How you might STILL be victim-blaming… and how to stop

Originally posted October 31, 2014


A friend of a friend wrote about something that happened to her, recently. She was attending a party. Someone asked for her consent to kiss her. She refused. They asked again. She refused again. I don’t know how many times this cycle repeated, but the person kissed her, anyway.

When she posted her account of what happened, there was a comment, asking if she thought it would have happened, had she been there with a partner, or simply been attached. The person commenting was really persistent about the question.

Now, I don’t know any of the people involved. The victim and many of the other people commenting who do know everyone involved seem to believe that the commentator’s questions were likely not intended to be victim-blaming, and I’m inclined to take their word for it. The thing is, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they meant for it to be.

Because it IS.

In another thread, someone about whom I care a great deal, someone I never expected to see blaming victims, even in the most circumspect fashion, wrote:

You are responsible for not being the easy target.

Knowing this person, I honestly do NOT believe they intend to blame victims. But it doesn’t matter. Because they are, with those words, whether they mean to do so or not. It doesn’t matter whether they mean their statement to be victim-blaming.

Because it IS.

I could intend to bake a lemon cake, and use orange zest and flavoring by mistake. My intent doesn’t change the result. I made an orange cake, and no amount of me seeing a lemon cake is going to change that. No amount of me denying that it is an orange cake is going to change that. No amount of trying to explain what my intent was is going to magically turn it into a lemon cake. Period.

It’s an orange cake. And I need to own that, and if lemon cake was my intent, but everyone around me is telling me that it tastes like orange cake? I need to figure out how not to make that mistake again, don’t you think?

The following comes mostly from a comment on the first post I mentioned.


Whenever a person who is any gender other than male is sexually assaulted, the Twenty Questions game almost inevitably begins.

Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Were you leading him on? Were you there alone?

What this line of questioning does is twofold.

First, it takes the focus away from where it belongs. In this specific instance, it takes the focus off the person who kissed someone, even after specifically being told “no,” numerous times. That information, just the last sentence before this one, is ALL THAT MATTERS. Period. He did not have consent. He was even explicitly denied consent. He did it, anyway. It doesn’t matter what she did. It doesn’t matter what she wore. It doesn’t matter if she was drinking, or if she was standing completely naked right next to him. It does NOT matter whether or not she was alone. What she did, or didn’t do, or with whom she attended the party, is irrelevant.

He asked. She said no. He did it, anyway.

Which brings us to the second point. Putting the focus on anything that she did or did not do makes it easier for some people to rationalize what he did. It puts the onus for controlling his behavior on her. Making it her job to alter her own behavior, in order to somehow control his. It’s the same thing schools do, when they create a dress code that prohibits strappy tanks or skirts more than two inches above the knee, on girls, in order to keep boys from behaving badly.

See, whether or not you’re right about what, hypothetically, may have happened, if she’d had a partner present, or if she was wearing more conservative clothing, or didn’t have that drink, it doesn’t matter. And you’re basically saying that she could have done something (not attended alone, etc.) that would have possibly made him not do something (kiss her without consent).

He is the one who chose to ignore her “no.” He is the one who chose to kiss her, even though he knew it wasn’t okay with her. He is the one who ignored consent. Therefore, his behavior is the only behavior that needs to be questioned, here. Period. To do otherwise is to relieve him of the burden of being held fully accountable for his own choices, his own behavior. And if you’re doing that, then you are, whether intentionally or not, putting some portion of the responsibility for what he did on her shoulders.

And that is why people tell you that you’re victim blaming. Not saying that you are a person who actually believes that victims are at fault, but that line of thought inevitably puts responsibility on someone other than the person who chose to act. And doing so, regardless of intent, IS victim blaming.

So, instead, why don’t we focus on the person who kissed her without her consent? Why don’t we ask what he could have done to prevent what happened? …what choices he could have made that would have kept him from violating someone’s consent? …what behaviors, and possibly patterns of thought, heneeds to work on changing, in order to not do that again? …and, in the immediate circumstances, what he’s going to do to make amends to the person he has already violated?

Because those are the questions that really need to be asked, and discussed, and analyzed, if we’re going to put a stop to things like this happening.

Not the ones about what she did, or didn’t do.

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