Late last year an opinion poll commissioned by Amnesty International UK found that 34 per cent of people believe a woman ‘is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner.’
The desire to blame the victims of sexual abuse is not particular to the United Kingdom. Indeed, there is ample evidence to support similar widespread beliefs in Australia. Who could forget the incredible attempt of the then Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, to hold a 14-year-old girl accountable for being sexually abused by a priest? According to Hollingworth, ‘There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that, quite the contrary. My information is rather that it was the other way around.’
That any adult could seriously attempt to excuse the sexual abuse of a child by an adult by implying that the child was in any way responsible displays a reprehensible, but sadly not uncommon, perception held by many toward crimes of sexual abuse.
Opinions, judgements and stereotypes of women have played a powerful role in determining the treatment and punishment of both the victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. Rape is seen by many as circumstantial. That is: it may or may not be acceptable to sexually assault a woman, depending on the circumstances.
The data collected by Amnesty International UK is a salient reminder of just how entrenched the notion of female guilt and responsibility regarding crimes of sexual violence is. Where does this desire to divide and distribute the responsibility for rape come from? It is a disturbing reality that reveals an absence of comparable scenarios.
Consider an individual whose car is crashed into by a drunk, speeding driver. Who would seriously suggest that if the victim had had the foresight to buy a silver rather than a brown or black vehicle (studies show that silver cars are involved in the least number of accidents and brown, black and dark green the most), then they might not have been struck?
Or, that the victim should have thought twice about driving after midnight, when people are more likely to be leaving bars and are ‘looking for trouble.’ Or that if the victim had not been alone, their passenger may have been able to issue a warning which might well have enabled the victim to take evasive action.
I mean, really, the victim was out late at night, driving the wrong colour vehicle and alone! What did they expect?
Degas, ‘The Rape’
To suggest that a law-abiding person who becomes the victim of a dangerous, drunk driver is in some way responsible for the injury suffered is, quite simply, idiotic. It would be as illogical as saying that a child playing in a public park is at least partially responsible for being attacked by a paedophile; that a Jewish person walking down a street in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II was at least partially responsible for his or her murder in a gas chamber; that a Black man or woman walking through an area known for advocating White supremacy should accept a degree of responsibility for any violence committed against them; or that a family living in a lower socio-economic area with a crime problem should not ignore their apparent role in their home being burgled.
Yet this is precisely how unjustly and irrationally many victims of rape are treated by both society and the judicial system.
To suggest that rape is motivated by the appearance and behaviour of a woman implies not only that a woman should take responsibility for a rapist’s crime, but that all men are, in fact, probable rapists merely awaiting the right circumstances to commit their crime.
To begin with, there are men for whom no woman’s attire or behaviour would provoke a sexual attack. These are the real men of the world: men who have a moral code and a standard of behaviour that does not include the violation of women’s rights.
Then there are the rapists: individuals who purport to be men, insecure of their masculinity and terrified of women, who express their perverted mentality through a misogynistic philosophy that allows them to commit violence against women. The real increase in the possibility of rape is determined not by the dress and behaviour of women, but by the presence or absence of a rapist.
Rape is about violence, not sex, and any and all responsibility for rape may be found by examining and judging the actions of the rapist, not his victim.
The correlation between attitudes and perceptions of women and girls and the incessant prevalence of violence against females should not be underestimated. The disturbing number of rape and other serious sexual assault accusations that have been levelled against footballers and other sportsmen suggest that problematic gender relations exist within certain institutions.
It would be almost impossible to deny that a sports culture exists within Australia that constructs and promotes perceived masculine strengths upon the pathetic foundation of female degradation. This culture is more silently insidious and expansive than one might imagine.
From the basic bias of the nightly sports news (which essentially suggests that only men participate or succeed in sport), to the popular yet uninspired marketing of the numerous beer ads doggedly targeted at a fairly simple male consumer, to the decorative role of women (sorry ‘girls’) who are either star jumping on the sidelines or being patronised on The Footy Show by Paul Vautin and his grinning, spinning, panel of footballer companions; a culture of misogyny is created.
Similarly, girls are not allowed to be children in the way that boys are, and the way that all children have a fundamental human right to be. Consider the fact that padded bras and g-strings are marketed to girls as young as seven and sold in major department stores. This culture of sexualisation not only helps to solidify a particular image of women and girls but reduces their perceived value at both a conscious and subconscious level.
Modernity might have witnessed the splitting of the atom, the transportation of astronauts to the moon, the birth of the internet and the duplication of the degenerative Dolly the sheep, yet the female sex is still largely perceived from cultural and ideological viewpoints that are anachronistic.
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