Are Victims Ever to Blame?

The answer is absolutely not.

The other day, a group of friends and I were discussing a rape situation and one of them used the phrase: “well, she is so stupid, why did she go out to dinner with him?” I sat there, completely stunned by her words.

After her statement, I started wondering why a privileged, educated, well-traveled 27-year-old female would instantly blame the victim and justify an act of rape?

I realized that maybe it is not entirely her fault. We have been raised in a culture where sexual violence is frequent and rape excused and normalized by society and media. Our society perpetrates a ‘rape culture’ within which women are taught to avoid getting raped instead of men being taught not to rape. This is outrageous and we all should be scandalized by it.

Victims are often seen as just as guilty as – or even more guilty than – abusers. I acknowledge here that men are also vulnerable to sexual abuse, but in this particular moment I am focusing on sexual violence against women.

FACT: Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.

Sexual assault is a violent attack on an individual, not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion. No one ‘asks for’ or deserves this type of attack.

Apart from the social and mental implications of victim blaming on an individual, it also makes it harder for other victims to come forward and report their assaults.

This is a huge issue, and a great deal of victim blaming comes from friends and family. I urge you to think again before you contribute to one of the biggest challenges we face as women: justice for perpetrators.

Many of the things we hear or read about rape involves a stranger or a family member assaulting their victim. But what about when your partner is the one assaulting you? Rape within relationships and marriages is extremely common and victim blaming is even more prevalent – there’s a thought that ‘she must have done something wrong for him to act like that’. Between 10 and 14% of married women will be raped at some point during their marriages. 

We are used to living in a society where a husband or boyfriend has the right to do anything. So why does society still blame victims? Maia Szalavitz explains a psychological reason: “The “just-world bias” happens because our brains crave predictability, and as such, we tend to blame victims of unfairness rather than reject the comforting worldview suggesting that good will be rewarded and evil punished.” 

Personally, I am curious as to how most research seems to prefer the word “assault” or “violence” to “rape”. This is such an important issue, and it should be called by its name. A non-consensual sexual relation is rape, and I think that switching the words only makes the problem seem less prevalent, or less valid, than it is.

How can we all help to end ‘rape culture’? 

  • Always take a rape or sexual assault accusation seriously
  • Never make assumptions
  • If someone talks to you, support them to come forward
  • Speak up when women’s bodies are objectified
  • Speak your mind when someone jokes about touching or sex without consent
  • Stop asking what the victim was wearing or whether she’d been drinking alcohol
  • Bring this conversation to the table with the women and men in your lives

We need to help eliminate the belief that these conversations are too uncomfortable. Start speaking up.

What #MeToo did in Sweden

Unless you haven’t been on social media or read the news for the past few months, you can’t have missed #MeToo. In Sweden, the campaign was taken from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and put into practice in the real world, showing that activism on social media can generate actual change in society.

It is now almost 3 months since use of the hashtag peaked on several social platforms globally. Facebook reported that the phrase was used in over 12 million posts in just 24 hours. They also found that in the U.S., almost half of all users had a friend who had used the hashtag.

In the end, the most successful feature of the campaign was that it made a problem visible. #MeToo united women globally, and they all told a version of the same story – they had been subjected to some kind of sexual harassment or abuse. This abuse was no longer surrounded by silence, but rather recognised by people of all genders as a systematic problem in all societies. There were, however, many who doubted the effectiveness of an online campaign. Could a hashtag make a real change in society?

In Sweden, #MeToo quickly took hold of the country and was eagerly reported by media. In the few days after the campaign went viral, women from several different professions organised and collected names and stories of people affected by sexual harassment within their sector. Actors, doctors, chefs and lawyers were just some of the groups that launched their own follow-up campaigns, making the scale of the problem even more apparent.

Soon, several Swedish male celebrities were accused of rape, sexual harassment or misogynistic behaviour, and many of them had to leave their jobs as a result. The culture of silence was breaking down and companies could no longer cover up such accusations. High profile individuals within politics, TV and academia were exposed and removed from their posts, one by one. Power was no longer enough to protect people from the consequences of their actions. Hopefully, this cleanse of misogynistic plutocrats can create space for a more healthy, equal and sustainable culture within all sectors in Sweden and around the world.

But how can we make this change last? Media campaigns come and go and very few make it off the screen and into everyday life. Sexist structures are deeply rooted in most societies, and merely recognising the problem won’t be enough to eliminate it. But it is a step on the way. People can no longer deny the scope of this problem, and awareness is crucial when fighting social issues. Hopefully, grassroots activists will no longer be operating in headwinds. And maybe, Sweden can lead the way in this fight.

A new law that would require explicit sexual consent has been proposed by the Swedish government. TV-personalities have been fired and companies are adopting new policies of dealing with misogynistic behaviour. People are fighting for more thorough legal consequences for perpetrators of sexual harassment. Although we are far from finished, change is happening, and we must act quickly before things go back to ‘normal’. Effective change in society requires everyone to act, and it is crucial to use the energy, anger and hopefulness that has been generated during this campaign.

We have a long way to go, but for me, the #MeToo campaign is a sign of progress and shows what can happen when women unite. After all, this is what Girls’ Globe is about – raising the voices of women and showing that our experiences and voices matter.

