We must stop the victim blaming language

by CCASA Communications

Once again in media we see the importance of language in telling a story. It sometimes seems that the community and media together are hesitant to come out in support of a survivor of sexual assault and yet very quick to criticize and be skeptical of a survivor’s report of the abuse that happened.

It is time to stop victim blaming language and educate ourselves on the laws of consent, the difficulty in not only bringing charges forward in a sexual assault case but the reporting by a survivor and to understand what constitutes a sexual assault.

In the article “Blatchford: Sources reveal why no one will likely be prosecuted in the Rehtaeh Parsons case” the author chose to highlight from her “evidence gathering” on why initial charges may not have been laid against the accused in this case.

This article is a testament to the victim blaming language that relinquishes all responsibility off of the offenders and onto the survivor as the article depicts Rehtaeh’s situation as one of regret rather than one of sexual violence. What is not stated in this article is that by taking this picture without the consent of Rehtaeh Parsons and distributing it, the people who did this have committed a crime of sexual assault. This is aside from the fact that Rehtaeh Parsons was only 15 at the time this picture was taken and cannot legally give consent for the picture to be taken and it is illegal to be distributed.

So when Rehtaeh made the brave decision to report this crime, and let me be clear it is a brave act to come forward and report a crime like sexual assault, she did so after concrete evidence was presented that a sexual assault had occurred. The fact that Rehtaeh did not receive support from many people in this along with the fact that her story is doubted while a witness’ story is automatically taken as the truth is troubling. Instead of supporting her, believing her and coming to her side to stand by her in a troubling time, many people turned their back on Rehtaeh and shamed her. Why is it that when placing responsibility for stopping a sexual assault we are so quick to place prevention on the victims of the crime, and furthermore, why is it so difficult for a lot of people to support someone impacted by this crime?

In an example I’ve heard many times people say that isn’t a person’s fault that there car gets stolen when they had left there keys in the car. Yet when that innocent person who left their keys in their car reports their car being stolen no one seems to think this is unfair of that person to do. In fact most people would say that people have every right to report their car stolen no matter what the circumstance. And though one cannot directly compare a sexual assault and its impact to that of a stolen car, what this example illustrates is that surrounding reporting of a crime, when it comes to sexual assault the tables are turned. No matter the circumstance, if a crime is believed to have been committed a person has the right to report that crime. They also have the right to be taken seriously, the right to be believed and supported in their process.

Sexual assault is a crime that holds a lot of judgment on the victim, and depending on things such as the actions or behaviours that someone participated in; what they were wearing or who they were with all factors in how someone views the severity of the crime. Perhaps if more people sought out and educated themselves on what the laws of consent are, and who is responsible, then there would be more support for and less judgment towards the victim.

One law of consent says that consenting to one act does not signify consent to all other acts that follow. So regardless of whether or not someone one consented to an act of sexual activity previously, if after that particular act if consent was not given for another sexual act, then that is sexual assault and a crime punishable by law. This case in particular seems clear in that consent was not gained first in the taking of the picture and second that it was then distributed. Due to the age of Retaeh being only 15 at the time when the picture was taken, one must recognize that this is against the law. This is sexual assault and distribution of the picture is child sexual abuse as the image was that of someone under the age of 18 years of age. . In the eyes of the law, it does not matter whether or not Rehtaeh consented to sexual acts prior to that, the fact that she did not consent to the picture being taken nor distribution of it is a crime and the person who did both is an offender. This is something we need to understand.

Changing these views comes with education. It comes with understanding the laws that exist in society and challenging the myths that exist. It is time for us to start rethinking the prevention of these crimes. To rethink the reason they happen and to support survivors who come forward instead of shaming them. Holding the people accountable for the crimes they commit is very important and needs to be recognized by media and the community when reporting on cases of sexual violence. When articles are written which use victim blaming language it only serves to reinforce the myths around sexual violence that exist in our society and continue to do so much harm to survivors of this crime.

Educate yourselves, challenge your thinking and treat those around you with respect and dignity. At the core of this case, regardless of what type of sexual assault was committed against Rehtaeh Parsons is the fact that in large part she was not treated with respect or dignity by many of her peers, and community members and in some cases the media. If we treat others with respect and dignity it is very likely that the incidences of sexually violent crimes will decrease. If we condone actions such like what Rehtaeh went through of someone else being able to circulate sexual pictures of a minor freely, then we will never be able to fully address this crime.

In short, value human life, value human dignity and respect those around you. In short don’t offend and place responsibility where it belongs with the offenders of a crime not with the victims.

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