Rape Victims Blamed Again

// 6 February 2010

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Virginia Wood has a really interesting post on her blog about yet another form of blaming women for being raped.

This time it isn’t what she was wearing, what she had drunk, or her fantasies, but is actually her own history of trauma and her lack of awareness of her surroundings.

Many women have a history of trauma, and I can’t imagine there are any who are constantly aware of everything that’s going on around her. Neither of these make it her own fault if she is raped.

Similarly, even if you are aware of your surroundings and don’t ‘freeze’ when attacked, that is not necessarily enough to prevent rape. Virginia gives certain examples,

Maybe it was a “blitz attack”, which of course by definition would mean she wouldn’t have known she was even being attacked until she was already down. Or maybe her rapist had a weapon: I have to ask–do men really believe that a martial artist can kick a gun out of an attacker’s hand like good ol’ Chuck Norris on the teevee? And then there’s the rapist who comes in through the bathroom window in the middle of the night and has you under his control before you even wake up. Now how you gonna karate-kick his ass outta bed with your legs all tangled up in the kivvers? And then there was the woman I knew whose attacker told her if she cooperated, he wouldn’t harm the children sleeping in the next room: All the martial arts training in the world won’t trump that one.


Let us note that one in every six women in the U.S. will be assaulted in her lifetime. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s frequent enough to suggest that we are not, in fact, in control of our own destinies–at least not when it comes to rape. Indeed, that kind of thinking sounds to me like a form of privilege: The not-raped can believe they did/do something to earn/deserve that status (“I kicked the shit out of him!” or “I’m always aware of my surroundings.” Always? Really?). That kind of thinking allows the not-raped to feel safe and secure in the fantasy that “it will never happen to me” and to look down on victim/survivors as people who screwed up somehow.

Victim-blaming, even in this guise of scientific research, is rife. Somebody, somewhere is missing the fact that the person to blame for a woman being raped is the rapist. Always.

When I was at sixth-form college, two police officers came in to give us a talk about safety. The boys were sent to one room with a male police officer, to receive a talk about driving safely. The girls were sent to another room with a woman officer, to receive a talk about rape prevention.

Quite why the girls didn’t need to be given the same advice about safe driving was bewildering, but the weirdest thing was it was the girls being told how to prevent rape rather than the boys.

In that talk, we were told that 2 out of 3 rapes could have been prevented (by the victim). How’s that for victim-blaming? Imagine how that felt for rape survivors in that room! Being told by a cop that really they should have been able to do something about it was humiliating and vicious.

And what’s more, 3 out of 3 rapes could have been prevented – BY THE RAPIST NOT RAPING THEM. That is where the blame needs to be laid. Every rape that ever occurs could have not happened, if the perpetrator chose not to do it.

That is the point. Men can stop rape. They have to.

(cross-posted at incurable hippie blog)

Comments From You

Eloise // Posted 6 February 2010 at 11:04 am

Totally agreed. (and the rape prevention vs driving safety bit? bizarre)

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 11:08 am

Thank you! And yes, definitely bizarre. I think their rationale was that young men are at highest risk of car accidents, but still…!

Shea // Posted 6 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

Brilliant post Philippa. Unfortunately I lived in the safe and secure bubble of “it will never happen to me”. Until it did. And then I realised that nothing I did or didn’t do would have prevented it. It was not my course of action that needed to change, as you pointed out it was the rapist’s.

The sad thing is, I do the martial arts classes and take the taxis and try and be aware of my surroundings . And I resent all of it. I resent the constant underlying reason why I do these things. I think all women are aware of their surroundings and the threat of rape,but as the above post points out, it isn’t enough to stop rape and it never will. Because missing in this is the concious choice of the rapist to rape.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 1:49 pm

Thanks, Shea. I’m so sorry it’s happened to you.

What you said about resentment is really interesting. When I think about it, I too resent having to get cabs, avoiding being out in the dark etc., but it’s so normalised now that I hadn’t even realised it!

I’m really glad you know that it was the rapist’s actions that were to blame, not yours. Much as we know that objectively, it can be hard sometimes to apply it to ourselves.

Sarah // Posted 6 February 2010 at 5:09 pm

I agree the safe driving lesson for the boys was probably because young men are more likely to drive recklessly and have serious accidents (I believe) – though plenty of women would benefit from the advice as well! But surely the same logic would mean the boys should have been the ones to have the anti-rape lesson as well, as the majority of rapists are men!

