Blaming the victim – as usual

// 5 March 2012

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This is a guest post by Elin Weiss & Hennie Weiss

Creative Commons image - Why does my heart feel so bad?The Canadian government has published a travel guide named Her own way: A woman’s safe-travel guide in which they advise single women travelling abroad to wear a fake wedding ring in order to discourage men attempting to propose or attempting to make romantic advances that the women do not appreciate. Another tip in the guide is to carry a photograph of a fake boyfriend/husband in your purse so that it can whipped out in order to scare off romantic intruders.

This safe-travel guide is quite reminiscent of attempts to keep women safe by blaming the victim and making the woman the one who is supposed to deter men from aggressively pursuing her. Instead of the government actually targeting the men who act inappropriately against women, women should be able to take care of it themselves, simply by printing a photograph of a man and purchasing a fake wedding ring. Simple as that.

We are all aware of how women are judged in rape cases in which the woman’s appearance, choice of clothes, sexual history and so on are indicative of whether or not rape is considered rape or if the woman is just perhaps a bit too slutty. This travel guide is again blaming the victim by telling women that there are things you should do in order to avoid dangerous and scary situations. Thereby, women should not expect to travel to other countries without being targeted by men looking for brief sexual opportunities or a possible (yet involuntary) marriage partner.

Women are encouraged to not wear revealing clothing, to not put themselves in dangerous situations and to not walk on their own late at night. It appears as if little effort is actually aimed at teaching boys and men that no does mean no and that a woman is not being a tease by turning a man down. If a woman is being aggressively pursued by a man all she needs to do is flash her fake wedding ring and the man will back off? Unlikely.

Personal experience also states otherwise. One of the authors herself was put in a potentially dangerous situation when she reacted strongly to a man sexually harassing her younger sister on a London street while simultaneously making sexual and awful remarks about her body and attempting to inappropriately touch her. The man reacted with anger and aggression and thanks to the presence of a number of other people the situation did not evolve into a physical altercation. No wedding ring or a photograph of a boyfriend would have eased the situation and on this occasion no did not mean no but instead was an invite to further aggression and name calling. On that occasion we also did everything “right” according to how women should protect themselves. We did not wear revealing clothing, were not intoxicated or on drugs. We did not flirt with this man. We were not in some random back alley and there were plenty of street lights. We were two people walking down a busy street. All we did was to pass this man on the street and we became instant victims.

Instead of advising women on how to keep themselves safe by focusing on the possible threat of a somewhere present masculine figure, boys and men should be taught to not put women in danger and to not pursue women that are not interested. More efforts should be in place to keep women safe and above all, no more victim blaming.


Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.


Image “Why does my heart feel so bad?” from dall’alba’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons).

The monochrome image shows a woman, seen from behind, looking out over a city.

Comments From You

Tony G // Posted 5 March 2012 at 12:35 pm

I think you might be mistaking something like instrumental “right” for a moral “right” in this case. The Canadian government has virtually no power whatsoever over the sexual mores, criminal justice or security provision provided to people travelling outside its own borders. This means that offering advice on how to avoid a dangerous situation is perhaps the most effective thing it can do to reduce the chances of its citizens being the victim of a sex attack. It is different in Canada itself: the Government can and should address potential perpetrators of sex crimes with credible threats to find and punish them. But it doesn’t have the same authority over foreign sex-offenders.

Kathryn Hyde // Posted 5 March 2012 at 2:10 pm

It’s ridiculous. As if only single women are ever raped or killed abroad. There is no evidence that any of this makes a difference, but we can pretend that the powers that be have done something to help.

I was once on a personal safety course through my local authority employer, where wwomen were advised not to leave copies of ladies’ magazines on your dashboard, if your car broke down. At which point I audibly groaned. Oh yes, and whilst waiting for the recovery services sit in the passenger seat so it looks as if your boyfriend or husband is on their way back.

Rose // Posted 5 March 2012 at 2:34 pm

Yeah, wedding rings are no good. That can be because their culture has a different symbol of being someone elses property, or the idea that a married woman on holiday without her husband is ‘clearly’ only there to sleep around, or because your situation simply means nothing to them.

Once when a guy was aggressively coming on to me in Spain, and starting to stalk me, he just laughed in my face when I showed him my (fake) wedding ring. He continued to stalk me and grew increasingly violent. The idea of an absent husband does nothing in those situations – only a man actually there (holding your leesh).

It’s a question of guarded/unguarded property.

Makes me angry when governments not only neglect to look at the behaviour of the actual wrong doers, but give people really bad advice. A false sense of security never helps, and little open and honest information usually does.

There recommendation will not keep anybody safe, but I would welcome (as a regular backpacker) more information on the signs and indications of trouble in different cultures, and where to go for help. (In some areas I’ve travelled, women don’t go to the police if they’ve been raped because it is seen as a sign of being a ‘loose woman’ and therefore the police will not help you, and indeed are likely to feel entitled to rape you themselves – but there are other avenues for support and justice)

In my experience, claiming to be in a relationship/married when travelling alone is regularly seen as declaring myself sexually active, and therefore encourages potential problems, whereas mentioning my fathers gun collection has done wonders!

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