A LondonStudent survey carried out on over 1,000 students at 119 Higher Education institutions around the UK has found that around a third still believe a woman is at least partially to blame for being raped if she is drunk (34%), was ‘alone or walking in a deserted or dangerous area’ (31%) or has behaved in a flirtatious manner (29%), while almost half (48%) believe she would be partially or wholly to blame if she failed to clearly say ‘no’ to the man. Perhaps as a reflection of more liberal attitudes to sex among the younger generation, a smaller – but still depressingly significant – proportion believe that a woman should take some share of the blame if she was wearing ‘sexy or revealing’ clothing (19%) or if it is known that she has had many sexual partners (13%).
Male students place greater blame on the woman than female students in all scenarios apart from where the woman is alone or in a supposed dangerous area. So not only are young people continuing to perpetuate the same old myths about rape, female “responsibility” and men’s inability to control their dicks, but young women continue to internalise the generally misplaced fear of being raped by a stranger when walking alone or in certain parts of town, while some male students appear to feel a need to justify male sexual violence against women, or at least to defend their apparent ‘right’ to access women’s bodies.
This is frightening stuff, and it is up to the two thirds of us* who recognise that the only person responsible for raping is the rapist to challenge these incredibly harmful attitudes whenever we come across them. I’d like to think that most of the individuals who profess to believe in women’s partial responsibility for being raped have simply not taken the time to think about what they are actually saying, about the implications of these kind of statements, that they are just blindly repeating the crap they’ve been fed by the media and by a society which fails to take non-stranger rape seriously. I’d like to think we can counteract that crap with some sense, some logic, some compassion and humanity. We also need to start educating young people about the importance of active consent.
We can all take steps towards doing that by talking to people we come across who hold these views, by spreading the truth about rape through creative activism (good postcards here, and stickers are easy to make at home). But why in hell isn’t the government doing something to combat attitudes which help support criminal activity? (That’s a rhetorical question, I know full well why. Sigh.) As Heather Harvey, Amnesty International UK’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign Manager says:
“It has been consistently pointed out by campaigners like members of the End Violence Against Women campaign that the government has failed to develop a programme of prevention around violence against women – they can do seatbelts, smoking, obesity, binge-drinking so why can’t they start to tackle attitudes like these which ignore violence against women or worse still blame women for it?”
Over 90% of rapists are getting away with it, and the attitudes displayed by these students are in part directly responsible for that. So let’s do all we can to make sure the next generations recognise them for just what they are: myths.
*A study carried out by Amnesty on the population as whole produced similar figures three years ago.
EDIT: I have published and responded to a number of women-blaming comments which some readers may find offensive or upsetting; in the context of this post, I think these comments should be challenged rather than ignored.