It’s quite a disturbing corollary really, the idea that a woman ‘getting herself raped’, presumably by acting in a careless way, is a bit like a man injuring himself in an accident by driving dangerously, as though both are equally self-inflicted and independent of any external perpetrator.

I don’t know how long ago this happened – would be nice to think ‘that would never happen now’, but I’m not so sure. Maybe not in such an obvious way, but the concept of women as responsible for being raped definitely hasn’t gone away.

rox // Posted 6 February 2010 at 5:28 pm

You know the hard thing is that it probably is true, that in many cases a woman could have done something to prevent it. That doesn’t make it ok for a rapist to rape. Ever. But looking back at my own behavior, I did some really stupid things in the past that put myself at risk and I had some bad experiences because of it. That being said, it still doesn’t make it my fault.

But that’s really tricky. I fall into that sticky gray area where I don’t consider it to be the “r” word and yet on a certain level it is. Ive had a LOT of these kinds of experiences and I used to have a big problem with the freeze response. Once you get trained to respond that way, it’s really hard to teach your body to MOVE.

Until I had reached my late teens I didn’t even REALIZE there was another way to handle it. I had heard about karate fighter women but I imagined them fighting the bad guy that breaks in your window. Like what do you do when it’s someone you know and it’s subtle? Predators can read “past trauma” like an open book. They can smell it like a shark smells blood.

Easy prey. Already trained to be submissive. I had some really bad therapy for this which was blame the victim style therapy and where it helped is identifying things I was doing that DID increase my risk, and help to do things that do help prevent bad situations, however that can never prevent a random attack.

But in 8 years I have never had the “freeze” response that I had almost every day when I was younger and I now have changed the way I interact with men. Of course this means assuming that even nice guys can push things too far, get turned on if they find out about past “Victim” stuff, and use that to cause harm. Even guys who didn’t previously see them selves as predatory can find themselves intrigued by that dynamic and can play it out, if they know it’s in your past. That’s a really sad phenomenon I’ve seen happen. : (

Really it’s sad because it seems like it’s the guys that seemed really kind and like they truly didn’t want to do anything like that, that it hurts the worst when they start taking on predator role.

Hmmm. You know I don’t usually talk about this topic, and the anonymity suddenly let it all come out… Sorry! Just random thoughts.

The blame the victim therapy I had had VERY SERIOUS consequences for me though.

Like for example I consider it my fault if I were to trust someone and they were to then hurt me. I know that isn’t true on a certain level, but having shoved down your throat in therapy, it makes you doubt yourself. So I just never put any trust in anyone.

That’s sort of a sad result of therapy. Or like, for example, if I were to ever let on that I had experienced abuse, then I would feel like it would be my fault if that incited a man to take on that role, or to use the known vulnerability to repeat the trauma. Because I know that men very often have this response. So I don’t know how I ever could have a relationship if I can’t share the fact that is something that I’ve experienced without thinking that they are going to say, “REally? Tell me about that? What happened. So what was it like” Like somewhere along these questions I realize they are leading it to details of the sexual aspect of the experience because they are turned on, and thinking about how fun it would be to do that.

I don’t know. I don’t know how I would ever trust a man at this point.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 6 February 2010 at 7:14 pm

I agree that men could stop rape, but why would they want to? It benefits all males, even the ones who don’t rape. It keeps women afraid, and when you have people scared, you gain power over them. So why would they want to relinquish that power?

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:02 pm


I’m 32 so it would have been about 15 years ago. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if such things are still going on. I mean, there are government campaigns about women not drinking too much so they don’t get raped. Grim!

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:06 pm


Whenever anything bad happens to us I think it’s natural to look back and see what we could have done differently. If someone dies, we wonder if we should have done / said certain things. If we lose something, we berate ourselves for not being more careful. And if we’re raped, we look back and think, ‘If only I hadn’t… gone back to his place / gone to that club / trusted him / walked home alone’. But that doesn’t make it our fault.

So even if you do tell a man about a history of abuse, that doesn’t make you to blame if he then takes advantage of it. It’s still his fault, it’s still his choice.

Sounds like the therapy was so negative for you, and I’m so sorry you’ve had the experiences you have.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:10 pm


I don’t think it benefits all males, though arguably it can benefit a lot. There are some men doing work with other men against rape and violence against women. And if we can’t at least acknowledge that, then where do we go? If we don’t place the blame where it needs to be, and hope that men take that up and act, then what can we do? Give up, say it’s pointless and stop trying?

