Breaking Down the Present Day Rape Stigma

The 1995 UN Conference was dedicated to women. The summit put forth a goal for the UN to improve equality, reproductive rights, maternal health, political representation, social repression, forced marriage, FGM, rape, and domestic violence. 20 years since the summit, improvements for women have been seen throughout the globe. For example, more women hold office, fewer die of childbirth, and FGM has greatly increased, as reported in the UN Progress of the World's Women 2015-2016 Summary. Despite these large-scale improvements, recent media attention has pointed out a shocking limitation in the fight for women: the persistent existence of victim blaming.

In an interview with the New York Times on August 30th, the Pretender's singer, Chrissie Hynde, told her own sexual assault story and inferred that the assault was her fault. She was quoted saying, "If I'm walking around in my underwear and I'm drunk? Who else's fault can it be?" In responses to attacks, Hynde responded that "she 'doesn't know' whether she regrets stating that it can be a woman's fault when she is raped." In the aftermath of Hynde's comments, ITV's TV Program, Loose Women, released an online poll in which it asked if women were ever to blame for being raped. Although an overwhelming majority (87.85 percent) replied "No," that it is never a woman's fault for being raped, spokespeople for women's rights were quick to respond to the inappropriateness of this poll. As reported in the Guardian, "Rape Crisis called the poll 'ill-considered, insensitive and insulting' and said responsibility for rape always lay with the perpetrator." Katie Russell, the national spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England & Wales, was shocked that ITV would find it remotely appropriate "even for a moment" to publish a poll suggesting rape was the victim's fault. In an emailed statement to The Guardian, Russell continued to explain that self-blame and shame are two of the main reasons victims do not report the crime.

So what does all this mean for the rape stigma today? Although Hynde received backlash from the media and public from her comments and ITV issued and apology concerning the survey, both of these relatively large figures in media are reinforcing the stereotypes of victim blaming. Moreover, this thinking reveals that the belief is not outdated, but in fact still held by many people.

Recognizing that victim blaming may still exist in society is difficult. To accept the existence of victim blaming feels like accepting defeat -- how could such a developed world that has made large progress toward the equality of women still hold antiquated beliefs like victim blaming? Victim blaming still exists because it would be easier if rape were actually the victim's fault. Then bystanders can remain innocent bystanders, rid themselves of guilt, and therefore all desire to contribute to the cause of protecting women. As described accurately by writer Taylor Glenn of The Guardian, "If people are responsible for sexual assault, well, the power lies with them to just wear "modest clothes" and avoid behaviours which "entice" rapists." As I explain in my book, Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom, blaming the victim, "affects our willingness to help; it affects the form such help will take; and it affects the underlying purposes of offering help."