Slut-shaming and victim-blaming: the journalist, the vicar and the politician #bbcqt

by Philippa Willitts // 11 May 2012, 09:05

Tags: BBC, question time, slut-shaming, twitter, victim-blaming

A photograph of a woman sitting on the ground at the London Slutwalk, with a bright pink placard reading
I've always enjoyed Question Time, but watching it while on Twitter brings a whole new perspective. Following the #bbcqt hashtag means that every aspect of my amusement, fury, skepticism, agreement and more can be shared, and validated, with others live. What's more, the hashtag truly makes the programme 50 times funnier, because people's pithy comments and thoughts are spot on and hilarious.

So, last night I sat down to Question Time with Twitter loaded and ready. The second question was, "Was race an issue in the recent Rochdale grooming case?". If only the panellists had read our blog yesterday! I braced myself for some awkwardly-worded attitudes about race and culture, but what came next actually stunned me.

The first person to answer was journalist Peter Oborne. My jaw dropped open when he stated that

"One of [the things involved] was the young girls who accepted the advances of these disgusting men. What does it tell us about what's happened to our society that we have 12 year old girls, 13 year old girls, who are happy to give up their affection and their beauty to men in exchange for a packet of crisps or a bit of credit on their mobile phone?".
No sooner had he completed his victim-blaming tirade when an audience member contributed to the discussion. This man, a vicar, stated,
"Children are guided by peripheral ideologies and interests, where they feel it is appropriate, at 13, to go out - forgive me for saying this - I'm not saying the victims in this case did that - but it seems prevalent on the streets in the area - where they go out dressed as if they are looking for that sort of issue to take place. They don't give themselves the privilege of growing up any more".
Yes, he went there. 12 and 13 year old girls going out dressed as if they are looking for it.

The next audience member was a woman who feels that society is not "addressing race", and that "we've got to stop with this political correctness [...] We're not racist, but we want to address this issue". Yes. Not racist, but...

Next up was Tory MP Caroline Spelman. The first thing she did was echo what the judge in the case said, that it was "lust and greed" at the heart of this case, not race. Good. She also went on to point out that the sexual exploitation of women and girls is endemic. True. However, she then went on to add her own kind of victim-blaming to the mix.

"It's not an easy time to be the parent of young teenage girls. You can't just lock them up at 7 o'clock - we don't want to live in a country where we need to lock up young women at 7 o'clock. We try and give them the right values, the right instincts, to keep themselves safe".
Oh, Caroline. By this time, I was raging.

And I wasn't the only one.


Tweets were flying by at top speed, such was the strength of feeling. The panellists, the #bbcqt hashtag, and even the word 'vicar' were trending topics, meaning that they were the subjects being discussed the most.

Twitter #bbcqt trending topics screenshot

Even Mary Beard, who in every other way was wonderful, gave a response about teaching teenage girls not to be attacked, rather than teaching boys and men not to attack.

Some of the audience members pointed out that the police failed the victims initially, as did the care system.

When it came to Lord Oakeshott, he thankfully made a point of saying,

"I'm sorry to disagree with the Minister of religion in the front, but I thought he was verging on that it was partly the girls' problems for how they dress or something. That cannot be right - this was an evil crime, whatever the girls were wearing, and we must focus on that, surely".
Finally! Then, sadly, back to Oborne.
"We have to ask, why were these girls so vulnerable? Why were they so ready to surrender that innocence for a bag of crisps?"
Then, god help us, we returned to the vicar. By this stage I was too apoplectic with rage to even hear what anybody else said. I believe he explained that we had misunderstood him.

Does it really still need to be said that these victims did not surrender their innocence for a bag of crisps? That they were not happy to give up their affection in exchange for a packet of crisps or a bit of credit on their mobile phone? That they did not go out dressed as if they are looking for that sort of issue to take place? Do we still need to point out that teaching girls the right values and instincts does not make any difference to the decision a rapist may take to rape them?

It was offensive, it was depressing, and it was terrifying. Mary Tracy on Twitter summed up the discussion well.


