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.

#MeToo: We’re all in this Together

For a long time, sexual harassment and assault have remained unspoken, well-kept secrets that women have felt ashamed of acknowledging.

A major shift has taken place this year, alongside the accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. A decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined that so many women around the world had experienced sexual coercion or intimidation. Now, I’d be surprised if I could find a single woman I know who hasn’t.

Earlier this month, actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter and wrote:

Personal stories quickly began pouring in from women and men all across the world. The hashtag #MeToo has become a rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment. Before long, it had become about so much more than Harvey Weinstein.

I remember being subjected to harassment long before I even knew what harassment or assaults were. School-going boys. Middle-aged men. Married men. A policeman. That boy who considers himself a ‘feminist’. Colleagues. On the bus. Across the pavements. In a queue. At a temple. The touch that was made to look accidental. That ‘friendly’ squeeze. The head-to-toe stare that makes you feel uncomfortable. The offensive comment, the explicit remark. Cyber-bullying. The list goes on.

There’s a long history of victim-blaming in order to protect perpetrators of violence, and to legitimize and normalize sexual harassment and assaults. We are raised in a society that tells us girls get assaulted for a reason. Her skirt was too short, her smile too wide, her breath smelled of alcohol, she was out too late.

Society has long been trivializing sexual violence with dismissive phrases like “boys will be boys”. We have been defining masculinity as dominant and sexually aggressive and femininity as submissive and passive. We’ve spent our energy teaching women to avoid being raped, rather than on teaching men not to rape women.

I think the worst part of being harassed or assaulted is that it makes you forget to be kind to yourself. It makes you question your own existence and forget how to accept yourself. For me, it has taken years of ignorance, silence, self-blame, and internalization, as well as thousands of conversations with friends and family, to feel ‘worthy’ again.

Too many of us choose to suffer in silence because we are afraid speaking up will reduce our identity to being ‘just a victim’. But sharing your story does not make you a victim. Sharing your story, if it’s what you choose and what feels right for you, can be one the bravest things you will ever do. You are a survivor – setting the world on fire with the truth. And you never know who else will benefit from your light, your warmth and your raging courage.

The goal of #MeToo was to give people a sense of ‘the magnitude of the problem.’ The power of #MeToo is that it takes long-standing silence and transforms it into a movement. On one hand, it’s a bold, declarative statement: “I’m not ashamed of what I have been through.” On the other, it’s a reassurance from survivor to survivor: “I feel you and we are all in this together.”

There’s still a monumental amount of work to be done, but exposing the colossal scale of a problem we have kept swept under the rug and hidden in our darkest corners? That is revolutionary in its own right.

If They Kill Me

Content note: this post contains graphic descriptions of violence 

If I am killed, it will be because I spoke out against my country’s government and how it ‘dealt’ with femicides.

On May 3 2017, Lesvy Berlín Osorio was found dead in Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of Autonomus National University of Mexico. Immediately, the story reached headlines and caused outrage in the campus community. Once again, Mexico faced a femicide, this time at the most prestigious university in the country. Only hours afterwards, the Office of the Public Prosecutor tweeted that “she was getting high with a few friends”, “she failed courses” and “she was living with her boyfriend”, as though these were reasons to justify a woman’s murder.

Once again, our authorities blamed us, and washed their hands of responsibility. Horrifyingly enough, this hasn’t been the last case of femicide. As I write this, I am struggling to find accurate figures on Mexico’s femicide rate in 2017, since our institutions are not reporting it. I recently found out that in two months, five barbaric femicides have taken place throughout my country: Lesvy was tied to a telephone booth with the cord around her neck, a 60-year-old woman was raped and impaled to death in her own house, a young woman’s legs and face were skinned, an 11 year old was raped, tortured and murdered on her way home from school, and a man tried to behead his ex-wife in a local mall.

I ache when I write this.

