserve’ what they get. Where we might not even notice or not even do it willingly, but somehow we end up blaming the victim.
Victim blaming occurs when the victim is blamed for any wrongful act committed against them. It most commonly happens to victims of sexual assault. It’s part of our culture and everyday life. It also walks hand in hand with the everyday sexism we seem to be blatantly oblivious of, and the white male privilege, so deeply rooted in our society we don’t even realise it’s there until it literally hits us in the face and can no longer be ignored.
Even women do it to each other. Even if they went through it themselves. Simply asking wether there was anything that could have been misinterpreted, anything that was provoking… There was not! No one is asking for it. NO ONE!
When we suggest the victim somehow brought this upon themself, we basically suggest that the attacker, for some strange reason, has a valid excuse. That somehow, the attack was sort of asked for and provoked. Sexual assault is never provoked and never asked for.
If someone is wearing a skirt you think is so short the person wearing it is ‘asking for it’ think about how you’d feel about someone walking up to you, grabbing you because for some reason they thought they can.
I have tattoos on my arms. People think it’s acceptable to just grab me and twist my arms around so they can have a better look. My tattoos are part of my body. No one has the right to touch me if I don’t want them to and I don’t allow them to. People often don’t realise that touching someone is something you should ask permission for. You can’t walk up to someone and grab them. But it’s only my wrist, right? Wrong. If I walked up to a random stranger on the street and grabbed their face so I can have a better look at their ear rings it would be considered inappropriate, unacceptable and weird. It’s the same with tattoos or with a skirt you consider too short. It’s too short according to you, doesn’t mean you have the right to touch the person in any way who’s wearing it.
The other issue is questioning a victim’s actions and this is the most detrimental thing when it comes to victim blaming. This is where everyday sexism is mixed with some white male privilege. Every time rape allegations come out, I see white middle class men sharing their opinion and with it, their ignorance.
Because I’m a woman and I only have first hand experience with assault against women, I’m talking from a woman’s perspective. I had arguments and discussions where it all came down to men simply not understanding a situation and oversimplifying it. In most cases there was no malice but that doesn’t make it any better.
Being told, by a man, who never experienced being abused and lived in a very safe bubble all their life, makes you angry and you just want to scream, in their face, that they have no right to even have an opinion. But that is counterproductive. It’s also a very uncomfortable subject so making them listen to arguments isn’t easy either. That’s the white male privilege in this case: being a man, feeling entitled to an opinion, on a subject they don’t know anything about, don’t have any personal experiences and yet thinking they have the right to judge anything a victim did or did not do.
Most oftem this manifests in questioning why the abuse wasn’t reported sooner, why wasn’t it reported somewhere else or to someone else, why the victim didn’t go public sooner… Questioning someone’s actions, about something you can’t even imagine, is just plain wrong and dismissing allegations or their importance and weight just because you don’t agree with the course of action someone chose, shows not only ignorance but lack of empathy too. It also intimidates people into keeping quiet about what’s happening to them because they feel like they don’t have the right to speak up, they are to be blamed for it after all.
After it happened to me, I was sitting on my kitchen floor, shaking. I was asked if I wanted the male officers to leave the flat but I said I was fine with them. I decided then and there that one person’s actions won’t define how I think about other men. I was asked if it was roleplay. I was asked if I did anything that angered him. Everything angered him. I was successful and he wasn’t. He wanted to take everything away from me, he tore my clothes up, he broke a few things in the flat I was paying for. He wanted to scare me, to make me realise he controls me. He admitted all this to the police. He thought I belonged to him, I was his possession. And he isn’t the only one out there who thinks like this about women. I didn’t call the police. The neighbours did. I didn’t think I had the right to call the police even though this wasn’t the first time he was abusive. Verbal abuse is just as serious as physical because more often than not it all starts with threats or little hints.
I told very few people about what happened and even then I was told it was somehow my fault, that I provoked it. And I started to think it was all down to me, I got what I deserved. I told one of my closest friends how I felt and he talked some sense into me. I still didn’t press charges. I packed my stuff and moved.
I had to move, because I didn’t feel safe in my own home. I also felt ashamed. Whenever I got home I always hoped I won’t see any of the neighbours. Especially not the ones who called the police and looked after me till they arrived. I felt like I should have kept it all to myself, dealt with it on my own. I somehow felt it was wrong on every possible level that I involved other people. I was also worried that they’d end up getting hurt, their property damaged. I was too scared to press charges, because I was scared of him retaliating. On me or on my family.
I was lucky because I could find my way out of this but it took me much longer than it should have. And I had it all, the victim blaming, men telling me it could have been worse or I could have done more to prevent it or that most women, maybe not me, but other women, do provoke thier partner to be this aggressive and abusive. I had the whole package and it wasn’t going on for years, but a good few years after it happened I still have trust issues and I still think twice before I become completely trusting in a relationship.
People are judgemental and we live with this mentality that there must have been something that provoked the attack. I experienced it first hand and I heard this from other people too. And then there is the “it could have been worse” approach. Yes, I could have been killed and/or raped not just nearly strangled and threatened to be killed.
I had to move, I had to explain to people and in the meantime I still had to get on with my everyday life. There was no way for me to make sure he won’t turn up on my doorstep again, getting any sort of help, like counselling or victim support is tedious and you have to explain what happened to random strangers, usually over the phone. Even the thought of going through it all will put lots of people off.
I’ve been told by men that he did what he did because he was afraid of losing me and that’s what men do. Funnily enough no one before or after him did anything even remotely similar. But I still have my boundaries I built after him and I still push people away when it all gets too much. Everyone who was a victim, at any point, will live with it and the scars the trauma left behind for the rest of their lives.