Anne Onne // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:24 pm

Ugh, tired old cliches. We don’t tell men that if they’re not constantly aware (and never ever flash valuables ever!) everywhere they go, and don’t try tooth and nail to fight off their attackers that they are basically responsible for criminal acts against them.

Rox: I’m so sorry you had to go through that kind of ‘therapy’. I can’t see how blaming someone for what someone else chose to do to them is remotely helpful.

I know it’s natural most people look back at anything bad that happened and wonder what they could have done to change it. Sometimes, it’s our own mistake (say, drink driving, punching someone etc). Sometimes, it’s nobody’s fault (someone fell ill, natural disaster, emergency situations). But where another person is involved (mugging, rape etc), we need to as a society help people realise that it is not our fault if someone does something bad to us. If we had acted differently, we would probably not have had a different result. The result may even have been worse (fighting back vs not doing so). Even if the result was different, it would be as a direct result of the person perpetrating an act they know to be wrong and illegal choosing to change their mind.

Everybody here knows this, but I always feel like reiterating this for impact: The perpetrator chooses their own actions. What happens is a result of their choice, and therefore their sole responsibility. A woman can be walking outside alone and naked and drunk, and a man may walk past her and not rape her. If he does so, it is clearly as a result of his active choice to harm her. It is his responsibility (as it is all of ours) to go around his daily life without perpetrating criminal acts, regardless of the opportunities to do so.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 February 2010 at 8:29 pm

Anne – Absolutely! To all of that!

You are so right, too, about sometimes if we had done things differently, things may have been worse rather than avoided. A lot of women feel guilty if they don’t / can’t fight back, but fighting back can indeed make things worse in some cases. We have no idea how things would have turned out if we had or hadn’t done anything.

A woman can be walking outside alone and naked and drunk, and a man may walk past her and not rape her. If he does so, it is clearly as a result of his active choice to harm her. It is his responsibility (as it is all of ours) to go around his daily life without perpetrating criminal acts, regardless of the opportunities to do so.

Another rape victim // Posted 6 February 2010 at 11:32 pm

Lots of interesting posts here. Freezing is one of the seven fs – innate reactions where the thinking part of the brain is simply by-passed. Training yourself not to freeze misses the point that innate responses can be rationalised after the event but rarely in the first few seconds of an event. With rape, you can’t Flee, you might not be able to FIght (or it might not be sensible), so the F response of Freeze is a very common one. No one should feel that this response is to blame or that any other response is better, necessarily.

On therapy, I was fine, truly. I had survived childhood sexual abuse, stranger rape and attempted murder and years of domestic violence. Then my violent ex spouse found some couple counsellors who turned out to have a practice of counselling couples to accept that one was the sadist and one the maschocist and that the maschocist should stop whingeing and carry on enjoying it. When they asked me (in front of spouse) what it was within me that made me want to be abused, that’s when I became seriously suicidal for the first time in my life. At that point, I believed that it was all my fault. That in fact, my presence on this planet was the corrupting factor that brought out the sadism of others who were perfectly nice people unless they detected victim blood. I think I have more hatred towards those idiotic counsellors, so called professionals, than I do to any of my agressors. They betrayed my trust totally when I went to them in need and in pain. If I believed in hell, I would send them to the hottest part of it together with any one else who blames or mistreats or pathologises a victim.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 7 February 2010 at 7:14 am

Phillippa: The problem I have with men working in the rape prevention/ violence against women movement is that it’s hard to tell who’s sincere and who’s simply trolling for victims. (Kyle Payne, for example.) If they’re sincere, I’d welcome them.

I’m personally a believer in the eye-for an-eye approach, but I understand that isn’t helpful. It’s too bad the judicial/legal system is completely powerless. Short of keeping men indoors most of the time, I really don’t know what’d work. All the education in the world doesn’t seem to do much good.

polly // Posted 7 February 2010 at 9:11 am

A while back I was burgled and when I actually realised what had happened (I came in from work and because whoever did it hadn’t trashed the place it took a few minutes to register) I physically went into shock and couldn’t think. I couldn’t even work out how to find the number of the local police station to phone them and had to phone a friend instead.