[The first image is a photograph of a woman sitting on the ground at the London Slutwalk, with a bright pink placard reading "Stop victim-blaming". It was taken by Tom Radenz and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. The second image is a screenshot of the Twitter trending topics which was taken by @laurevans311]

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 11 May 2012 at 09:36

AAAAAAAARRRRGGHHHHHH :-(

IronFly // Posted 11 May 2012 at 09:50

It breaks my heart hearing people say that sort of stuff, mostly because it reminds me of my cousin who was raped and murdered, her family left to handlel victim blaming rumours afterwards*, but also because any half decent human being should know better: a child is a vulnerable human being and should never be exploited like this. How warped must your view of the world be to think that a young child can 'ask for it' ?!

I volunteer with children and young people, and the effects of being exploited and abused by adults are heart breaking to see, painful, and very long lasting.

But judging by the twitter responses it seems that the majority do understand that victim blaming makes no sense, so then why are some people so unable to grasp it? And a vicar? Shame on him.

*http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/shreen-ayob/street-harassment-women_b_1367236.html

JessLeeds // Posted 11 May 2012 at 10:03

My friend was in the audience last night and said during the things the vicar was saying and Peter Oborne there were loud boos throughout. Why were these edited out?
Last night's victim blaming sesh was appauling and the beeb should be ashamed, Dimbleby should have not let it go on for as long as it did. I was sat with a 12 year old with it (she had come into the kitchen for a drink, she doesn't normally watch it) and she was disgusted. "So what if we wear short skirts, its just a fashion." More sense than any of these.

IronFly // Posted 11 May 2012 at 10:13

JessLeeds - that's awful that the BBC edited that stuff out, it would've been really good to see the dissent! They didn't edit out the boos when Nick Griffin was on QT. :/

Feminist Avatar // Posted 11 May 2012 at 10:18

"surrender that innocence"; "their affections and their beauty" - these are some nasty-ass metaphors for virginity/ having sex.* Vomit.

Do you hear that women, have sex and you have lost not only your "innocence" (whatever the fuck that means) but your affection and your beauty too. I guess most of us are just corrupt, emotionless and ugly whores.

*Not that I'm implying that these girls had sex, they were raped, but clearly that fact was missed by the commentators.

sian norris // Posted 11 May 2012 at 10:20

thanks for writing this Philippa. i was only following it on twitter and was heartbroken.

I made a comment about men choosing to rape and then had people telling me off for not talking about other types of violence. but the issue with this case was that those men chose to commit those crimes. they chose to rape and sexually exploit.

it wasn't race, it wasn't the girls, it wasn't the clothes. It was the men.

I wrote this anyway about how i felt last night: http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/dont-presume.html

Also, i don't understand Oborne. I remember a doc he did years ago about gun crime in the USA, and the war in Iraq. it was great. spot on. very moving, very informed. then you turn around and he's going off on one victim blaming and saying how cameron's a jolly nice chap. i can't bear it!

Rose // Posted 11 May 2012 at 10:49

Rape is very much about the rapist. He defines all the terms. Thats just kinda what it is.
Not sure why/how so many people get confused about that.

I grew up in a similar climate to those girls - though never personally directly abused, I did witness the abuse of close (school) friends. No police ever became involved, no help, and the perpetrators are still up to it from what I've heard. And I would say that there is a serious issue about the socalisation of young girls. Frankly, alot of 13 year old girls have extremely low self-worth, and live in poverty, (were a little sounds like a lot more), and yeah, a fair number start to equate their worth to a 50p porn mag. Girls are taught that women are for sale, and cheap.

I am disgusted by that attitude of women. I am disgusted by men who take advantage of it. The girls were vulnerable because they were children - but it wasn't only their rapist that had been abusive towards them.

I recently had a guy spin the whole 'women who drink need to take some responsibility if they are raped' line - he gave the comparison of a drunk falling in front of a good drivers car.
I told him that if I see a drunk, I slow down incase they fall, recognising my duty of care towards them. I don't see them, and accelerate at them for 'fun'. That would be unmitigated murder.

Vulnerable does not mean 'at fault' - it means that if you are targeted, you have less chance of escape or that you are disproportionately targeted (in hate crimes). Targeting the vulnerable seems extra sadistic to me.

