When You Blame the Victim, You Stand For the Perpetrator
I don't mean to brag but- MY COVID TEST WAS NEGATIVE. Small praise before I get going because I have been sick the last couple of days and home from work with a fever (the kids too), so I have had some time to work on my blog. And yes, we are still talking about sexual violence and assault and not only because it's still April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month), but also because it's important to me and I want to share my thoughts and experience on victim-blaming.
Just to make sure we're all on the same page here, let's settle the term. Really smart people at Harvard define victim blaming on their website as: "the attitude which suggests that the victim, rather than the perpetrator, bears responsibility for the assault". Sometimes people blame victims totally or partially, but none the less it shifts the blame away from the one committing the crime and onto the victim. Victim blaming commonly manifests itself in sex crimes as judgement towards the victim's actions and behaviors, words, or the way they dress as something that provokes someone to violate them. Think, "she was asking for it" or "she shouldn't have been there", and unfortunately many more.
There have been many psychological studies on the reason this occurs, and one theory that makes the most sense to me is that it is a defense mechanism we have to comfort us and keep us from having to live in fear. If we can somehow make sense of senseless crimes by attempting to rationalize how or why it happened and/or how the victim could have deserved it, then we feel it has to be preventable and we can totally avoid it happening to us because we don't dress/act/speak/behave in the same way. This brings us a false sense of security, and we feel a little more in control in our day to day environments. It's nice to be able to go through life not worrying about danger all the time, but a pitfall in this way of thinking is that you underestimate just how possible it is for you to be in a dangerous or harmful situation. Oh, and hey... that was was me until last year when it happened to me. I intentionally didn't glam up as much as usual for the concert the night I was violated. For reference: I had on a plain dusty rose colored buttoned-down blouse from Target and black skinny jeans with white sneakers. I think I even wore my hair up? Which if I remember that correctly, says a lot about how little I was interested in that sort of attention because I really don't like my hair up. I also made a point to be careful not to come across as "flirting" since I was the only female in the group at the concert. I felt safe as safe can be. And yet despite my deliberate actions to prevent a bad situation, not only did it happen.. but I was asked later by well-meaning individuals why I was even there in the first place. At a concert. In a venue. With people we thank for their service. I'm sorry, am I missing something?! Humans have been raping humans for the entirety of our existence. Women were violated even when they couldn't show their ankles, join the military, or go to Lee Brice concerts.
You've probably seen anti-rape culture posts and signs with slogans like, "stop teaching us how not to get raped, teach rapists not to rape", or a similar variation of it. How many times have you heard or read something about being careful about people slipping things into your drink? Which, yes do be careful. I have experienced this, luckily I avoided something more sinister... and I will speak on the difference between teaching safety and victim blaming in a moment so hang tight. Seriously though, how much emphasis do parents put on protecting their daughters? Are we putting the same amount of effort into teaching both sons and daughters not to violate others? SHARP training in the military usually looks like this:
"Don't go out alone. Always have a battle buddy!"
"Here's how to intervene"
Personally, I'd love to see the training go more like this:
"Keep your hands to yourself. Predators have no place in our organization, and if you are caught behaving this way (educate on the behaviors) you will be dealt with accordingly". AND THEN DEAL WITH THEM ACCORDINGLY. Stop talking about it, be about it. We are literally thanking military sexual predators for their service. No amount of tabs, badges, confirmed kills, level of rank, or acts of valor give you a pass to do whatever you want to anyone you want. Still, it happens all of the time.
No matter how much we try and rationalize bad things that happen to people, the fact is that the world we live in is full of people who want to harm us and nobody is above getting taken advantage of. With that said, NO DUH that we absolutely have to be aware of the threats to our survival and livelihood. I lock my doors at night. I lock my car. I don't click weird links that seem phish-y (pun intended), and I hang up when I get a call with that robotic female voice asking me if I've extended the car I don't even have anymore's auto warranty. Do I own guns, know how to shoot them, look both ways before I cross the street, and teach my kids not to talk to strangers? You bet. There is a difference in being aware of and proactive in protecting ourself and victim blaming, and it's usually timing. My intention for sharing my story of sexual assault in the military was and still is to bring awareness to the issue of how we are failing to eliminate these creeps from our organization. You think I told my story because I want to hear all about what you would have done differently to prevent it if you were me? Sit down, and quit apologizing for predators.
Like I said, I told my story. I kind of ranted about it online actually. That ended up with me retelling it during a brief to the CG of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps and a few members of the People First Task Force, where I made proposals for change in the way we handle sexual misconduct in the Army. Afterwards, I had a lot of media attention and interviews that ultimately led me to being invited on as a guest on several podcasts. One of those podcasts had me on to tell my story and then blatantly victim blamed during the interview. The host, a female veteran who connects with with other female veterans to talk gender specific issues in the military, is a victim of rape herself. She should have known better from personal experience not to take the turn she did in the interview, but despite not even serving anymore she went all in on my professional appearance as leader. After I told my story to her she challenged me to consider the things I post on my Instagram and tried to educate me on how it is my personal responsibility to not be too provocative. Let me say this: the conversation of what members of the military post online and professional appearance is not the problem, it was the timing that was ill-suited. The interview ended with tension, and I honestly felt taken advantage of by the podcast. Thankfully they never aired it, it wouldn't do anything but perpetuate the misconception that we are responsible for these things happening to us. What I didn't just say is that we shouldn't be held personally responsible in life, what I am saying is that I am not responsible for someone else's crime against me. I still have not received an apology from her. Her show is an extension of another veteran-run podcast that kind-of/sort-of apologized, and then confirmed my fear that they didn't care at all when they went on air and tried to speak about victim blaming and mentality in a later show. Something none of them are actually qualified to speak on.
Anyway. Look at this meme:
The meme is a (terribly executed) mockery at those of us who speak out against victim blaming. Do you think if the car in the photo chose to ignore the stop sign and hit a kid or the traffic guard that they would not be punished? Would any of you question the pedestrians for not looking both ways? I didn't think so. Stop (no) means stop (no).