Women 'more likely' to see rape as victim's fault?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A new UK report on rape and sexual assault has revealed that many people believe a rape victim is at least partly to blame for what happened to them – and that women are more likely to victim-blame than men.

More than half the people surveyed believed that ‘there are some circumstances where a person should accept responsibility’ for the attack, with a third of women blaming a victim for going to her attacker’s house for a drink or ‘dressing provocatively’.

The Wake Up To Rape report, commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the Havens services for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted, questioned more than 1,000 London residents and provided a worrying insight into current attitudes.

Other situations in which respondents felt the victim is to blame for rape included ‘dancing in a sexy way with a man’ (22 per cent) and ‘acting flirtatiously’ (21 per cent), with 18-24 year olds most likely to feel the victim should accept responsibility for what happened. 27 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women also felt that ‘most claims of rape are probably not true’.

Despite the best efforts of many organisations and individuals to raise awareness that it’s the rapists we should be blaming, it’s depressing to see that many people still demonise victims and doubt their claims. Sadly it’s also unsurprising.

We think we’ve come so far since rape allegations were routinely dismissed over the victim’s short skirt or sex life, but a week doesn’t go by without the tabloids covering the case of a woman who has ‘cried rape’ and UK rape conviction rates stand at just 6.5 per cent. The comment sections of news stories on rape cases are often full of accusations that the victim is lying.

As women we’re constantly told what we can do to avoid being raped, whether that’s not drinking too much or not going out alone at night. Campaigns tend to concentrate on telling potential victims how to prevent an attack rather than telling potential rapists not to rape. Little wonder, then, that victim-blaming is rife - it’s truly terrifying to think that almost a quarter of people see dancing as incitement to rape, as if men just can’t control themselves at the sight of a packed dancefloor.

Public perception has also clearly had an impact on the actions people would take if they were attacked. Despite the fact that 23 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men said they have been made to have sex when against their will, one in five felt that they would not want to call a helpline or referral centre such as the Havens or contact the police. One respondent said:

“I would be afraid of being demoralised by the police and society during court proceedings, why bother when they are just going to get off the charges anyway?”

Others cited embarrassment, fear of repercussions from their attacker, or worry that their family would find out as reasons why they would not want anyone to know what had happened. Over half said they would not want to tell their partner.

Elizabeth Harrison from Havens said:

“Clearly, women are in a position where they need to take responsibility for themselves - but whatever you wear and whatever you do does not give somebody else the right to rape you.”

The fact that victim-blaming was more prevalent among 18-24 year olds suggests that serious efforts need to be made to make sure schools, young people’s services and campaigns targeted at teens promote a strong message that rape is never the victim’s fault.

I think we sometimes have a tendency to assume that it’s the older generation who have less enlightened attitudes about sex and relationships, but the Wake Up to Rape report seems to prove otherwise.

Just 68 per cent of the 18-24 year olds thought that a man forcing his girlfriend or wife to have sex is rape, with 18 per cent saying they didn’t know and 15 per cent believing it’s not. In contrast, 76 per cent of 35-50 year olds were sure that such a situation is rape.

The survey has drawn shocked reactions from feminist groups, rape victims and support groups. Stopping victim-blaming is just one step on the road to fighting rape culture, but it’s a vital one that we must all stand for.

This post was orignally featured at BitchBuzz. Image via Emergency Photography's Flickr.

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