So how are you meant to react if someone rapes you? It’s crap. I haven’t been raped, but I have been sexually assaulted as a child, and the truth is, that at least for me, a sense of unreality takes over. You’re not physically capable of fighting back in most cases.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 7 February 2010 at 11:32 am

So this means then that I can hit a male in the face with my fist, break his nose and then state ‘it’s your fault because you did nothing to prevent my attack.’

Likewise anyone who is the victim of any crime is wholly responsible for supposedly not preventing the crime. Would such claims be accepted by our male supremacist society? Of course not – unless the crime was male violence committed against a woman or girl – then of course male supremacy would ‘swing into action’ wherein obviously (sic) it is the female victim’s fault.

This is why we live in a rape culture because too many males believe they must never be held accountable for their violence against women and girls.

The so-called expert is one of many professionals who has a rape apologist agenda.

Even if a woman does everything male supremacist society tells her to prevent male sexual violence, this in itself will not protect her. The obvious answer is for all women to remove themselves from the presence of men – but that too is impossible. Why? Because men believe they are not the ones responsible for causing/allowing/justifying/excusing male violence against women. Instead it is always apparently women’s fault and women are the ones held accountable. And not forgetting men cannot exist without the presence of women taking care of their emotional, domestic needs etc.

No woman can possibly know whether or not any male is going to commit sexual violence against her person. This is why so many men who claim to be trustworthy and not violent, often change when they learn the woman they are dating/living with/married to has experienced male sexual violence in the past.

The man uses this disclosure in order to exploit the woman and sometimes rapes her, but always he claims ‘I did not do this because I know you wanted it.’ Now before everyone claims I am blaming all men – I am not – but I do know many men do exploit a female survivor’s history for their own sexual gratification and enhancement of their power.

What is the answer? Until such time as men as a group are held accountable and responsible for male violence against women – nothing will change. But until such time we must continue to debunk rape apologist claims and put the spotlight on those men who commit violence against women and also demand non-violent men must speak out and denounce such men.

Male violence against women is a all about perpetuating and maintaining male control and oppression of women as a group. Male violence against women is not something which ‘just happens in a vacuum.’

Freezing is a common reaction and it is a coping strategy. Many men too freeze when they are confronted with unexpected danger or violence – are these men responsible for the violence committed against them?

Most acts of male violence against women and girls occur within the home not in the public sphere and most violent men are known to the woman/women. Women who are suddenly confronted with a known male determined to rape them, do freeze because the male has exploited their trust and such acts are a contradiction of what all women learn as girls.

Namely our patriarchal society promotes the myth male rapists are deranged strangers, so therefore women and girls must always take precautions when venturing out in the public sphere.

Patriarchal society cannot state the truth – which is it is not the male stranger women need be wary of – but known males, including male family members, male friends, male work colleagues, male neighbours. Not the mythical deranged male stranger.

Men who commit rape and other forms of violence against women are the ones responsible – never the women survivors. Challenging this is very difficult given we all continuously receive messages that our worlds are supposedly ‘safe’ and we are the ones supposedly in control. Evidence proves otherwise – no woman or girl is ever 100% safe because we are not able to predict what might or might not happen in the next minute,hour,week, year etc.

However, the ones who can predict what will happen are the males who commit violence against women and girls in any shape or form. These males make an informed decision to commit such violence, safe in the knowledge all too commonly male supremacist society will excuse/justify/trivialise their violence and accountability.

lindsey // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:56 am

Before we go down the route of accusing men for everything bad in the world, women are just as guilty of sexual abuse, power abuse, and going too far as men, if not rape.

We know rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. Straight men in jail rape other straight men in jail. Likewise, straight women in jail, ‘rape’ other straight women in jail, it’s not cut and dried, but what IS obvious, is that it’s about power.

As long as there are people who feel impotent and powerless, there’s going to be rape. As long as there are bullies who want to assert their authority in the most vile way, there will be rape.

It’s not going to go away.

aimee // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:17 am

I had the exact same thing at school. I wish i’d been articulate and clued up enough to be able to say something at the time to those priviledge laden pricks who felt they had the right to tell us that it was our fault if we were raped, but I was only 16. I knew i was angry, but I couldn’t articulate exactly why. I think that’s part of it; instill in young girls who haven’t developed the self awareness to figure out that victim blaming is wrong, the idea that it’s their responsibility. Ugh, i’m so angry about this that I really feel like crying.

sianmarie // Posted 8 February 2010 at 1:13 pm

i wrote these slogans to try and point out that the people who can prevent rape are rapists. i thought i’d make them into flyers or something – feel free to use them!