Julia // Posted 11 May 2012 at 11:24

I didn't see Question Time last night but I know I would have been on twitter demanding the re-education of boys and men. None of those committing this crime would want this for their own daughters, sisters, mothers, so why do this to someone else's daughter, sister, mother? I include mother because at some point rape victims may become mothers. It is long past the point where males in our world can continue to act without responsibility and our culture shrug it off as 'it's always been like that'.

Jon BG // Posted 11 May 2012 at 12:08

Hello again Phillipa

It says something when you and I are in agreement, but I - and fellow right wingers on the QT chatroom we inhabit - had our collective jaw on the floor. Not just with Oborne - who has form for this sort of thing, but the seeming consensus in the room and on the panel, that there was so little condemnation of the rapists for what seemed fear of offending racial or cultural sensibilities.

Auntie Ali // Posted 11 May 2012 at 14:32

Absolutely horrified by this. When will people stop suggesting that the victims of rape somehow bring it upon themselves. We should of course help to protect our girls by warning them BUT above all shout from the houses that sexual abuse/rape are TOTALLY unacceptable, ever, non negotiable. When women suggest that the victims of rape/sexual abuse are to blame, words fail me. I hope and pray that none of them or their nearest and dearest are ever victims. They can't have been or they would never say such things. I am a mother and grandmother and had hoped things were getting better.

Alasdair // Posted 11 May 2012 at 15:15

Yeah, how dare those girls let themselves get raped? Obviously, those little sluts seduced these thoroughly decent men into having sex with them. Sheesh...

Reminds me of the Catholic sex abuse cases, some people somehow managed to blame the victims in that one too. For some people, the responsibility for rape lies with everybody except the rapist themselves.

Mary Tracy // Posted 11 May 2012 at 16:44

Guys, we should totally get Question Time to issue a clarification or an apology of sorts. It's absolutely appalling that the conversation didn't focus on the perpetrators once. This is not how they should be discussing rape and it's a disservice to victims everywhere.

Should we write an angry letter and sign it by the hundreds?

Clodia // Posted 11 May 2012 at 16:54

Made me absolutely furious: how dare anyone suggest that children (and they were all children) bring rape and abuse upon themselves because of their dress,the fact that some of them were in care, the fact that they perhaps had less love in their lives than some other children and so were more vulnerable to grooming etc. How dare anyone suggest that any female of any age invites rape, dressed, undressed, drunk, sober, virgin or sexually experienced? It is men who rape.

Shadow // Posted 11 May 2012 at 18:25

Typical male-centric rape apologist behaviour. Wonder if these rape apologist men and their female handmaidens would claim a boy/man was responsible for 'causing another male to rape him?' I doubt it because unlike women and girls males are seen as never accountable for committing and/or being victims of male violence. Oh and by the way malestream media continues to ignore fact many, many male catholic sexually predatory priests have also targetted and subjected women and girls to sexual violence. But that is trivial is it not because only male victims of these male sexually predatory priests count as 'real victims.'

Agree totally with Mary Tracey and others that it is those males who commit sexual violence against women and girl children who must be held accountable and responsible for their actions. Males make the choice to rape/sexually target girls and women but of course majority of men will never take responsibility for their sexual predatory behaviour and those who do not engage in preying on females continue to refuse to speak out and condemn the male sexual predators.

So if women and girls are responsible for men's crimes committed against them does this mean male victims are responsible and accountable whenever their property is stolen/or they are subjected to male assault?

By the way no one has mentioned how boys continue to be socialised into dominant masculinity whereby no male is ever accountable for his sexual behaviour because males supposedly have the innate right of sexual access to any female. Why isn't the focus on men and their sexual promiscuity - if we believe female sexuality is responsible for men raping females?

Grace // Posted 11 May 2012 at 20:32

Do it Mary Tracey... I'll definitely sign it. As should we all. Lets let the people behind the media know how angry we are about this. Is it any surprise that so many women still think the victim was asking for it? Or that men and boys think it's okay to rape? How could people not think that when they are constantly being conditioned by our media to think that way? Let's change the way the media portrays these kind of situations and then we will start to see a difference in people's attitudes...that's where change happens.

