Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Blaming Oneself and Taking Responsibility for Sexual Violence: When it Is, and Is Not, Appropriate

[image is from here]

Everything before the thee asterisks [*     *     *] is from here at News. Everything after the three stars is by me.  -- Julian
It is depressing that people are still quick to blame the victim of rape rather than placing the responsibility where it actually belongs - squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator
Kate Allen
Amnesty International

Page last updated at 14:04 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010
Women say some rape victims should take blame - survey

Rape victim in specialist clinic (posed by model)
The survey found there was some reluctance to report being raped
A majority of women believe some rape victims should take responsibility for what happened, a survey suggests.

Almost three quarters of the women who believed this said if a victim got into bed with the assailant before an attack they should accept some responsibility.

One-third blamed victims who had dressed provocatively or gone back to the attacker's house for a drink.

The survey of more than 1,000 people in London marked the 10th anniversary of the Haven service for rape victims.

More than half of those of both sexes questioned said there were some circumstances when a rape victim should accept responsibility for an attack.

Less forgiving
The study found that women were less forgiving of the victim than men.

Of the women who believed some victims should take responsibility, 71% thought a person should accept responsibility when getting into bed with someone, compared with 57% of men.

Elizabeth Harrison from Haven said there was never an excuse for forcing a woman to do something she did not want to.

"Clearly, women are in a position where they need to take responsibility for themselves - but whatever you wear and whatever you do does not give somebody else the right to rape you.

"It's important people take the time to actually look at what they are doing and make sure the person they are with is actually wanting to go ahead with what they are proposing."

The survey also found more than one in 10 people were unsure whether they would report being raped to the police, and 2% said they would definitely not do so.

The main reasons were being too embarrassed or ashamed (55%), wanting to forget it had happened (41%) and not wanting to go to court (38%).

Meanwhile, the survey suggested that many people are relaxed about their safety. Almost half of people have walked home via side streets on their own.

One in five has been so drunk they have lost their memory, while one in five has got into a taxi without checking whether it is licensed.

Hardening attitudes
When asked about their own experiences, more than a third of those polled said they had been in a situation where they could have been made to have sex against their will.

Women are more likely to have been in this situation - 40% compared to 20%.

And one in five adults had been in a situation where they were made to have sex when they did not want to. This had happened to more women (23%) than men (20%).

The online survey, titled Wake Up To Rape, polled 1,061 people aged 18 to 50, comprising 712 women and 349 men.

An Amnesty International report five years ago found that a significant minority of British people laid the blame for rape at victims themselves.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says this latest study suggests attitudes may have hardened. And the findings may help explain why juries are reluctant to convict in some rape trials.

Amnesty International's UK director Kate Allen said the new findings were "alarming but sadly not surprising".
"It is depressing that, nearly half a decade later, people are still quick to blame the victim of rape rather than placing the responsibility where it actually belongs - squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator," she said.

"The government has announced that it will develop an 'integrated strategy' to tackle violence against women and these findings are another reminder of how urgent this is and how proper training, support and resourcing will be vital in making it a reality."

The Home Office said it had introduced a number of measures to the service provided to rape victims, including new police and prosecutors' guidance, monitoring of services and funding for support for rape victims.

A spokeswoman said: "The government is determined to ensure that every victim has immediate access to the services and support they need so that more victims have the confidence to come forward and report these crimes and we can bring the perpetrators to justice."
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When I was sexually assaulted by a white het man in his thirties when I was twelve, I blamed myself for several reasons.
1. The perp didn't take responsibility for the assault, or the harm done to me, or the damage, or the hurt, or the violation. He acted as though he was fully entitled to do what he did, which meant to me, that I was not entitled at all to say no or to fight him off.

2. I didn't fight him off or say no. I was too terrified to speak.

3. It was caused me less anxiety and post-traumatic terror, temporarily, to me to blame myself than to blame him. To blame him would have required me to be angry at him, and anger at him felt dangerous to me. It felt dangerous for me to even know what I felt about him and about what he did to me. I didn't even have language for the horror of what happened. So I buried the whole assault, emotionally, for years, never speaking of it to anyone. To blame myself meant I could imagine I had power and control in a situation in which I had neither. Self-blame = lack of vulnerability to perpetration, in my mind which had been shaped by living in a society in which perps never take responsibility for what they/we do, and instead force the victims to "prove it". Why don't the perps just admit it?

I have admitted what I've done that was harmful to other people, and have made amends with all of them. It's possible to do, if the one's you've hurt are open to hearing from you at all. And they may not be, for many good reasons. My first question to those I once harmed was "Would it be helpful to you in any way for us to discuss what I did to you?" This alerts the person harmed to the fact that I'm not about the blame them for my behavior. Everyone I've asked this to has said "Yes" and has appreciated me initiating an emotional process of me being responsible for everything I did, with that question. 