Everyone knows someone who has been subjected to sexual harassment. Women have spoken up, the world has listened, and now all of us must act. The internet is powerful, and so are women. The culture of silence has been broken, and so let’s not only hope it stays that way, let’s make sure that it does. Let’s include everyone on that journey – him, her, them, and #metoo.

#MeToo: Reflections from a College Student

Harvey Weinstein; a man who used to be synonymous with Hollywood films, but who now carries the weight of sexual assault allegations after a tsunami of testimonies. From Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, the past couple of months have been an explosion of sexual assault accusations. This isn’t about just one man and one woman. It’s about dozens of men and countless women across industries both near and far.

Marginalized voices – women and children especially – have been and continue to be vulnerable to abuses by powerful men.

Since The New York Times published an investigation into accusations against Harvey Weinstein, there has been a growing list of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct of all forms. As I scrolled through the list, I could not help but notice that every person on the list was male-presenting, white, and in positions of power.

The wave of testimonies is shocking in terms of sheer numbers – if this is how many people have made accusations, how many other painful abuses remain in the shadows? While all of the men on this list are primarily based in the United States, it would be foolish to think that this problem is a national one.

All around the world, powerful men take advantage of vulnerable people. It is a global phenomenon. And it terrifies me.

As an eighteen-year-old woman in college, I go to class everyday preparing to enter the ‘real’ world around me. I take classes about market economics and international politics and listen as people try to impart knowledge to me, but I cannot help but think that I am so wholly unprepared for this big, scary world. Part of me does not want to believe that sexual assault is so widespread. Every day I turn on the news to see another powerful man has abused his power, and I think about how scared and afraid and disgusted I would feel if I was ever faced with a situation like that.

We must not let fear get to us. We cannot stop fighting for our sisters and brothers who have experienced the pain and trauma of assault.  It is on all of us to be allies and to support the people around us. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue, it’s a people’s issue. We have to be role models and teachers for our children, to tell them and show them that abuse, violence and harassment are not okay.

In an interview with Vanessa Stair earlier this year about parenting in color, Vanessa talked with me about teaching her five-year-old daughter Peyton the important lesson of consent. She said that it can be as easy as “no, means no.” But that only works if all children are taught the same thing.

As well as teaching our children, we must also listen compassionately and learn from one another. We all carry biases, expectations, and opinions; by thinking about ourselves and engaging in challenging dialogues we can better understand the world.

This is not easy work. It takes time, energy, and an emotional toll to think about the misogyny, hate, and abuse around us. While we must continue to fight, we also much continue to take care of ourselves and those around us. A mentor of mine recently told me, “we must live in the needs of the present”. So we continue to fight to elevate the voices of women globally, work to eliminate gender gaps and discrimination, love to heal our pain, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Grace’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world. 

Sexual Abuse is Affecting Income Inequality

Imagine losing $241,600. What if I told you that this number is the estimated median lifetime loss of income for many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This disparity is keeping survivors, a significant percentage of our population, from reaching their full economic potential.

Success in the United States is often synonymous with fulfilling the aspiration to earn a six-figure salary, but according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a woman is likely to earn $500,000 less than a male colleague over the course of her career. Even more troubling, 1 in 4 of these women were sexually abused in childhood, leaving them to earn close to $800,000 less than their non-affected male counterparts.

You might wonder why this is so. The answer is that long-term emotional and psychological effects of this childhood trauma directly impact feelings of self-worth, which may translate to an increased risk of dropping out of high school or a lower likelihood of pursuing higher education or applying for better paying positions within the job market.

From a legal perspective, economic damages play a key role in litigation proceedings as they project the impact an individual has experienced financially. Unfortunately, a large percentage of survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) are likely to hide their stories, therefore many will never recuperate this lost income.

The statistics:

  • 20% of adult females can recall an instance of childhood sexual abuse
  • 12.5% of rape is perpetrated by a family member
  • Sexual violence results in approximately 32,000 unintended pregnancies per year

* The accuracy of CSA statistics can be contested due to low instances of self-reporting.

While this post aims to highlight the relationship between female survivors of abuse and lost earnings, it would be myopic to neglect the reality of the sexual abuse of 1 in 6 boys, whose incomes can also be affected.

Young adult males who were sexually abused are five times more likely to cause teen pregnancy and make risky sexual decisions as a result of their trauma. As for girls under the age of 18, 4.5 out of 10 pregnant adolescents may have a prior history of CSA. How much does teen pregnancy cost US taxpayers each year? Estimates are as high as $21 billion annually.

In the interest of being fiscally conservative, government-implemented programs seeking to prevent and address instances of violence are often underfunded and grossly understaffed. According to the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence,

Approximately $14.8 billion in victimization costs are averted due to [the Violence Against Women Act] VAWA, which only costs $1.6 billion to implement. At the individual level, VAWA is estimated to cost $15.50 per U.S. woman, yet saves $159 per U.S. woman in averted victimization costs.”

In a report published in Economic Impact Study, it is estimated that “the total annual cost of child abuse in the US to be $103.8 billion (in 2007 dollars). The largest cost driver was lost productivity (32%) followed by adult criminality (27%).

How can we positively influence this phenomenon?

The pay gap is not expected to close until 2152, but we should not have to wait until then for economic justice to be served.

  • If you’re in the US, sign this petition to close the pay gap
  • Consult the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s online library for guides on how to prevent CSA
  • If you or someone that you know is being abused, call: 1.800.422.4453 or have an anonymous live chat with a RAINN staff member

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Olivia’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world.