[Headline] MEN! Don’t drink and date rape

[subhead] Many rapes happen when the rapist is under the influence of

alcohol. Don’t let it happen to you

[Headline] MEN! Confused about consent?

[subhead] It’s easy! Just remember, no means no whether said before or

during intercourse.

[Headline] MEN! That girl at the bar giving you the eye?

[subhead] Just remember! She’s not giving an invitation to rape

[Headline] MEN! make a stand this Saturday night!

[subhead] And don’t turn her into a crime statistic

Essem // Posted 8 February 2010 at 7:45 pm

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that I’m “over-reacting”, “paranoid” or “psycho” for following just this sort of advice. Get into a car on my own with a friend-of-a-friend for a ride home? Sometimes I do do this, but sometimes I refuse. This apparently makes me an uptight paranoid bitch, as does planning what I wear when I go out and making sure I can get home ok after dark.

Patriarchy: you just CAN’T win.

Anne Onne // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:37 pm

Before we go down the route of accusing men for everything bad in the world, women are just as guilty of sexual abuse, power abuse, and going too far as men, if not rape. We know rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.

Sorry, but I disagree. Or perhaps misread your comment. Yes, individual female abusers and rapists are as responsible for their crimes as their male counterparts. Yes, they do exist and shouldn’t be ignored.

But the phrase above (perhaps out of context) reads to me as that women as a whole are as responsible for as much abuse or rape as men, when we know the patriarchy encourages men as a class to take power over women and enact rape culture, in a way that is less so with women.

That’s not to say men are solely responsible for the world’s ills: those that perpetrate crimes are responsible for them on an individual scale. What we’re saying here is not that all men should pay for the crimes of the few, but that it is unfair for us women to be told to ‘watch out’ whilst men aren’t told to avoid raping, or stop their friends from raping. Rape isn’t a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue.

I do agree that prison rape is a serious aspect of the power struggles that promote rape and abuse, and is too often played for comedy (WTF?) or ignored. And yes, I agree it’s not that cut and dried, and there is plenty of same-sex rape even by people who identify as heterosexual. Rape is indeed about power. I just want to add that it’s the fact that rape is about power that makes pointing out the role of men important: they, as a group do have more power, as we know.

I agree, no crime will entirely disappear, but rape is not a crime committed in a vacuum: there are wider social reasons why men on average are taught sexuality through metaphors of aggression, and the pain that patriarchy causes people of all genders. Perhaps I’m naive, but if we address rape culture so that it’s less socially acceptable, and work on addressing the problems that lead people to form unhealthy attitudes to relationships with other people, rape will not disappear, but it would hopefully be less prevalent.

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting what you were trying to say, apologies in advance if I’m missing the point. Looking back, I think I agree more than I disagree with what you are saying. I guess your comment encouraged me to think more about the issue :)

BlueBottomJeans // Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:15 am

This article was fantastic right up until the last line, reading “That is the point. Men can stop rape. They have to.” which frankly, is an example of sexism.

What it should have said is “RAPISTS can stop rape. They have to”. RAPISTS, not Men.

The reasoning is simply, by simply saying “Men can stop rape” you imply that Men, all Men, need to stop. The number of men who actually DO rape is of course very small. And there are indeed some women, who also rape. So rather than ruining a perfectly good article with a sexist generalisation, next time be more specific, and use the proper term.

JenniferRuth // Posted 9 February 2010 at 8:59 am

@ BlueBottomJeans

I disagree. It isn’t just rapists who can stop rape because they are supported by victim blaming, sexism and culture that dismisses rape as a serious crime if it falls outside of a specific ideology of rape. A lot of this support is from men whether they be actual rapists or not.

Cathy A B // Posted 10 February 2010 at 3:50 am


Nobody is going down the route of blaming men for everything bad in the world.Yes men are the victems of rape and domestic violence and on an individual basis there experience is going to be as bad as any womans.

Please consider that the vast majority of both crimes are commited against women and then consider how these women are treated by the Law.

The figures dont just tell us the experience of a larger number of individuals they tell us the negative attitude society has about women in general.

I’m sure there was a article on here a few months back about the different questions rape victems are asked by the police depending on wheather they are male or female,maybe someone could refer to the date and you could have a look at it and see the point being raised on here -it’s about the negative attitues towards female victems,not about individual women suffering more than individual men.

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