Hello, my name is Blamed Victim.

I have to address an issue that was in the media recently. Normally I don’t feel the need to throw my opinion into the mix over pop culture rumors, however it has less to do with pop culture than it has to do with societal issues. There have been so many people who rushed to defend Woody Allen, a man accused by his adopted daughter of molesting her when she was a child. They may defend him because they honestly believe he’s innocent, or maybe they don’t want some of their favorite filmography tarnished by association, or it could be a mix of both. Regardless of the reason, it’s not surprising that so many people are defending him, because that is the culture that has been created in America. I’m not trying to say he is without a doubt guilty, but instead, I want to ask why people are so quick to dismiss the issue (even though he married his other adopted daughter). I was disappointed to hear Barbara Walters, someone I have always admired, defend Woody Allen on the ‘The View’ saying he is a loving father from what she has seen throughout the years (as if abuse would happen somewhere other than behind closed doors). Almost worse than those who are speaking up on his behalf are those who aren’t saying anything at all. Silence from influential people in the entertainment industry is a deafeningly loud proclamation in itself.

However, this is not the first case of American society standing up for those who perpetrate sexual abuse and assault. Recently, during the Steubenville rape trial, two boys were charged with raping a 16-year-old unconscious girl. They proceeded to urinate on her and post pictures online, which ultimately incriminated them. During their trial, many people came to their defense because they are 16-years-old star football players. On CNN, one newscaster said it was “incredibly difficult” to watch these boys with “promising futures” have their lives ruined. Of course, it wasn’t their choice to rape that ruined their lives, but rather the fact that they were being held accountable for their crime. In the coverage there was no mention of what the young female victim might be going through or how it will impact her life. Even with concrete video evidence, she struggled to get support just like many women struggle to be heard amidst allegations of false claims.

Growing up, I learned how to be skeptical of abuse victims by watching everyone else do it around me. Especially in the mass media, I heard constant doubt attached to sexual abuse victims. In light of abuse claims, people would say: “she wants attention” or “she’s not remembering that right” or “he would never do something like that.” I began to question the motives of every person who claimed to have experienced sexual abuse, as if it was something to benefit from. However, research has shown that the amount of false sexual abuse claims are the same as any other crime, which is less than 3% of the cases. Yet, somehow no one doubts the victims of burglary.

From a young age, I was taught not to go outside late at night or dress in a certain way if I wanted to avoid being sexually assaulted. It’s interesting because my husband said he has never in his life been told not to rape someone, meanwhile I was given a rape whistle my freshman year of college. Women are given the responsibility to protect themselves instead of men being taught what is unacceptable. Why not unload the gun instead of shooting at a bulletproof vest? This conditioning taught me that any sexual abuse I received would be directly correlated with my own actions. Basically, it would be my own fault if that ever happened. So naturally, when it did, I took the blame rather than speaking out. I also wondered what was really considered abuse. I felt like my experience was a grey area that may or may not be a crime. Everything I had been taught growing up helped me justify and explain away the actions of my abuser. And even when I wanted to tell someone, I was plagued with doubt that my memories were really my own, or that the whole thing ever happened at all. I caught myself wondering if I had made up my own memories, something society had taught me to do many years before my abuse.

In some cases, where perpetrators are scary, it is easy for the public to villainize the abuser and feel sympathy for the victim. However, in most cases the abuser is a villain disguised by a good name and shining reputation. They hide in plain sight and surround themselves with a community that can vouch for their innocence. It is the little league coaches, the neighborhood babysitter, or a loving step-dad. In the wake of abuse accusations, these victims are immediately seen as guilty (of lying) until proven innocent. Articles written about rape often say the victim “claims” to have been raped. The word “claim” leaves room for doubt in the mind of the reader. When someone is robbed, the articles written about it don’t say they “claim” to have had their property taken. This is something our culture saves solely for sexual abuse and rape crimes, because we have been taught to always be skeptical of the victim. Assuming the abuser is innocent simultaneously implies the victim is lying. It inherently doubts the validity of the abuse.

This culture keeps sexual abuse victims quiet. The US Justice Department estimates that only 26% of rapes and attempted rapes are reported, which means large majorities do not speak up. This is a direct reflection of our culture. It silences the voices of every victim who worries if their story has holes, if they aren’t remembering the details correctly, or if anyone will believe them. The most fragile of victims are forced to defend their stories and their abuse under a microscope. There are countless cases where the victims lose over the reputation of the abuser. Abusers are often given the benefit of the doubt while victims fight to be heard. It is no wonder that most victims never speak up at all.

We need to re-wire our minds when it comes to sexual abuse and assault. I will be the first to admit I have to consciously make an effort to defend victims in my mind because I have spent the past 22 years being told to do the opposite. But I won’t let anyone else tell me what happened to me or trivialize my experience simply because they “can’t know what really happened.” We live in a culture where victim blaming is the norm and more and more people are silenced by it. As a nation, we should stand together in support of the abused because that is the only option. You have to ask yourself if sexual abuse is any less wrong if someone well respected in the community, a football star, or even a famous director does it.

