You know, it’s nice to know that we can depend on the media as a whole to keep us entertained with wonderfully inaccurate victim blaming and myth perpetuation. The latest gem comes to us via a National opinion section and its entitled “Dark side of a girls’ night out.” Before you go asking if the title is a portent of the wonderfully logical information to come, the answer is: “Yes.” It is as bad as you think it’s going to be. The main article itself is all over the place; at certain points, it’s perpetuating myths but it does manage to somewhat redeem itself later on. But each time you think it’s finally moving in the right direction, it pulls a 180 with a prevention myth or some victim blaming. Here’s one example:
Police say the number of attacks on drunk young women is growing. “They are binge-drinking, make poor choices and can’t keep themselves safe,” Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Borrell said. “That’s a worry and that’s the preventable part of it.”
Naturally, no mention of the offenders; it probably didn’t even cross their minds. The attacks aren’t growing because there are more offenders, they are growing because more girls are getting drunk and not following the rules. This is closely followed by:
“It’s not this image of a back-alley sex offender. Where any guy takes advantage of an intoxicated woman, that falls under predatory behaviour. “It’s up to friends of victims and potential offenders to do something about it. In my view, if something does happen, all of us have failed that person.”
There’s some offender blaming, but I’m not sure what is meant by “predatory behaviour.” Clearly the “back-alley” sex offenders are predators, but there’s no predatory behaviour taking place in the clubs; it’s not like some guys think of themselves as being “on the prowl,” or anything. A more telling contradiction is that the article admits that “most [sexual assaults] happened at the man or woman’s home afterwards.” But then, later in the article, we’re told that “moves were under way to improve lighting in the area.” Improved lighting in the streets will help reduce the number of assaults that happen in the home?
At any rate, the article itself would not have been so bad if it was simply going back and forth between myth and fact. But the article concludes with a step so far back that there is really no way it could recover. Earlier in the text, a social worker makes the following statement:
“Why should the whole responsibility for a situation be put on women? The bottom line is we should be able to walk down the street or do anything without the threat of sexual violence.”
This question/statement is exactly the kind of thing that we need to see more of out there, but unfortunately any merits gained by this statement are forgotten due to the impact of the section entitled ‘Never Thought It’d Happen To Me.’ I’ll let you read the section yourself, as the impact is better that way, but it concludes with a victim-blaming quote:
But she refuses to let it ruin her life and says she has learnt some valuable lessons. “I’ve had to learn the hard way. Hopefully other people can learn from experiences like mine.”
This article represents two (of many) serious problems that organizations like ours are facing out there. The first problem is that, when it comes to issues of sexual violence, there is still a huge disconnect going on; the language is there, but the logic isn’t. This serious disconnect leads to mixed messages and when these mixed messages make it to the media, sexual violence becomes much more complicated than it needs to be (in the eyes of the general public). The second problem that arises out of this article is that the ultimate message is both horrendous and distracting.
Horrendous, because it basically says “look here ladies, here is a good young woman who learned her lesson; be wary of her story and remember to stay in line.” Distracting, because sexual violence is not about “women not taking the proper precautions,” it’s about asshole offenders breaking the law. One of the questions that is not asked enough is, why do we feel the need to manufacture a gray area when it comes to sexual assault? Well, clearly it’s just one more part of the blaming game; holding the victim accountable for their actions/”participation.” And yet, we don’t think or talk like that when it comes to victims of theft, drunk driving, or child exploitation.
So what is it? Why do we treat victims/survivors of sexual assault differently?