I've had to have that conversation twice. I would say that I was a perpetrator twice. When I have described in detail what happened, what I did, and what the dynamics and context was, most men don't consider it abusive of me at all, among both het and gay men. Some women don't either, but every feminist I've talked to about those two incidents "get it" about why consent wasn't meaningful and my actions caused harm.

In neither case was the scenario overtly forceful. In court, both situations would be called "consensual" and would not be called sexual abuse, but I knew that due to many factors, consent wasn't all that meaningful. In both cases I was an older male who had some sexual contact with a younger male. In neither case was the male underage (under seventeen) at the time of the contact. One male was seventeen, and one was nineteen. I was ten years older with the seventeen year-old, and more than twice the age of the nineteen year-old. 

I made an effort to speak with both men about what I did, and when either tried to put some of the blame on themselves, with statements like "I initiated part of that" or "I feel like I used you too", I explained why I didn't think that was a reason for me not being fully responsible for what happened, and they got to disagree, but they did come to see that I was fully responsible. It was meaningful to them not just that "I was sorry" or that "I regretted it occurring". What was especially meaningful to each person I'd perpetrated was that I didn't let them take the blame, or initiate the conversation being unclear about who did what to whom. It was also helpful that I welcomed them to express any feelings they had, including anger, at me, to me, whenever they wished to and that I told them they were fully entitled to be angry with me for manipulating situations to allow sex to occur. In neither case was I the sole initiator of the sexual behavior. But in both cases I choreographed the opportunities for that sexual behavior to occur--behavior that was abusive on my part because consent was not meaningful. More simply put, if someone cannot, at any moment, say "no" to what is happening in a sexual encounter, then a "yes" given or implied earlier on is not an indicator of meaningful consent being present at the time of abuse or assault.

Assuming for the moment a two-person scenario, which was the case in both situations in which I was abusive to others, I think the following is important to note. For me, to me, consent is only meaningful if both people are fully aware of all of what is about to occur, or is in the perpetrator's mind to do before it happens, and he shares that, those intentions, those wishes, before any sexual activity occurs, but NOT in a way that is coercive, or intended to make sure it happens. It is also important that all consequences be discussed before sexual activity ensues, no matter who initiates it. Consent also requires equal political agency and capacity to say no, or to otherwise indicate a wish to not proceed or to stop. Consent also requires the person with more political power, social status, and institutional entitlements to make sure the person being sexually engaged is not dissociated, is fully present, is willfully engaging in the behavior and is welcoming of it. And I did many of those things, and still abuse occurred. This is one of many reasons I believe most men are sexual abusers. Because most sex men initiate or choreograph or "make happen" doesn't do all of the above.

When the perpetrator doesn't take full responsibility, or worse, blames the one harmed, then it is yet another form of abuse against that person by the abuser.




London's Pro-feminist Men's Group issued this media statement immediately after mainstream male-dominated media published findings of the small scale survey on male sexual violence against women.

Not surprisingly, male-dominated media conveniently experienced another instance of temporary amnesia and overlooked this very important statement from a group of men who contrary to dominant views - hold men not women accountable for male sexual violence against women.

Press release is shown below:

Media Release

For immediate release, Tuesday Feb 16th 2010

London Pro-Feminist Men's Group statement in response to Wake up to Rape report

Responding to media reports about The Havens' report on British public attitudes to rape, The London Pro-Feminist Men's Group said:

"Rape is never acceptable, and it is never the fault of the woman. The idea that a woman 'should know what to expect if she goes back to a man's house' is based on the idea that men cannot control themselves or are naturally driven to have sex at any cost. These lies serve to absolve men of responsibility for their behaviour but they do us no service. We call on all men to clean up our acts: in order to gain women's trust, we need to establish a record of decent behaviour, and to show no tolerance for any form of abuse of women."

For more information, contact, providing a contact phone number.

Notes for Editors

1. The London Pro-Feminist Men's Group is a group of men who have been meeting in London for over 2 years. For more information see

Julian Real said...

Thank you Jennifer, as always!

I guess A.R.P. is fortunate to have TWO London correspondents--yourself and Christina.

I remember that after Andrea Dworkin gave her famous speech "I Want A 24 Truce During Which There Is No Rape", several male run anti-rape groups began around the U.S.

Do you know the men in that group, and what is your sense of the work they do? Who are the men you know who you feel really solid about, as profeminist activists?

Julian Real said...

And, I'm not at all surprised the dominant cultural media didn't touch that report.