Rape in NI Part 2: Victim-Blaming.

Following the PSNI report that 10 rapes occur in Northern Ireland each week with disturbingly absent consequences for perpetrators, the BBC quoted Helen Bracken from the Nexus Institute, an organisation working with victims of sexual violence as telling people to “use common sense” – to look out for each other if out in groups and to take taxis sensibly, namely. Ah yes, taking taxis. Eamon Holmes knows a bit about that – at the end of an interview with rape victim Hannah Cant, he told her he “hoped {she} took taxis now…” An outburst of angry reactions ensued from This Morning viewers concerned at this victim-blaming discourse.

Women and girls are constantly reminded to carry rape alarms, to take self-defense classes, to take taxis, to text friends regarding their whereabouts…I was even taught how to hold my house keys so that, if I was attacked, I could poke the offender in the eye. These are good things and initiatives such as QUB’s rape alarm give-away in the face of an increase in rapes around the University area are welcome and necessary. Helen Bracken works for an organisation that deals directly with victims of sexual violence – picking up the pieces that occur in such a horrific crime and helping to restore the lives of the victims. The work of organisations like Nexus is tremendous and without it, victims would be far worse off.

But the problem with responding to terrifying rape statistics with messages such as “use common sense”, or hoping rape victims now take taxis home, is that it puts the blame on the victim. If only she had taken a taxi/carried a rape alarm/stayed with her friends is the line we go with, contributing to this harmful discourse that fails to find and address the root of the problem.

Indeed, this will not stop rape because it is not accurate in pointing out the cause. A girl is not raped because she doesn’t take a taxi. A girl is raped because there is a rapist out there willing to abuse her.

In 2008, Amnesty International carried out a survey amongst Northern Irish students regarding their attitudes towards violence against women. The results were shocking:

– 46% of students thought that a women who had been raped was partially or totally to blame if she had been acting flirtatiously;
– 44% felt the same way if the woman was drunk;
– 30% if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing.

These statistics are appalling. If it was even 1% of students expressing the thought that women were to blame for their rape if they flirted with a man, we’d have a problem, but the elevated numbers of people sharing these despicable opinions is deeply concerning. Rape is a choice. It is never the fault of the victim. I fully endorse women expressing their intellectual, creative, athletic, musical, scientific, whole selves and refusing to buy into the culture of sexual objects offered to us, as well as being wise in the face of possible danger (as a sidenote, I do abide by fairly strict safety rules – I am not suggesting we ignore them in protest over how rape is dealt with), but no, rape is never our fault. We are raped only because rapists rape us.

The victim-blaming simply takes away from efforts to address the cause of the problem. Gloria Steinem puts it this way: “We have to stop talking about who gets raped and talk about who rapes. Somebody is doing these things. And we have to identify who they are.” Who is that somebody? Why do men rape women? And how do you stop them?” We need to move away from the belief that patronising warnings to women about the danger of rape, encouraging them to take precautionary measures or a strong after-care system are enough. As long as our response remains deals only with the symptoms, rape will continue to be a problem: rape will always be a problem unless we address the cause and perpetrators of the crime. The rapists. Men who believe it is acceptable to violently abuse a woman for their own sexual gratification.

I’m tired of taking taxis down my road after nightfall, and walking around with my phone in one hand and my keys clenched in the other hoping with tears in my eyes that someone doesn’t assault me in the street. I’m tired of reading one story of rape after another. I’m tired of reading articles about how to ‘stay safe’. I’d love to hear about initiatives addressing young boys in schools, teaching them what girls and women are worth and treating them as such. I’d love to the media to stop sexualising and objectifying women. I’d love for men in churches to start treating their sisters with respect and dignity. I’d love for the judiciary system to go after criminals and lead to conviction in more than 3 out of 100 cases. I’d love for us to realise that rape is the fault of the rapist.

But hey, that’s only me. I’ll go back to staying silent and carrying a rape alarm around Belfast whilst the society I live in accommodates a culture of rapists.

The final part of this series will be published on the 28th and addresses sexism.

(See yesterday’s post on “fraping” and rape jokes.)

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