More depressing evidence of rape victim blaming

// 15 February 2010

A survey of just over 1,000 Londoners found depressingly high levels of victim-blaming.

The BBC reports that more than half of those surveyed said they believed “there were some circumstances when a rape victim should accept responsibility for an attack”.

Of the women who believed some victims should take responsibility, 71% thought a person should accept responsibility when getting into bed with someone, compared with 57% of men.

Elizabeth Harrison from Haven said there was never an excuse for forcing a woman to do something she did not want to.

“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.

“It’s important people take the time to actually look at what they are doing and make sure the person they are with is actually wanting to go ahead with what they are proposing.”

Moreover, the survey found a high percentage of people reported they had been “made to have sex when they didn’t want to”:

And one in five adults had been in a situation where they were made to have sex when they did not want to. This had happened to more women (23%) than men (20%).

I’d like to say all this is shocking, but is it really? Even the police’s anti-rape campaigns lapse into victim-blaming, and look what happens in the courts and the media.

As Melissa McEwan said some time ago but still holds very true:

Quite literally, the only thing a person can do to avoid being raped is never be in the same room as a rapist. Since they don’t announce themselves or wear signs or glow purple, that’s not a very reasonable expectation, is it?

Enough victim blaming. Enough.

Photo by Peter John Chen, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Kelly // Posted 15 February 2010 at 5:54 pm

To me this sounds like rape itself is acceptable… this is where this journey ends with these attitudes:

You wear a longer skirt… trousers…you take off your make up… you avoid men… you never go out… you stay in, still get raped… get a sentence for sexual misconduct… get stoned to death.

It’s all on the same continuum. Going different degrees along in different parts of the world.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 15 February 2010 at 6:25 pm

The results of this survey didn’t surprise me in the least given women and girls are constantly told they not the male perpetrators are responsible for causing supposedly innocent men to rape them.

I blame the media and its consistent women-blaming articles and this in itself promotes the message which so many women and girls internalise that they are responsible for preventing males from committing sexual violence against them. One or two women-blaming articles do not have much societal effect but given we live in a rape culture and the dominant message continues to be women not men are responsible for preventing rape, then we shouldn’t be surprised so many women and girls believe they are to blame.

When do we ever hear admonitions and central government messages telling men to refrain from drinking alcohol and walking home alone late at night. Never is the answer because men are not the ones being targetted – it is women and the only solution for all women and girls is to isolate themselves totally from any male. But that is impossible so instead we have our male supremacist society abdicating accountability and instead blaming women and girls for daring to even talk to a male – let alone trust a male.

Until such time as media messages and central government focus on holding male perpetrators accountable and work towards changing the embedded women-blaming and contempt for women in general – nothing will change.

Member of Truth About Rape

Annie Mole // Posted 15 February 2010 at 7:09 pm

I was shouting at the radio when I heard this report this morning. However, after calming down decided that it was a good thing, as it gets people discussing an issue where even in the 21st century we still put blame on the victim. I tend to always look at excuses with surveys, take them with a pinch of salt & would love to know how random the people were who completed the survey. Whatever the circumstances of the survey, it has got into the public eye and hopefully will shame some people into thinking how hurtful it is to blame the victim of a crime

Elmo // Posted 15 February 2010 at 8:23 pm

Some good news-as I was going out to kickboxing I caught the end of channel fives five live show-that fluffy inane ‘news’ show with that footballer and thew woman with the shiny teeth.

Anyway, they were discussing the statistice, and, to my suprise and delight, every one of them were completly shocked by the statistics and were aghast that women were being blamed. I was expecting them to do a “debate” on it (the type of tactic normally taken by shows of this calibre)-but no, they all agreed that women should never be blamed for rape.

So I just thought that was quite positive, I really wasnt expecting it.

Elmo // Posted 15 February 2010 at 8:27 pm

oh my god, my grammer and spelling gets worse every day.

Jackie Bather // Posted 15 February 2010 at 8:38 pm

I really don’t understand this at all. Do the women , particularly, in the survey need awareness-raising education ? Otherwise, I truly can’t fathom their reactions. I’m not surprised that the men in the survey were keen to pass the blame- same old story.

Kathryn H // Posted 15 February 2010 at 9:27 pm

Yeah, doesn’t surprise me at all when there is still that horrific victim-blaming mini-cab advert out there, all over the tube, etc…

Valerie Kelley // Posted 16 February 2010 at 5:10 am

It just goes to the sorry state of affairs. But I agree that I should treat every man as a rapist. Some get offended, but I just tell them that if they did a better job at policing themselves and each other, then I wouldn’t have to.

I also like to turn it around on them.

