Too often in cases of sexual assault does victim blaming occur. Suggesting that a survivor of sexual assault was the “ideal victim” or somehow “asked for it” allows the abuser to avoid accountability for their actions. Sexual predators also use a tactic of claiming victims “made them do it” or “enjoyed it” to increase the victims’ feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion that allows the crimes to remain hidden for many years.
While the societal scales have tipped toward believing victims of sexual abuse, the problem of victim blaming has not been erased. We discuss different types of victim blaming and harmful myths about sexual assault, describe how predators use shame to keep committing crimes, and outline steps a survivor can take to seek justice.
Was It My Fault?
Often, survivors of sexual assault grapple with confusion and insecurities, wondering, “was it my fault?” or “could I have prevented this somehow?” In some cases, survivors may ruminate in regret, wishing they hadn’t gone to a party or drank alcohol.
Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Perpetrators are responsible for their own actions. Regardless of what you were wearing, what you said, how you behaved, the decisions you made—the rule of consent in California is based on “yes means yes,” rather than “no means no.” Consent is not a one-time deal; it must be given every time, regardless of past history, and it can be revoked at any time.
If you didn’t give an affirmative “yes” to the sexual activity and maintain that “yes” throughout the encounter, it was not consensual. If you were asleep, intoxicated, incapacitated, disabled, or a minor at the time, you were unable to legally give consent and you are not to blame.
Studies show that sexual abuse survivors who blame themselves are more likely to develop and maintain symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This makes them more hesitant to come forward and abusers more likely to abuse again.
The Role of Rape Culture in Victim Blaming for Sexual Assault
Victim blaming is often prevalent in rape culture—an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Many who hold positions of power and authority perpetuate these beliefs, which makes it all the more troublesome.
In defense of former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, interim president of Michigan State University John Engler claimed the young women and girls abused by the doctor “appeared to be enjoying the spotlight.” Victims may be afraid to come forward because they don’t want to be viewed as self-seeking, vindictive, or in it for money. His comments drew fire from critics and ultimately led to his resignation, but many hold these same opinions which, in turn, leads to more sexual crimes being committed.
Myths Surrounding Victim Blaming and Sexual Assault
Many efforts to promote safety against acts of sexual assault often end up inadvertently placing the blame on victims. Reports of sexual violence often detail the behavior of the victim; what they were wearing; where they were; the time of day; if they were alone; and if they consumed alcohol. All of these things suggest that those choices were dangerous or incorrect in some way. Such advice creates a culture of fear—and not just for women. It means people fear going out alone in the dark or wearing outfits society might deem provocative, or enjoying a drink on a night out. Advice such as this polices the behavior of innocent people, rather than the actions of the abusers
Here are a few myths regarding sexual assault:
- Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. Ninety percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. It could be a romantic partner, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance. It could be a coach, a teacher, a priest or nun, a camp counselor, or a family physician. The betrayal of trust leads to an increased sense of guilt for victims who blame themselves in failing to recognize early warning signs of grooming.
- It’s only sexual assault if the victim fought back. There are many reasons why fighting back is not feasible. You may have been pressured into submission. Confusion or shock may have affected your normal responses. Some rape victims experience tonic immobility, an involuntary response that arises during periods of extreme fear, characterized by total muscle paralysis; the body freezes and essentially “plays dead” as a survival mechanism.
- Once sexually aroused, one can’t control their behavior. While sexual arousal is a strong and natural occurrence, it is a controllable urge. A person may choose to ignore the urge and leave the situation, respecting the feelings and wishes of others.
- False allegations of rape are commonly made to ruin a person’s good reputation. Only 2-10% of rape reports are proven false. For children, the percentage is even lower. In fact, rape continues to be the most underreported crime due to the embarrassment, shame, and unfair blame experienced by some survivors. Medical exams and interrogation by law enforcement can intensify the trauma if the group handling the claim is not experienced in dealing with sexual assault survivors.
Seeking Litigation Against Sexual Assault Can Stop the Cycle
If you’ve experienced victim blaming as a result of sexual assault, you don’t have to deal with the aftermath alone. Call the police and/or an attorney who can help you through recovery and prevent the perpetrator from victimizing others.
Recognized for our track record of multi-million-dollar settlements and awards, our passion lies in holding the worst type of predators accountable for their wrongs and helping survivors find a measure of dignity in the aftermath of trauma. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, contact us or call +1 (415) 800-0590 for a free, confidential, no-obligation case review.
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