 

 

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7 comments

  1. This is a great post; well thought out and written. It never occurred to me that we don’t specifically teach our boys to not rape but we teach our girls how not to be victims (and send mixed signals about who is really to blame if they’re assaulted). I always defend the victim too, I’m sure because I was one. The fact that we often fall into a cycle of self destructive behavior after we’ve suffered abuse makes it easier for society to blame us, as if we’ve done something to bring it on ourselves. Then, add secrecy to the mix and it becomes very complicated.

    1. Thank you! It’s such a complicated topic but I feel like it’s an important discussion to have. I agree about falling into the cycle. The question is whether the self-destructive behavior makes society blame us, or if society blaming us leads to self-destructive behavior.

  2. Hey, nice blog! 🙂

    It’s easy to blame an entire “culture,” but in this case, that’s an imagined issue.

    The reason people are coming to his defense is because he’s owed the benefit of the doubt, despite what you view to be tantamount to guilt in his well-documented personal history.

    He has not been convicted in a court of law on any charges relating to these allegations (and they are merely that), and in fact, when he was under the microscope some years ago and the girl was questioned (and RE-questioned) on the matter, they couldn’t find enough evidence to prosecute the guy.

    Now, do you want to argue that these professional attorneys, whose job it is to put slime bags who commit these sorts of crimes in penitentiaries, simply didn’t do their jobs because they happened to enjoy Annie Hall? Ha!

    The testimony of ANYONE is fallible, never mind that of a child; however, when someone is accused of something particularly grave, the response is often to treat it with as much seriousness as the alleged act, as though it is owed nothing less. If that “seriousness” though is judgment and no jury? You need to re-think things.

    If the guy’s guilty of these accusations, then hell – lock him up and throw away the key.

    But to suggest that we’re a “culture” of “victim blamers” because some high profile people are using some critical thinking skills? Come on now.

    Also, the rape whistle thing? It’s a precaution and you know it.

    I believe we all have rights. ALL of us.

    For instance, it is my RIGHT to walk into a biker bar dressed in a pink ballerina outfit throwing glitter on everyone in the room. However, if I were to do something like that, I can imagine I would get a certain reaction.

    That said, if a young college girl attends a frat party (to stereotype) at the rowdiest frat house on her campus dressed like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? She’s got to realize that things COULD happen. Things she may not want to happen.

    …but we all project a certain image, don’t we?

    1. Does Dylan, the adopted daughter, not also deserve the benefit of the doubt?
      I appreciate everything you are saying, but you are missing the point. I even noted that he might be innocent, but I’m more focused on the people running to his defense without having all the information. For example, he wasn’t convicted in a court because there were never criminal charges pressed against him. Dylan’s therapist said a trial might be too much for her to mentally handle at that age, and the whole case rested on her testimony. So we will never know if he would have been convicted by a jury. Most of this post is not about Woody Allen in particular.
      Also the focus of the rape whistle is not to say it’s completely wrong to give them out, but rather it makes no sense to do this while failing to teach boys to not rape in the first place. Boys should be taught that a girl wearing anything (or nothing) still have to give consent.
      I always like to hear the opinion of others, but in this case you may not feel it’s an issue because you are not the oppressed party. Also, this is my own personal experience, so you don’t have to agree.

      1. Oh, of course she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

        You were lucid enough to acknowledge that because of things in your own past, you are often quick to defend the (alleged) victims in these sorts of cases. That’s fine. It means we agree that their stories should be treated incredibly seriously.

        It’s when you start referring to this sort of thing by labelling males as the “oppressors” and women as “the oppressed” that you lose me. Why are boys not given a course on “Why We Don’t Rape”? For the same reason we don’t offer courses on “Why We Don’t Shoot the Neighbour’s Barking Dog” or “Why We Don’t Murder.”

        It’s common sense, is why.

        That doesn’t mean these things won’t happen. They will.

        But when people adopt the (ridiculous) attitude that they “should be able to (insert socially unacceptable thing, such as parade around their Women’s Studies Campus wearing not a stitch of clothing, but a bit of body paint that reads ‘Object!’) without having to worry about ______,” it’s a laugh riot.

        Why? Well, because it implies that men, by contrast, have not a care in the world. That we just go around high-fiving one another like on the early seasons of Mad Men, drinking our Scotch, smoking our cigarettes, etc.

        Yeah, uh…no.

        Danger exists out there for EVERYONE, and if you actively put yourself in its way, it’s going to get you…maybe not tomorrow, or the next day. But one day.

        I read a manual once on defensive techniques by a MASSIVE dude who was a former prison riot guard. Surely HE would have nothing to fear, right?

        Quite the opposite. He recommends that everyone, male or female, survey their environment and follow basic self-preservation techniques such as always keeping your back to a wall and your eyes open for the nearest exit(s).

        That’s why I scoffed at the posters that went up in my high school long ago. “The Walk to End MALE Violence.”

        Absurd.

        Most people are generally pretty decent. That’s what I believe. And what I’m reading in your writing are opinions that have been…well, I can’t say definitively where they came from, but…yeah, I’m burnt out.

        I’m going to eat my pizza now. Alone. At 12:40am for some reason. 🙂

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