Rape: the victim's fault? Examiner: Yes
I read a copy of The Examiner over breakfast in a café this morning. I eventually had to throw it aside in disgust.
The front page carried details of a new Red C poll which reports that many people 'blame' rape victims for their predicament. The statistics are broken down by gender, age, employment status, etc., in an attempt to display how biased, vindictive, and unenlightened we are as a nation.
As the story goes:
- More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.
- 10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.
- 37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.
- One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.
- 38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.
We are encouraged to feel outrage on behalf of the innocent victims of crime, who receive still further cruel social condemnation after the event.
Phew. Heavy stuff.
But let's stay cool headed for a moment. What is the substance of this report? What questions were actually asked? We only get to read the rephrased results.
If a woman is raped while walking home through a dangerous or deserted area three out of 10 people said she was somewhat to blame and 9% felt she was totally at fault.
Time and again we see the words 'blame' and 'fault' attached to the questions. Indeed Conor Ryan's main story is headlined 'Rape: Our Blame Culture.' But what exactly defines 'blame' and 'fault' in these situations? There is personal responsibility of the victim, and then there is the responsibility of their assailant, both of which are treated as one and the same be the Examiner and the pollsters. No one mentions this crucial distinction.
This false start is the reason the entire survey (as well as its results, spin-off articles and editorials) is flawed to the point of utter uselessness.
For example: If I carelessly leave a pint of Guinness hanging over the edge of the table in a very crowded pub (not to trivialise the discussion!), when someone turns around and knocks it over, they will be apologetic, but I will naturally reply 'That's all right, sure it was my fault anyway for leaving it there.'
And I'll be right.
If I take a walk around Moyross shouting 'You're all a bunch of spastic cock monkeys,' at everyone I meet, I should not be surprised if my head is soon removed from my shoulders by a steel toe-capped boot; it will be my own fault and no-one else's.
Yes, the pint spiller and the toe-capper are the active elements in producing those unwelcome results, but they have their own responsibilities to account for. In a perfect world, nothing would be spilled, and you could walk around at night wearing a Rolex, and counting wads of cash outside the Olympic Arms in Galvone.
In a perfect world, no one would be raped either. Sadly, this is not a perfect world. Actions have consequences.
The reason we don't blame the victims of sexual assault is that they have suffered enough already. Their minds are consumed by self-doubt and shame (I imagine; my apologies if it appears as if I am speaking for them), adding 'I told you so,' at this stage is unhelpful, to say the least.
If on the other hand, say, your daughter were to come home saying that she was nearly assaulted while dressed provocatively in a dodgy part of town in the middle of the night, I doubt whether you would be as quick to say 'That's fine, you've done nothing wrong, dear (and you can do it again tomorrow).'
Let's be clear: I am NOT condoning rape. I am NOT claiming victims are all 'just asking for it'. I am NOT suggesting that the crime of rape should enjoy mitigation based on how someone was dressed, etc.
The guy who mugs you down a dark alley and relieves you of €5,000 is just as guilty there as he would be if he broke into your house in the countryside. There is no defence in court 'He was just begging to be robbed, your Honour.'
But there is still the question of your personal responsibility to avoid putting yourself at risk. In the first instance, you would certainly be 'to blame,' in the second you would not.
You have a solemn duty of care to your own person. Whether through naivety or stupidity or reckless actions, however innocent, you can engineer your own demise quite easily. Thus the inarticulate question 'Is the victim to blame?' becomes meaningless if mixed with the responsibilities of the attacker.
It follows that you can be innocent, yet still somehow 'at fault.' Maybe that is of comfort to some, maybe not, but The Examiner's vacuous tub thumping certainly isn't helping anyone.