I had to ask a group of women if I should write this at all. If this is how I want to show Mexico to Girls’ Globe’s readers; but they asked me, how could I not? How could I not use this platform to tell the rest of the world what they are doing to us? How could I not write about the gender based violence we live amongst every day? How could I not use this privilege as a way to give those women and girls their voices back – the voices that were ripped out of their chests?

On July 7th, two months after her death, the General Justice Attorney declared that Lesvy was having a fight with her boyfriend, got the telephone cord tied around her neck, and killed herself.

Let that sink in. Let it infuriate you as it did me. Read it again.

On July 7, two months after her death, the General Justice Attorney declared that Lesvy was having a fight with her boyfriend, got the telephone cord tied around her neck, and killed herself.

I am so sorry, Lesvy, sorry beyond words, that they did this to you. I am sorry too, to all the women failed by authorities when their names are shared. I am sorry to the families of the women in the five cases I described above, because none of them have found any justice.

When the Attorney tweeted about what Lesvy Berlín Osorio was doing to ‘deserve’ to be murdered, the female community’s outrage sparked the hashtag #SiMeMatan (If They Kill Me), simulating what might be shared by media or the Attorney to justify the act if we were to be murdered. This is not a ridiculous idea. Five women die a violent death every day in Mexico, and an estimated 60% of them go unpunished.

Today, I invite you to join us, because if you were murdered today in Mexico, the Attorney would say “she was a tourist travelling on her own”. This affects all of us. Share our pain by writing a #SiMeMatan tweet, no matter what language you do it in, and join our cry to pressure our authorities to do their jobs and protect our female population. We don’t only want justice, we want safety.

#SiMeMatan, it will be because I wrote this blog post.

Sexual Assault in the Media

Content note: this post contains multiple references to sexual assault

There continues to be a normalization of sexual violence in media and popular culture. The current culture around sexual assault tends to place blame on the victim and trivializes the idea of rape, and this train of thought stems from factors such as how news stations report acts of sexual violence and how sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and popular music.

There are several trends in the way sexual crimes are depicted in news reports that help contribute to the culture that has pervaded society. News stations will often report that a rapist “had sex with” a victim instead of outright saying that a victim was “raped”. This phrasing downplays the severity of what the victim had to go through and implies that consent was given.

News reports will often focus on the clothes the victim was wearing and how much the victim had to drink. A New York Times article published in 2011 is the perfect example of this. It quotes people familiar with the victim saying that “[the victim] dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s [and] she would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.” By drawing attention to these details, the report does not hold the rapist accountable for his actions and places blame on the victim instead, ultimately suggesting that the choices of the victim led to her rape.

News stations also tend to empathize with the perpetrator instead of the victim. This was especially true in the Steubenville rape trial, when CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated that it was incredibly emotional and even incredibly difficult for her to see two young men who were star football players and very good students with such promising futures watch their lives fall apart. In contrast, she didn’t mention any sympathy for the victim whom they raped, who will likely hold on to this trauma for the rest of her life.

The way sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and music also has an influence on rape culture. Jokes about rape will often appear on television, which causes viewers to fail to take sexual violence seriously. Rape jokes are especially prevalent in the show Two Broke Girls, where Kat Denning’s character, Max, constantly trivializes rape  and the long-lasting effects it has on the victim. In one episode, she mocks a victim of date rape and whines while saying “Somebody date-raped me and I didn’t think I’d live through it, but I did, but now I am stronger, and I’m still needy.

The videos and lyrics in popular music can promote rape culture by making sexual violence seem ‘sexy’. In Robin Thicke’s infamous song “Blurred Lines,” he contributes to this culture by singing about how the lines around sexual consent are blurred and asserting that it’s up to men to interpret what women want.

Sexual violence has become normalized in media and popular culture. I believe that the way news stations report cases of sexual assault, and the way it is portrayed in television shows and popular music, play a large role in rape culture. This culture blames the victim for rape as well as trivializes rape and the effects it has on its victims. It is clear that something must change in the media to attack rape culture.