We must end victim-blaming now

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Victim-blaming is unacceptable. It is illogical and rests on a failure to distinguish the importance of precautions and the idea that people deserve to suffer for failing to take them. Rape is a deliberate act; the wrong always lies with the perpetrator, and never the victim.

In the context of rape, victim-blaming is unacceptable. Yet, it happens more often than we think. Take a look at some of the comments on a recent news article by ChannelNews Asia titled, ‘Man on trial for abducting and raping unconscious woman 15 years younger’ (Mar 30).

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This above comment was the comment with the most ‘likes’ at time this blog entry was written. The comments section can be found here. There are more:

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Rape is avoidable, if men don’t rape.

These sort of views are regressive. People who are raped do not “ask for it”, rapists are not jailed “because she (the victim) said so”, and it definitely does not “take 2 hands to clap” – in fact, this idea contradicts the very definition of rape: sex without consent. And finally, yes, rape is avoidable, if men don’t rape.

The wrong in rape lies with offender’s deliberate act of penetration despite the victim’s refusal or inability to give consent. The victim commits no wrong. Even if the victim placed herself in a vulnerable position, it does not at all reduce the wrong committed by the offender. Thinking otherwise is illogical.

Many people blame rape victims for doing things that increase the likelihood of rape. But if we do this, shouldn’t we also condemn murder victims for failing to carry a weapon, since these could have avoided a murder? We don’t, because we understand that people have a right not to be murdered. Why then is it so difficult to also accept that people have a right not to be raped?

Victim-blaming is a problematic and illogical practice, and we should be unafraid to call people out on it, and put an end to it.

I can anticipate several responses to my claims. First, one might ask: ‘does this mean we shouldn’t take precautions? Of course not. It is not wrong to tell our friends to watch out for attempts to ‘spike’ their drinks or to moderate their alcohol intake. But we should only do so because we are aware that the world is filled with people with bad intentions, and that society is imperfect, and people do commit wrongs against women. But we should not do so because we believe that failing to take precautions puts the victim in the wrong. These are two very different attitudes to have; the former is precautionary; that is okay. The latter constitutes victim-blaming, and is unacceptable.

There is a difference between reminding people to take care of themselves, and to tell people that they are to blame when a bad thing happens to them because they failed to take care of themselves.

Too many people fail to make this distinction.

Second, one might ask: in cases, such as in car accidents, the liability of the wrongdoer is reduced if the victim’s actions increased the likelihood of the wrong occurring. For example, if I ride my motorbike dangerously, or dash across the road, someone who knocks me down with his car will pay less compensation than if I had used a zebra crossing. So why should this not apply to rape? This argument is not uncommon:

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There is, however, a huge difference. In the case of motor accidents, the harm is caused (you guessed it), by accident; it is an accidental wrong. This is different from rape, which is a deliberate wrong.

Think about it this way: if plans to murder me by running me over with his car, surely I cannot be blamed for failing to use the overhead bridge, or for leaving my house to begin with, even though these would have prevented my death. The murderer, through his/her deliberate acts, committed a wrong, and this causes my actions to ‘drop out of the picture‘. In other words, deliberate wrongs belong to a special class of wrongs for which the perpetrator is fully responsible for despite the victims’ actions. This is because in such a case, it is exercise of the wrongdoer’s free will in causing harm that becomes the focus of our moral and legal censure.

Rapes are caused by people. They are not things that happen to people. Unlike getting struck by lightning, or being crushed by a falling tree, rape is a deliberate act, committed with the intention to harm. Hence, the wrong in rape lies solely with the rapist, never the victim.

Third, one might ask: where it is ‘easy’ to avoid rape, shouldn’t victims attract some blame if they fail to do so? In response, I argue that it is not for anyone to say what is ‘easy’ for someone else. As seen from the comments above, some victim-blamers suggest that for women, it is as ‘easy’ as, for example, not drinking, or avoiding the company of men who have previously made advances towards them.

This is wrong. Women are already disadvantaged in the workplace due to sexist attitudes and the fact that corporate leadership remains male-dominated (I recently wrote an article on this). It is unlikely that they can avoid the advancements of their male colleagues, or avoid corporate events that include alcohol without being seen by their male-led corporate leadership  ‘unsociable’, or failing to be a ‘team-player’, and sacrificing their career prospectus.

Hence, the argument that vulnerable situations are ‘easy’ to avoid ignores the unequal power structures that women face on a daily basis. In the rape case reported above, for example, the victim had ‘tolerated Ong’s (the rapist) advances so as not to jeopardise her internship at an F&B company whose owners were friends with the accused’.

I am glad that in the comments section of the above-mentioned news article, some people have called out victim-blamers for their ill-founded views. However the fact that victim-blaming comments regularly end up as the ‘top’ comments (with the most ‘likes’) demonstrate the pervasiveness of this regressive mentality in our society. I hope that my contribution will help people call out those who victim-blame, and explain to them why they are wrong, and why their attitudes must change.

By Rio Hoe

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