“You know, I could accuse you of rape, so maybe we shouldn’t ride the elevator together. My urge to accuse men of rape is so strong sometimes that I can’t control it. Maybe it’s because of the outfit that you’re wearing that makes me want to accuse you of rape. You did smile at me, didn’t you?”

That pretty much shuts them up because they know I’m right.

Here’s something that also shuts up victim blamers:

Why is it that a man can wait to ‘lose control’ when there are no witnesses around??

Seems awfully lucky of these guys, doesn’t it? So convenient.


Claire // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:03 am

Sadly, these findings don’t surprise me at all. As a rape victim, I have often found men reacting better and more sympathetically than women when I make a disclosure. In an attempt to make myself feel better, I assume that the women who react badly are not using their brains very much. They are reacting out of instinctive sexual jealousy and because they do not understand how ugly and abhorrent rape is. They are asking themselves sub-consciously : what makes her so attractive that a man can’t help himself? Why not me? We might as civilised people try to control reproductive and violent urges, but you can’t deny we have them at some level whether conscious or not. And the other explanation, which I don’t really feel easy with, is that women find it so abhorrent that they prefer to think it couldn’t happen to them and therefore seek to find reasons why it happened to the victim which differentiate the victim from themselves – dress, social class, occupation, life-style, sexual history. I think this is more of a conscious thought which masks the sub-conscious one which they are ashamed of having.

Shout me down if you like. I’m a rape victim and that makes my views territory for everyone.

JenniferRuth // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:16 am

@ Jackie

Yes, I think everyone does need awareness education. Personally, I think rape should be discussed during sex education. More than that, there should be discussions about consent. I think a lot of people don’t understand what consent is and how important it is to get. That is why you get arguments like “She didn’t say no…” and people who blame themselves after they have been forced to have sex or engage in a sexual act.

It isn’t, actually, that hard to understand if your sexual partner is consenting or not. The problem is that people don’t think they have/someone else has done anything particularly wrong unless the conditions of the rape meets a standard definition of what rape is (y’know – stranger, at knifepoint, with physical injury). Anything else is discounted as not really “real” rape. People need to understand consent a better and just how wrong it is to cross that line no matter how nice you are or how long you have known that person or if they had oral sex with you beforehand.

sianmarie // Posted 16 February 2010 at 1:42 pm

i was upset but not surprised by the findings. I think perhaps that sometimes women who haven’t been raped (and this is just my theory, and i haven’t been raped myself) want to comfort themselves by blaming women who get raped for the crime because they didn’t follow the ‘rules’, but if a woman follows the ‘rules’ then she won’t get raped. because it is such a horrible and frightening thought – the truth, that there are no rules, there are just rapists, who will rape. but although i abhor the thought of blaming rape victims for the crime, i think perhaps that is one possibility why women blame other women. a sort of self protection, to try and persuade themselves they are safe.

of course, you can never wear a short skirt, never drink and never leave the house – you can still be raped. there are no protective rules.

and what was so hideous is the fact that after feminists fought for years to recognise marital rape is a crime, women and men are blaming rape victims for getting into bed with the rapist. not much good if your husband/partner is the rapist is it?

very sad. i am becoming more and more convinced that the world just hates women.

if you want to fight back come to bristol reclaim the night on 26th feb (

Cycleboy // Posted 16 February 2010 at 1:57 pm

I have, for a long time, believed that the conduct of the woman should have ABSOLUTELY no bearing on the verdict or sentence. Period.

If a woman were to walk stark naked through a city centre, a man who attacks and rapes her is STILL guilty of rape. A judge might want to comment on her behaviour, even to refer her to a psychiatrist, but the man should still be convicted and sentenced whatever her behaviour leading up to the attack.

gadgetgal // Posted 16 February 2010 at 2:04 pm

It does make for very depressing reading but it also seemed to miss the most important part of the research, which is why do people, especially women, feel like this? Without that there’s not a lot we can do with this. I can try to imagine why other women feel like this, but since I don’t it would be exactly that, my imagination.

Maybe some follow up work needs to be done – it seems that the education that’s been put out there about rape either isn’t getting to where it should go or it’s missing something vital to change people’s opinions. It sort of reminds me of an article I read on another site (I think it was DoubleX) about how younger women in the US are becoming less sympathetic towards people getting abortions so all the headway that had been made was starting to be lost. I don’t think they managed to come up with a solution, but when a couple of younger women came onto the site to explain why they felt this way I thought that was the most interesting, useful part. They were shouted down but I wonder whether it might have been more useful to listen to them, take it on board, and then counteract those specific issues, rather than just disagreeing with them or talking about things that they felt didn’t relate to them.

