It's rude to point: blame culture's easy way out

New crime statistics show that reports of rape are on the increase - yet the conviction rate remains pitifully low. Why, asks Carter-Ann Mahdavi, are the female victims still being blamed, and the actions of male rapists ignored?

Carter-Ann Mahdavi, 19 August 2003

Rape is on the increase, according to new crime reports released on July 17th. Rape is always on the increase. The Home Office has disputed the results by arguing that due to the National Crime Record Standard changing how it classifies certain crime, and recent police projects focused on sexual violence, more and more women are coming forward and reporting rape. So according to one source rape in rising and another it is the same. Either way it is not on the decrease. And that is what should be questioned. With the new attempts the police seem to be taking to combat rape, it has not declined. Why not? How come nothing is changing?

The one solution that seems to be circulating is that women need to be more careful.

The head of Scotland Yard's Operation Sapphire Squad, which focuses on sexual violence, declared that the fact women were becoming more 'social' meant there would be a rise in sexual assault. Of course, it is presented as a woman's problem. More 'social'? Humans are social animals. Women are becoming more social. If anything women should be encouraged to be social. This is not something that British women decided to do one day, it is one of the aspects of society that feminists fought to be given to women: to go out alone, unsupervised, and unprotected! There are countries where this is still solely a male privilege.

The one answer that seems to be circulating is that women need to be more careful. Through out history sexual assault has been somewhat of a taboo subject. In cultures all over the world rape can not only harm a woman physically and emotionally but socially, leaving her 'used' an outcast, not suitable for marriage or motherhood. It has been treated this way because it has always the woman's fault: what were you wearing, what did you say, why were you alone with him? The list goes on. One of the common elements of recovering from rape is dealing with guilt. How many ways can a woman give the wrong message? How dare we still let this be a question that can still be asked?

But the worst is yet to come. The report also mentioned that acquaintance rape as opposed to stranger rape was rising. On the surface this may sound positive. It gives the sense that women are safe in public. And it is telling us to be more careful with whom we socialize. We are safer alone then in the company of others: men. Once again the mixed message is more garbled than ever: it's okay to be independent, but beware of those you think you trust. Make it your responsibility to doubt the intentions of your male friends.

These are age-old solutions; there is no need for research groups and police strategies to report that the best way to avoid rape is to avoid men. It is the same lesson that parents have been telling their daughters for generations - beware of men; sex is on their minds etc. It is not working though. The only change is that women are slowly learning that they should not be ashamed of rape because it is not their fault. A new technique is needed. And that means turning to men...

Asking women to fix the problem of rape is inadequate; we must start looking at what is wrong in our culture to allow this behavior.

We live in a blame culture. Someone must always take responsibility. The situation that the UK has found itself in is no different. We must find someone to take responsibility for the rise in rape. There are many theories that try to explain the cause of sexual violence: sexual frustration, class oppression, and abusive upbringing. Most of these theories though can be dismantled and be proven to be insufficient (Sylvia Walby's Theorizing Patriarchy is an excellent example). It is not an easy problem to fix. Why is rape rising? Why is acquaintance rape rising? History has shown us that asking women to fix the problem - a male problem - is inadequate. We must start looking at what is wrong in our culture to allow this behavior. It could be argued that the problem cannot be solved with another police campaign and that the most practical solution is for women to be 'more responsible', but in the long run that is what is holding us back.

There is a hesitation before blaming men for social problems. It seems ridiculous to blame a whole sex for a problem and in a sense it is. When it comes to women though, it seems to be historical trend to associate social problems with women: the working mothers are to blame for latch-key kids, women's movement is to blame for the 'feminization' of men. We can all think of things that women have been blamed for. Marilyn French in The War Against Women, discusses the avoidance blaming men:

So powerful and pervasive is the taboo against blaming men-as-a-class in our society that even social scientists who deplore male violence against women perpetuate a sense of male blamelessness for these acts... social scientists who write about male violence towards women and whose work may be aimed at ameliorating the situation use locutions suggesting that no one is responsible for what is happening, that 'things' happen as it were by themselves, or that both parties are equally responsible.

While more women are reporting rape, the actual number of convictions is dropping. With all these new campaigns and strategies to combat sexual violence, women are the only ones who seem to be listening. It important that women believe that rape is not their fault - but how can we even begin to believe that these attempts are making a dent in society if they are missing 50% of their demographic?

About the author

Carter-Ann Mahdavi

Carter-Ann Mahdavi is a Sociology student at Goldsmiths College and tries to stay optimistic!

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