New feature: Are women and girls vulnerable?

// 19 May 2008

Violent men do not attack girls or women because they are ‘vulnerable’, argues Jennifer Drew, and it deflects attention from the perpetrators to pretend otherwise

There is a buzzword circulating the legal, media and societal systems, and it is being used to deflect attention away from male accountability and responsibility for men’s violence against women and girls.

What is this word? Why ‘vulnerability’, and we increasingly hear this word being used by judges when sentencing men convicted of raping or murdering women and girls. Prosecution council too depicts female victims of male violence as ‘vulnerable’ creatures. The media, politicians and society in general are all claiming acts of male violence are ones perpetrated upon vulnerable women or girls. But rarely have I heard or read male victims of male portrayed as vulnerable victims. I wonder why?

Now, before anyone berates me for claiming women subjected to male violence are being turned into powerless victims, I am not in fact rendering women survivors of male violence ‘powerless victims’. I leave that to the ones who use the word ‘vulnerable’. Rather, women survivors of male violence are victims of the crimes these misogynist males commit. Therein lies the difference – not powerless victims but victims of crimes men commit against them.

Read on here

Comments From You

BareNakedLady // Posted 20 May 2008 at 2:52 pm

Definition of ‘vulnerable’:

able to be easily physically, emotionally, or mentally hurt, influenced or attacked

– well, I think victims of violence often can fit this definition. If someone has been attacked, and it was not that hard for the attacker to do so, doesn’t that prove that they were, regrettably, vulnerable? And it *is* all too easy for men to rape women and get away with it. It *is* far too easy for men to cause women emotional, mental or physical pain and not even realise they have done anything wrong. Calling women vulnerable is simply calling a spade a spade – the issue isn’t the semantics but the fact that in this patriarchal society, women *are* more vulnerable than men. And I don’t think it is putting blame on a victim to say that they were vulnerable. It can mean that the attacker has chosen to exploit/create vulnerability in order to make a victim easier to attack, which reflects badly on the attacker, not the victim.

The example of Jason King: ‘Jason King was recently convicted of raping and sexually abusing young girls, yet the prosecution council told the court King… was a “predatory male who set out to ensnare young and vulnerable children”’. Surely it is obvious that these children were vulnerable. They were children. Children are vulnerable. They are also young – it’s a tautology, the prosecution council is emphasising three times the point of how much King was attacking people who were unable to defend themselves.

I would also suggest googling ‘vulnerable boy news’ for sad proof that anyone can be vulnerable.

I agree that it’s wrong that ‘vulnerable girl’ is a term that can be so casually thrown about by a court/newspaper/whoever. But the ‘wrongness’ of it doesn’t lie in calling a woman vulnerable, but in the fact that she is – that we live in a world where women are more vulnerable and men are more powerful. Needing the term is the problem, not using it.

Jack Leland // Posted 20 May 2008 at 8:06 pm

Hmm. I have to disagree, Bare, and side with Jennifer here. (And if I am misstating her position I would be happy for clarification.) I think that the patriarchal lie is that females are biologically inferior and use of the term vulnerable promotes that. But the key here is not the propagandistic use of the term “vulnerable,” but rather the patriarchal lie that females are biologically inferior. Females are not biologically inferior, nor inherently vulnerable; many men are simply defective. The truth is, this defect in men is probably evolutionary in origin, and so could be viewed as proof of the biologically inferiority of men. The patriarchal lie covers it up by projection. So women are called vulnerable rather than men called vicious, sadistic, misogynistic, or defective. Were we to raise out consciousnesses about how prevalent male viciousness is (rather than focusing on female vulnerability), we would do a world of good toward tearing down male privilege and power, because it would be rather clear that patriarchy is sham and that the power to be irrationally vicious toward women is undeserved. That is not counter-productive male-bashing; it is a useful contribution to the public discourse about gender oppression.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 21 May 2008 at 3:45 pm

I completely agree with Jennifer’s overall point, but I would point out in Scotland (not sure about rest of UK) ‘vulnerable’ when used to talk about children or adults with disabilities is a legal term, which allows for harsher punishments of people who hurt those who are ‘vulnerable’. Adult women without disabilties, of course, do not fall into this category. You do hear young men in Scotland called vulnerable quite a lot, because of the high suicide and murder rates for the 15-24 age group- but this is not attributed to their gender but society. Also, young gay men were often called ‘vulnerable’ in the debates leading to the reduction in the age of consent- which might raise interesting questions in light of this discussion.

Cara // Posted 30 May 2008 at 12:37 pm

Good piece. Yes, it’s all about the behaviour of girls/women – if they go around being all provocative and vulnerable, what do we expect, with those monstrous men around? *sarcasm*. Conveniently ignores the male perpetrators, of course – from the tone of most of the public discussion on female “vulnerability”, you’d think that men were wild animals who are unable to control their behaviour, and who you must consequently be very careful around, and back away slowly if it behaves aggressively. Not, you know, adult humans who are responsible for their actions.

And good point Feminist Avatar, actually, the word vulnerable should be used to refer only to children and those who, well, actually are vulnerable (disability/ illness).

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