Elmo // Posted 16 February 2010 at 5:25 pm

sianmarie-yes, as ive pointed out before on other threads, fear is (wot i reckon) behind women blaming victims-as long as women tell themseleves that rape victims only got attacked because they were doing things that they themselves would never do, they feel safe. “They brought it on themself and I would never be that stupid” is their mantra. I think all women know deep down that rape is pretty much unavoidable if the rapist has decided they want to rape-but they cant face this depressing truth.

Though fear should never excuse victim blaming.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 February 2010 at 8:12 pm

Agree with JenniferRuth and Sianmarie.

I think it speaks volumes that rape victims themselves aren’t always sure whether what they experienced was rape. For some women, they feel that the experience wasn’t extreme or scarring enough for them to feel comfortable with the term. I don’t intend to suggest we take the power of labelling someone’s experience away from them, but even this view shows that as a society we compartmentalise sexual assaults and grade it, finding many ways to reduce how ‘serious’ it is. This isn’t the fault of these victims, or women in particular, it just goes to show that the way society shows rape can make it much harder for victims to deal with what happened, even when some part of them acknowledges that they did not consent.

I feel that if we as a society made more of an effort to focus on consent and how important it is, rape would not only be rarer, but its victims would not have to battle as much with themselves to acknowledge that it was not their fault, and that yes, it was a serious crime.

I’d like to see the teaching of consent in schools. Anywhere, actually. It’s ridiculous how much time we spend telling women how to stay safe, whilst assuming that all ‘normal’ men know what consent is and would never rape anyone, ever!

Jessica901 // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:50 pm

Claire –

Sorry to hear about what happened.

But I don’t think women are *jealous* of a girl getting raped.That’s along the same lines as victim blaming surely..

I think you’re misinterpreting a general terrible atmosphere towards rape from *both sexes* in a rape culture, as sexual jealousy from women. Place the blame firmly on the shoulders it belongs. Remember most of a patriarchy works by pitting women against each other. Society paints all women jealous and bitchy, threatened, by default. In a patriarchy, women are apparently most jealous of women exploited by men – in the eyes of a patriarchy, ideally every woman should be and want to be an exploited woman. So i can understand why you feel this way, about jealous female attitudes… but there’s a patriarchy, a misogynistic culture behind every antagonistic attitude from a woman.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 16 February 2010 at 11:50 pm

we had teaching about sexual assault in schools as well as homosexuality and other issues with the headteacher, only, i dont think he was allowed to push an opinion. the homosexuality one involved asking us if an of us were and saying how noone put their hand up and asking our opinions, and the sexual assault one was a video that was stopped and we were asked what level we considered assault, ranging from someone saying “love” in a friendly way at the door, someone whistling, or someone using an unbrella to lift a skirt on a bus. now had we had a real talk before hand, being asked what we thought and discussing it could have been useful, however, as we hadnt really experienced how it felt to be on the other end of it, and i guess less girly girls still resented women in general for being girly and holding us back etc etc, rather than understanding why it shouldnt make a piece of difference, im pretty sure we all concluded that the first 2 things werent harassment, in front of guys at an age where it could make a difference, and ours was one of the more progressive classes, having the only person put up their hand and say they were bi.

Jehenna // Posted 17 February 2010 at 1:07 am

Claire, your last sentence was really sad. I would like to wish you a virtual hug, if that’s not too disrespectful or forward of me.

I think you are absolutely right about the need to differentiate what ‘we’ do from what ‘the victim’ does because it reinforces that notion that somehow it’s possible for us to avoid the whole sordid situation.

I’m not so sure about the sexual jealousy notion though, unless we are just as guilty of seeing rape as expression of sexual desire rather than power. I imagine this underpins rape fantasy, but even if we might fantasize about being ravished, I think we’re all aware that the reality is not something we want.

My best friend was raped when we were both 20, at a time when my own notions of sexuality were possibly even more screwed up than they are now, but I never wondered if it was because she was more attractive than me. Come to think of it though, she did have a bruised/vulnerable aura to her for years that might have made her attractive to precisely the wrong kind of guy. It’s hard to say.

But then I am aware that some women do make judgements on the physical attractiveness of rape victims, as if to say they must be lying because they’re so unattractive that no one would rape them.

Your argument is frightening, but seems pretty plausible to me.


Amy Clare // Posted 17 February 2010 at 11:31 am

The thing about victim blaming is that there is never an end to it.

Was she wearing revealing clothing? No? Well, maybe she was drunk and talking to strangers. She was out with friends? Oh, well, in that case then she was probably sending out ‘signals’ that one of her friends ‘misinterpreted’… It was her husband who raped her? Oh, well, in that case she probably wasn’t giving him enough sex, you know how men need regular sex… and so it goes.

According to the victim-blaming mindset, the only way a woman can avoid being raped is living a hermit-like existence, completely physically covered, and being completely submissive to the man she is in a relationship with. Because if you consent all the time, there can be no such thing as rape, see?