Nina // Posted 11 May 2012 at 22:32

I dont watch QT for the reasons that others above have mentioned but if I had heard this appalling stuff my bloodpressure pills would have been useless in the face of the apoplexy this sort of ignorant nonsense would have induced. Do they not hear themselves saying things they probably know they are wrong about?

Elizabeth Layton // Posted 11 May 2012 at 22:58

Have just watched BBCQT on iplayer.

Don't know how to describe my feelings right now, first disbelieving (at what I was hearing), shocked, appalled, finally bloody furious! I'm still trying to calm down.

What was said sickens me. Sickens me to the core. If there is going to be a letter of complaint to the BBC demanding an apology for the way this 'discussion' was handled and left unchallenged then I'll sign it as I'm sure many others will.

My God we've along way to go. This is just not acceptable.
Thanks, Liz.

Ellen // Posted 12 May 2012 at 02:09

I watched this on Iplayer having watched the argument rage on twitter. I am nineteen and heading for a heart attack at this rate! Like everybody else I am furious that nobody, not even the women there, had the guts to stand up and say no, this is not their fault. If I'd have been there, god that vicar would have got an earful from me! I do plan to have children one day and, when I do, there will be two messages I will impart. One of those is that rape, or any kind of sexual assault, whether perpetrated by men or women, is not their fault. The other is that rape is undoubtedly a crime, it is beyond wrong and it is always the fault of the one who instigates it. No means no and there is no way around that. It makes me so angry that some people feel that they have a right to anyone else's body.

John // Posted 12 May 2012 at 08:21

I think it was 1996 when Paricia Wynne Davies a journalist for the Independent quoted a judge in a rape case who said of the six year old victim "She was no innocent" what kind of message does that send out.

CILNewman // Posted 12 May 2012 at 11:46

We MUST do something about this. If this were a racism issue, complaints would be made publicly and someone would be held accountable. What can we do??

CILNewman // Posted 12 May 2012 at 12:13

Whether a victim is 6 or 26 is irrelevant - victims should never be to blame. I think though that the 1996 case mentioned above does show the lengths that our society will go to in order to exonerate men for their actions, no matter how absurd their argument may be. The fact that a judge would want to blame a 6 year old child is testament to these lengths, and to that absurdity.

Maggie // Posted 12 May 2012 at 12:14

Can anyone advise on how to contact the BBC on this issue? My partner and I both watched it and were appalled by the slant taken.

CILNewman // Posted 12 May 2012 at 12:17

This would be my question too. How can we complain, and can we do it en masse?

kirstente // Posted 12 May 2012 at 12:31

The BBC complaints page is here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/.
Might be worth contacting the individual panelists as well?

CC // Posted 12 May 2012 at 15:55

During the BBC 6'oclock national news coverage of the gang rape story, they decided to interview a young man who lived in the community to ask him what he thought. The journalist asked something about why the men took advantage of young girls...the man said "it takes two to tango".
Why did whoever in the BBC who edited the piece decide this was acceptable to broadcast? It just enforces this (wrong) view that the victims are in some part to blame for what happened to them.

HeatherStill // Posted 12 May 2012 at 20:05

What is the age where these girls won't get blamed for what had happened to them? When does it stop becoming the man's responsibility and becomes the girls? 11? 12? And what the hell was up with Osbourne's obbsession with bags of crisps? What had that got to do with anything?!

S // Posted 13 May 2012 at 11:27

I don't have much to add, other than agreeing with what's been said. I ended up watching it and wowsers. Just. Ergh.

At least there were a few shots of the audience looking like they were about to facepalm I suppose...

douglas gray // Posted 14 May 2012 at 11:36

I was shocked at these comments on QT and was put out enough that I started to doubt I had really heard them, these children were victims of violence and coercion, not of their own actions.

emmacrews // Posted 21 May 2012 at 14:10

It is bad enough that any human being should have to experience rape or any type of sexual violence but to also be held in anyway responsible is unbelievably - I simply do not have the words! SO MUCH NEEDS TO BE DONE TO CHANGE THESE ARCHAIC POINTS OF VIEW X

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