Let's Talk About Talking About Rape and Sexual Assault

Let’s Talk About Talking About Rape and Sexual Assault

Trigger warning: This post speaks about rape, victim blaming, rape culture and associated themes.

Note: The majority of sexual assaults reported are committed by men against women and there are several examples that may be read with a cis-gender connotation. However, we’re using gender neutral terms here because this is an issue that affects every gender.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but this post isn’t late. This is a topic that is pervasive in our world, and something that needs to keep being discussed, no matter the time of year. In the news, movies, tv shows, in the workplace, and between friends, the idea of rape is normalized and rationalized. This is due to widespread views on gender and sexuality, and the phenomenon is known as rape culture. One of the contributing factors and identifiers is victim blaming.

“Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them.” – Wikipedia

In the instance of sexual assault, victim blaming, or, (as Ms. Magazine has called it more broadly), rape-splaining, the person who did the crime is never the subject of conversation. They are given “outs,” distancing them from the act, while the victims are front and center.

This perpetuates the idea that sexual misconduct, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and rape are okay. Making jokes about these topics and victim blaming sends the message to perpetrators that they will not be held accountable for their actions. It tells them that they can continue to do the crimes (only about 7% will ever be arrested and only 2% of all perpetrators will ever see a day in jail).

It tells victims that not only did some action of theirs trigger what happened, it tells them that they can’t report it. And if they report it, it tells them that they won’t be believed or will be subjugated to questioning that has nothing to do with the perpetrator, and everything to do with them and their behaviors.

Our students are not exempt from being victimized. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 16 men will be assaulted during their college years, and 63% will never report it. Knowing this, it’s important that we speak out against victim blaming and help our students.

10 Victim-Blaming and Rape-Splaining Comments and How You Should Respond

The following comments are examples of victim-blaming and rape-splaining. An important step in helping survivors and dismantling rape culture is changing the way we talk about rape and sexual assault. We’ve indicated some suggestions for responses to victim-blaming and rape-splaining talk. Hopefully, this will serve as a jumping off point for helping you to change the discourse around rape and sexual assault.

Victim blaming statement: What were they wearing?
Response: It doesn’t matter what they were wearing. The assailant should never have touched them.

Victim blaming statement: They were hard/wet. Their body was saying yes.
Response: But they didn’t actually say yes. Physiological responses have nothing to do with consent, and they should have asked, but they didn’t. That’s rape.

Victim blaming statement: They were being a tease!
Response: That doesn’t give you the right to assault them.

Victim blaming statement: How much did they have to drink?
Response: If a person is intoxicated, they can’t give consent. It’s rape.

Victim blaming statement: Boys will be boys.
Response: Wrong. If they rape, boys will be rapists. Not boys. We should be raising our kids to respect one another, not assault people.

Victim blaming statement: Well, they were married.
Response: Relationships do not give blanket permission. It’s still rape if there was no consent.

Victim blaming statement: You already said yes.
Response: Permission can stop at any time.

Victim blaming statement: They’re exaggerating.
Response: I believe them.

Victim blaming statement: They liked it.
Response: No one likes being raped.

Victim blaming statement: They didn’t say no.
Response: They didn’t say yes. Your argument is invalid.

Our culture thinks this kind of talk is okay. As a result, it makes it easy for predators to commit crimes and continue doing so. It makes it hard for survivors to have their voices heard. So whether it’s for you or someone you know, or someone you might know, practice and use these responses.

When working with survivors, support them. When hearing victim blaming, step into the conversation. Don’t let common language perpetuate. Respond and put the blame on the perpetrator. We can’t guarantee absolute safety, but how we react to everyday conversations can go a long way in decreasing tolerance of sexual assault and helping survivors know they can report it.

Hopefully, the next time you hear someone blaming the victim of a crime, you can step in and change their mind. Maybe, you can help change our culture.

(For more information see Everyday Feminism’s list of examples of rape culture.)