This is where the victim-blaming road does actually end, and it is nowhere we want to be, ever.

Attitudes like those in this survey need to be attacked at every level, starting in school. Primary school if need be – it’s never too early to learn about consent (doesn’t need to be in a sexual context).

If women knew that if they were raped, justice would be done, then there would be less need to cling to victim-blaming myths in order to psychologically protect themselves against the threat of it happening. Because the trauma of not being believed, being character-assassinated in court and having your rapist out there to commit more rapes (more likely than them going to jail) is part of the horror of the whole experience and the fear of it happening to you. In a wider sense, the conviction rate of just 6% means that there is no deterrent for rapists, which further shifts the burden of avoidance onto the potential victim.

sianmarie // Posted 17 February 2010 at 4:38 pm

i braved the CIF debate on this…silly idea! i am still continually shocked of men askin what consent is…’if a woman is drunk and changes her mind halfway through but the man is drunk so doesn’t stop – is this rape?’

Umm yes! i tried to explain how violating that feels and how it is a myth that men can’t stop during sex – don’t think it did much good.

and also – this continuing idea that there’s a difference between stranger rape and date rape with commenters saying ‘well there’s violent rape…’ as if there is a type of rape that isn’t violent. it’s so upsetting. it just feels like we have the same arguments, the same arguments i have been having for years.

problem is, when we have issues like ‘the noughties girls guide to feminism’ perpetuating those very lies about consent and the different ‘degrees’ of rape it shows how much trouble we’re in

A J // Posted 17 February 2010 at 4:52 pm

Does anyone actually know who actually carried out this survey on Haven’s behalf? I’m struggling to find any details of the methodology involved, which makes me slightly wary of leaping to any conclusions based on the reported figures.

I’m also rather disturbed by the conflation of ‘unwanted’ sexual activity with ‘non-consenual’ sexual activity – they’re quite different things, and it’s unfortunate that the terminology has been (mis)used here. Diminishing the importance of consent is not a smart path to take.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 17 February 2010 at 8:41 pm

I’ve created a petition on the 10 Downing Street website about this issue, because one of the results that stood out for me was that younger people (18-24) seemed to be more likely to believe these rape myths than older people; which suggests that something is very wrong with the way sex education deals with issues of consent and relationships. My petition calls for a review and revision of sex ed in the UK to deal with these problems:

Claire // Posted 18 February 2010 at 12:46 pm


Thanks for the virtual hug. I didn’t say the last sentence out of self-pity but because I know that this subject is full of theory and ownership with everyone having their own thoughts so that victims are told – “well of course you might feel X, but that’s because of Y”, so my feelings like all rape victims’ feelings, become territory for everyone to analyse and even get violated and invalidated. It is terribly hard to give a rape victim their self-ownership back as so many boundaries have come down that oughtn’t to have. As to the other post about “aura of the victim”, yes. I had that one thrown in my face – people have said to me that I brought it on myself because I have some aura of victim thing going on which even so-called respectable men can’t help themselves but respond to with abusive acts, even complete strangers in dark alleyways who I’d never seen before in my life. Like I bring out the worst in people (of both sexes). And like other posts have said, so what if I do the victim aura equivalent of walking down the street naked because I have this victimhood about me, it is still the perpetrator who is to blame. Statistics show that those who have already suffered one attack are more likely to suffer another – I would say this is more to do with our aura of victimhood than to do with fecklessness. But I’m afraid to say that something deep and animal in us all despises the victim. I don’t watch horror films, or even police detective films and series or hospital dramas because I won’t give in to the bloodlust or whatever you call it. Some times there is nothing on television on this basis. Peak viewing is often about how people have become victims of one thing or another and always portrayed as totally disempowering and dehumanising. Victims aren’t allowed to be human beings in most dramas, and maybe not in real life either, just screams, draped clothing, tousled hair and long legs sticking out of a blanket like a slightly deflated blow up doll.

Maybe you are all right: women’s reluctance to believe rape victims is about women’s reluctance to accept the brutal reality that any one of us could be raped, and it certainly wouldn’t be our fault. What on earth does it mean when people say, “Don’t be a victim”. Like it’s something we could prevent.

kathy cumming // Posted 7 January 2011 at 3:52 pm

I don’t know who has been following the fallout over Naomi Wolf’s comments regarding the anonymity of rape victims. But Naomi will be featuring on the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say program this evening on this issue (World Service – 6-7pm GMT). The program is a live, global discussion very much driven by listeners. Naomi will be live on the program. If there are any Fword followers out there who have experienced rape and would like to put a question or comment (directly or indirectly) to Naomi, feel free to get in touch with me – Kathy (producer) at For more details of the program, see: Thanks, K

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds