‘Men only target vulnerable women’ & other myths

Featured

Dr Jessica Taylor

15th October 2020

Content warning for rape, abuse and blaming of women and girls.

One of the biggest lies we’ve ever been fed is that women and girls have an innate vulnerability which causes sex offenders, domestic violence offenders and child abusers to spot them and target them.

I write this blog to dispel this powerful myth, and to reassure millions of women and girls that it wasn’t their ‘vulnerability’ which led to them being beaten up, abused, raped or harmed.

I want to make this argument in six points:

⁃ The vulnerability myth is based on some very old, and very shit science

⁃ We like to deny our own vulnerability by calling other people ‘vulnerable’

⁃ We teach children that only ‘vulnerable’ kids get abused and harmed

⁃ We have an oversimplified understanding of abusers and offenders

⁃ We don’t know how to tackle the global epidemic of male violence

⁃ Vulnerability does not lead to other humans committing crime

The message which I hope to convey is that ‘vulnerability’ is not the cause or the source of the abuse that women and girls are subjected to. Further, we have leant on this explanation so heavily that services, programmes, interventions and policies are based upon it, despite it being incorrect.

The vulnerability myth is based on some very old, and very shit science

Calling women and girls ‘vulnerable’ is so commonplace now, you might not even notice it. You might not notice that when a woman or girl is abused, someone will point out her ‘vulnerabilities’. You might not notice that the conversation often becomes about her background, her personality, her childhood or her understanding.

The truth is that this process of seeking and assessing ‘vulnerabilities’ of women and girls who have been abused and harmed is deeply embedded into social care, psychology, mental health, counselling, policing, legislation, education, law and justice.

To understand how we got to a place where we pick apart the woman or girl and lay out her ‘vulnerabilities’ as reasons for being raped, trafficked, abused or traumatised – we have to look at some of the old theories which have continued to influence our thinking.

One such theory is almost 80 years old, and comes from positivist victimology.

Key theorists in victimology and criminology as far back as 1948 argued that only certain types of people became victims of crime and often brought it upon themselves.

Hans Von Hentig wrote in Time Magazine (1948):

‘Certain characteristics of law-abiding citizens arouse a counter reaction in the criminal. The inexperienced businessman, for example, invites embezzlement; the nagging wife is flirting with murder; the alcoholic is a natural for robbery. Thus, the victim becomes the tempter.’

As you can see from this example, it is theorised that victims ‘tempt’ and ‘arouse’ criminals to commit crimes by being vulnerable, inexperienced – or… a woman.

Spoiler alert: There is a lot of misogyny in vulnerability theories and research.

Later victimology theorists such as Benjamin Mendelsohn and Stephen Schafer also suggested that victims caused crime by being weak, vulnerable, female, old, disabled or young. All three theorists suggested that victims precipitate crime by provoking offenders. Whilst this sounds somewhat outdated, these perspectives are alive and well.

Many theories within psychology and criminology still rely on the assumption that women subjected to sexual and domestic violence either brought the offence on themselves, should have done something to protect themselves, should have behaved in a different way or that their vulnerabilities led to the offender targeting and attacking them.

Victim precipitation theory and research suggests that victims precipitate a crime by their behaviour, vulnerability, character or even the way they walk. This research is still ongoing, and only recently I spoke to an academic who was conducting research into which women were ‘vulnerable’ to being raped by their gait and style of walking.

The argument goes that if a woman or girl walks in a way which is not confident or assertive, she gives off some sort of signal to offenders that she is vulnerable and would therefore be a good target for rape or abuse.

Walking isn’t the only thing which academics have suggested to be a vulnerability in women and girls – everything from their appearance to their childhood has been explored in the literature for decades. There are thousands of articles and studies which seek to name the ‘vulnerability factors’ of women and girls, with the aim of reducing them by changing something about that woman or girl.

Interestingly, the same cannot be said for men who are raped and abused, they are not generally discussed as if they were ‘vulnerable’ to offenders or ‘giving off signals’ to be raped or abused.

It’s as if we see rape as a violent crime when committed against men, but as natural process of taking of an opportunity of a weak person, when rape is committed against women.

The reason that I reject this research and these theories entirely is simple: none of it is true, and if you look hard enough for correlations, you’ll find them no matter what they are.

If I looked hard enough, I bet I could find a correlation between which vegetables women eat and being subjected to violence or abuse by men. The reality is that violence against women and girls is so common, that you can often find correlations that don’t really exist, purely based on how common one of the variables is.

I, and thousands of other professionals, have been working with abused women and girls for decades. Those of us who have done these jobs know that we come across women and girls from every background imaginable. I’ve never seen a particular personality, character, appearance, walk or background that has formed any sort of pattern in the women I have supported.

I’ve supported everyone from female MPs to child victims of trafficking. I’ve worked with lawyers and police officers who were being raped and abused by their husbands at home. I’ve worked with social workers who work in safeguarding teams every day and live in fear of their partners. I’ve worked with women who were experts in martial arts who were raped and beaten up by men. I’ve discussed experiences of abuse and rape with women in the military and women who are now veterans.

Equally, I’ve worked with women who have been in care since they were toddlers. I’ve supported girls who have been trafficked around the country. I’ve worked with girls who have never known a safe place to live and have struggled to get a decent meal.

I can’t think of any ‘vulnerability’ that any of these women or girls had in common. They were a mixture of confident, nervous, strong, terrified, healthy, unwell, believed, ignored, extrovert, introvert, popular, lonely, religious, atheist, old, young, poor, rich, supported and isolated women and girls.

The only thing they had in common was that they were females in a patriarchy, and that means that statistically, they are at constant risk from male violence.

We like to deny our own vulnerability by calling other women ‘vulnerable’

You might be wondering why we go to such efforts to name the vulnerability in the woman or girl.

My work, and the work of many others, explores the concept of ‘denial of personal vulnerability’.

Simply put, this means that we are all vulnerable at some level, but we like to pretend we are not.

We are vulnerable not because of innate characteristics or behaviours, but purely due to how common abuse and rape is. At any given time, any of us could be attacked, assaulted, abused, threatened, groomed or even murdered. But to think in such terms would leave most of us anxious and terrified to live a normal life, so we instead tell ourselves that it would never happen to us, because we are not ‘vulnerable’ like those other women and girls who are raped and abused.

We tell ourselves that we would never be that stupid, never be that trusting, never drink that much, never date that guy, never go to that place. We tell ourselves that we would ‘see the signs’. We tell ourselves that the first time he laid his hands on us, we would be out of the door.

It’s all bullshit, of course. But we like to redirect our own feelings of personal vulnerability by pointing the finger at victims and then picking out their ‘vulnerabilities’. We then say ‘ahhh, that’s why she was raped, well, I would never do that, I would never let that happen to me.’

It’s a defence mechanism. A coping strategy for living in a patriarchy. We blame and name other women and girls as ‘vulnerable’ so we don’t ever have to face the fact that it could happen to us.

This is true even when academics write papers about ‘vulnerabilities’ of women and girls subjected to male violence. The difference is, they get to dress it up with big words, theories and titles so that we all nod and agree. It must be the vulnerabilities of the victims! Of course!

We teach children that only ‘vulnerable’ kids get abused and harmed

We invest a huge amount of time and effort into convincing each other that only the vulnerable will be abused, raped and harmed. This starts early, as early as primary school.

Children are taught in PSHE, assemblies and workshops that only the vulnerable children will be abused or groomed. Resources from everywhere from NSPCC to Barnardo’s have endorsed the myth that only the vulnerable children will be abused, and that if we remove their ‘vulnerabilities’ they will be safe from sex offenders and child abusers.

It’s again, all total rubbish. But that doesn’t stop us from showing children videos, resources and sessions which encourage them to identify the ‘vulnerability’ of the child who is raped and abused. It also doesn’t stop us from constructing entire vulnerability assessments in professional practice which erroneously attempt to identify which vulnerabilities of the child caused the abuse, so we can ‘solve’ them.

A common example of this is when professionals conclude that a girl has been exploited or raped because she didn’t ‘have enough education about consent and healthy relationships’.

This leads to plans around the child which suggest that increasing her knowledge of consent and abuse will protect her from the sex offender who is exploiting her, because once she has more knowledge, she will use the knowledge to defend herself and protect herself better.

This completely ignores the fact that even the most educated professionals who work in abuse every day, are still just as likely to be abused as anyone else. There has been no research which suggests that knowledge of abuse is protective. It is educative at best. This is because power dynamics and the choice to commit violent crime against women and girls has literally fuck all to do with the victim and has everything to do with the motivation and personal choices of the offender.

If we are to tackle this myth, we need to look at why we embed it from such an early age in girls and boys around the world.

We have an oversimplified understanding of abusers and offenders

One of them main issues we have is that whilst we like to scream ‘monster’ and ‘pervert’ and ‘paedo’ at offenders, we don’t actually get taught anything about these men. This leads to serious misunderstandings about offenders who commit domestic and sexual violence offences.

One such misunderstanding is that offenders carefully seek out and then deliberately target the most vulnerable women and girls in society.

This is very easily disproved, especially as direct qualitative research with sex offenders and domestic violence offenders shows that men who commit these crimes target their victims for hundreds of reasons, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with vulnerability.

In interviews, sex offenders have said that they targeted girls because they liked their hair, their tights, their body shape and their smile. Sex offenders report targeting children because they are confident and happy. Some talk about their specific sexual fantasies. Some only target girls of certain ages and ethnicities. Some sex offenders report not caring who their victims are at all, and will rape and abuse any child they can.

When it comes to online sex offending, there is plenty of evidence that sex offenders target children and adults randomly, based on whoever responds first and in a way they want. This means they can literally use a scattergun approach to attack and groom hundreds of victims per day, and never know anything about their so-called ‘vulnerabilities’.

In chat logs of sex offenders abusing children which were analysed by Kloess et al. (2017), most offenders never even asked for details about the child. They were not seeking vulnerabilities to exploit. They were targeting hundreds of different kids. They had very little in common.

With the abuse and grooming of adult women, the same can be said. It is seen as ‘common knowledge’ that abusers target vulnerable women – and yet, many offenders actually target assertive and confident women who spend the rest of their lives wondering how that man managed to grind them down and destroy their sense of self.

The reality is, for lots of misogynists, destroying confident and healthy women is part of the fun. It’s part of the kick they get out of belittling and humiliating her. Why would an offender always target vulnerable women, when they enjoy breaking down women and controlling them?

The vulnerability theory is just myth. It suggests that offenders don’t target or abuse ‘strong’ women, and that if you are a strong woman, it shouldn’t ever happen to you.

This is particularly true for Black women who are generally positioned as strong, aggressive matriarchs due to racism. So it’s even harder for Black women to be seen as victims of abuse and male violence, because we assume they are all ‘strong, assertive’ women who would never be targeted by abusers. There has been much written about this phenomenon, and it deserves a lot more attention. Especially as it exposes so fluently, the stereotypes we use to build the ‘perfect victim’, and what happens when you as a woman, sit outside of that perfect victim stereotype.

If you are not seen as vulnerable or weak, you can often be positioned as a liar or a malicious ex.

It’s almost as if we believe that all victims of male violence must be inherently vulnerable women and girls, and they are not vulnerable, they are not real victims.

We don’t know how to tackle the global epidemic of male violence

This is probably fairly obvious, but we don’t actually know how to (and there is very little appetite for) challenge and end global, systemic male violence.

We did get to a point where we started to take notice of the fact that 97-99% of all violent crime is committed by men globally, and that we had to do something about the way men and boys were being socialised and brought up to regard fighting, violence, sexual power, competition and bullying as masculine traits to aim for.

However, more recently, we have seemingly gone backwards. When we talk about male violence or male crime stats, we are shouted down and told we are misandrists and man-hating feminist bitches, (ironic, but okay).

It seems that if we cannot even publicly address decades of solid evidence and statistics, we definitely cannot work towards tackling male violence yet. As much as I would love to see that for the good of our entire species, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink.

Everyone knows the reality of violent crime, but many are reluctant to do anything with it.

We’ve now moved away from holding men responsible (again) and gone back towards positivist theories of victim precipitation and vulnerability.

Vulnerability in one human does not lead to other humans committing crime

My final message has to be the clearest.

It does not matter how vulnerable a woman or girl is, it never ever ‘causes’ another human with free will to choose to abuse, rape or kill them.

Absolutely nothing inside that victim has any power or effect on the choice-making of an offender.

They are capable and competent adults who make active choices to harm women and girls for one reason:

Because they want to.

You don’t need any other theories. Offenders do it, ultimately, because they want to. That’s why they are able to keep their cool with their boss, or their best mate, or some dickhead they play footy with – but ‘lose their cool’ with their girlfriend at home or abuse little girls.

This isn’t about vulnerability of the woman or girl, it’s about a choice that is made by a misogynistic, violent offender who wants to abuse and harm women and girls (and in some cases, children in general rather than just girls).

Let me explain something to everyone reading this blog:

If vulnerabilities lead to some sort of human arousal or temptation in us to exploit or abuse or kill weaker humans, we would all do it (or at least the majority of us). And yet, not only do the majority of humans not commit these crimes, but women hardly commit any.

Globally, women are only responsible for around 2% of violent crime. So does this mean that victim precipitation theory only applies to male offenders and female victims?

If the vulnerability theories were real, that would mean that if you came across a drunk woman, accidentally separated from her friends and lost in the high street, you would think ‘she’s vulnerable and alone, I could do something to her right now!’

But you don’t, do you?

Most of us have never had a thought like that in our lives.

You might instead see her and think ‘shit, she’s alone, is she okay?’

Or you might approach her and ask her if she’s safe, and where her friends are. You might ring an ambulance or police if needed. You might help her back to somewhere safe like a taxi rank or a bar where her friends were.

That’s because you made a CHOICE.

100 people could walk past her and the majority would see all of her so-called ‘vulnerabilities’ and either try to help her or not stop at all.

And yet a handful may stop and make a choice to harm her, rape her, rob her or kill her.

Her ‘vulnerabilities’ had nothing to do with it. It is all about the active choice making of the offender.

It is ALWAYS the choice of the offender.

Vulnerability of women is just a myth used to distract us from the real cause of male violence: men.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

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5 ways we are encouraged to blame women and girls for being raped and abused

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Dr Jessica Eaton

23 June 2019

Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence against women and girls and the ways they are blamed for being victims of male violence

Having spent 10 years working with women and girls subjected to sexual and domestic violence of all kinds, I have never had a case or a caseload in which the woman or girl was not being blamed for what someone else (usually a man) was doing to her. Sometimes she is blamed by her family, sometimes by her partner. Sometimes she is blamed by police or by social workers. Sometimes it’s the mental health team blaming her.

Victim blaming is the act of transferring the blame from the perpetrator (who is 100% to blame for sexual offences they commit) and moving that blame back to the victim of the sexual offences.

My interest in the psychology of victim blaming really started to grow about 7 years into my career when I noticed strong patterns in the ways victim blaming was being encouraged and communicated across all sectors I had worked in. I decided to do a PhD in forensic psychology to explore why victim blaming of women and girls was so common.

This article gives an introduction to 5 ways (out of thousands) we are encouraged to blame women and girls for sexual violence perpetrated against them, built on my own research and my new book which will be coming out in 2020.

Let’s look at the ways we blame women and girls when they are raped, abused, exploited, assaulted, harassed or stalked:

Blame her behaviour

One of the first things we are encouraged to do is called ‘behavioural blame’. This is where we are encouraged to examine the behaviour of the woman or girl to look for behaviours that might have ‘led’ to being raped or abused.

Behavioural blame may include blaming women and girls for drinking, going to an event, using a dating app, walking somewhere alone, working in a bar, going travelling around the world, getting the tube at night, wearing headphones, meeting new people at a party and so on until infinity.

The purpose of behavioural blame is to pinpoint the ‘behaviour’ of the victim which ‘led’ to being raped or abused so we can convince ourselves that we would never make the same ‘mistake’ and therefore this offence would never happen to us. This is about denial of personal vulnerability, and us searching for an answer as to why this happened to her.

The problem with this of course, is that the answer has been staring us in the face for millennia. The cause of rape is men who rape. The cause of sexual offences is sex offenders.

Behavioural blame therefore obscures the real reason for the offence and focusses our attention on the victim.

Behavioural blame often leads to behavioural modification, too. This is where the victim (and sometimes women and girls in general) are advised or told to change their behaviours to protect themselves from sexual violence.

In my own research, I found that women and girls who had been subjected to sexual violence had often been told by professionals or by people in their personal support network that they should change their behaviours so they are not raped or abused again.

Just in my one study, this resulted in women telling me that they had changed their lifestyles, stopped dancing, stopped dating, stopped wearing certain clothes, stopped going to bars, stopped drinking, closed down their social media accounts, stopped going to places of worship, quit their jobs, stopped hugging people, stopped walking home from work, stopped smiling at men and stopped making new friends.

However, lots of those women told me that their drastic behavioural changes failed to protect them and many of them had been assaulted, raped or abused again despite following the behaviour modification advice from professionals and family members.

This is completely unfair. This is encouraging women and girls to make their lives smaller and smaller, whilst blaming them for the actions of a sex offender.

Blame her character

When behavioural blame fails to explain a sexual offence against a woman or girl, we very quickly move on to ‘characterological blame’.

This means that when we can’t blame her behaviour, because maybe the circumstances of the rape or assault were such that we can’t find anything ‘wrong’ with her behaviours before, during or after the attack – we will be encouraged to examine her character.

Characterological blame can include blaming a woman or girl for being too confident, too naive, too trusting, too flirty, not assertive enough, too outgoing, too sexual, too ‘streetwise’, manipulative, deceitful, too clever, too stupid, too articulate, too scared, not scared enough, too emotional, not emotional enough and literally anything else they can use to attack her.

Research shows that attacking the character of the woman or girl and finding something that we believe ‘led’ to being raped or abused makes us feel better about ourselves and reaffirms our belief in a just world in which bad things only happen to inherently bad people.

Again, this type of blame obscures the real reason for the sexual offence (the sex offender) and instead encourages us to dig up dirt on the character of the victim – like this cancels out the offence or makes her deserving of rape and abuse.

Characterological blame is central to the defence in some trials, in which the evidence is so clear that the only thing left is to destroy the character of the victim to cause doubt in the minds of the jury. Whenever defence lawyers used this tactic in my courts, I always knew they had nothing left to give to the defence, so instead, they had taken to attacking the character of the girl or woman.

However, whilst this is a sneaky tactic, it often works. Juries are highly influenced by characterological blame of women and girls and I saw many trials take a nosedive at the point where the defence team started to attack the victim for their character and encouraged the jury to take this into account to decide their ‘credibility’.

Blame her sexuality

My research has recently shown that one of the main factors of victim blaming women and girls is to blame her sexuality.

What I mean by this is her choices, preferences, actions, history and experiences of sex.

In a general public sample study in UK, I deliberately manipulated some scenarios about sexual violence against women to contain sexually active women. I then asked participants whether they blamed the woman for being raped or abused.

In some items I mentioned that she had multiple sexual partners. In some I mentioned she was bisexual. In some I mentioned she used Tinder. In some I mentioned she had been having a sexual affair. In some I mentioned that she enjoyed a good sex life. In some I mentioned that she liked feeling sexy and desirable. In some I mentioned that she takes nudes of herself. In some I mentioned that she likes to dress sexily sometimes to make herself feel good.

Long story short – these items resulted in much higher victim blaming than other items in the study. Some of these items caused between 40-60% of the participants to blame her for being raped or abused by a man.

This finding is backed up by much research and real life examples of trials and investigations in which the sexual history or the sexual activity of the woman or girl is used against her to either drop charges, to drop an investigation or to use against her in court to position her as promiscuous.

Isn’t it interesting that in 10 years I’ve never heard of a case in which a man who was raped was asked how many people he has slept with and whether his ‘promiscuity’ led to being raped?

This is because research definitively shows that we have an issue with female sexuality. We love objectifying and dementalising women into the topless pin-up or the woman being penetrated by three blokes in the porn scene – but we don’t like it when women and girls around us are sexually active. Or worse. In control of their own sexuality in the way they want to be. Oh hell no.

Blame her situation

‘Situational blame’ is an intriguing approach to victim blaming which again, completely erases the offender from the offence. In this case, we are encouraged to blame the situation the woman or girl was in when the offence was committed.

I find this type of blame most common in child sexual exploitation practice (CSE) in the UK.

Situational blame may sound like people blaming parties, clubs, hotels, taxis, tubes, train stations, parks, gigs, schools, council estates or blocks of flats for sexual violence committed against women and girls instead of blaming the offender.

It often sounds like this:

‘Well you know, if she’s going to keep going to hang around on that park, she’s putting herself in a situation where she might get raped’.

Or it sounds like this:

‘That estate is like that though. It’s dangerous. If you live on that estate then you know what will happen.’

Or it can sound like this:

‘She lives in poverty and hasn’t got much else going for her so it’s obvious this was going to happen to her.’

In this type of blame, we are encouraged to blame the situation, the inanimate environment, the park or the stairwell.

What this does of course, is it ignores the offender as the cause of the offence.

You cannot be sexually assaulted by a park. You cannot be raped by a hotel.

You cannot be exploited by train station.

You cannot be sexually abused by poverty.

These are human actions. There has to be an offender for these offences to take place.

For example, last week a social worker told me that it was a teenage girl’s fault for being sexually exploited because she keeps hanging around the MacDonalds drive thru at 10pm at night and men keep picking her up in their cars and asking her to get in to give them head or have sex with them.

She claimed that MacDonalds was the dangerous situation that she kept ‘putting herself at risk’.

I argued back.

I said to her, ‘If I drove past her at the drive thru, would I ask her to get in my car and give me head? No. If you drove past her at the drive thru to get a burger, would you wind the window down and tell her she’s sexy? No. That night, it’s likely hundreds of adults drove right past her and her friends and didn’t even notice they were there. Families. Single women. Single men. Couples. Parents. MacDonalds therefore is not actually the dangerous situation you’re making it out to be. The danger comes from the ONE sex offender who winds the window down and asks her to get in his car. If he never went to MacDonalds that night, nothing would have happened to her. He chose to attack that child. He could have just driven past and ate his food. But he didn’t. The situation isn’t to blame, the offender is. Every time you blame MacDonalds drive thru for this offence, you excuse the perpetrator.’

See how that works?

Blame her appearance

This one is how we know misogyny is still alive and kicking. No one cares what men and boys were wearing when they were raped or abused. Similarly, no one cares what the man was wearing when he raped someone. No one cares what the victims of literally any other crime were wearing.

Except women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence. Then, clothing becomes central for some reason.

Was she wearing a low cut top? Was she wearing a short skirt? A push up bra? Lace knickers? A bikini? A backless dress? High heeled shoes? Knee high boots?

Apparently this is all relevant in blaming women and girls for sexual violence committed against them.

This is most curious, because the majority of all sexual offences against women and girls are committed by partners, ex-partners and family members and are usually committed within a residence. Therefore, the chances are that most women and girls are wearing pyjamas, comfortable everyday clothing, school uniforms, work uniforms, jeans, leggings, hoodies, slippers, trainers, sports bras, trackies and tee shirts when they are raped, abused or assaulted.

However, this doesn’t stop professionals from using clothing against women and girls. Even children are being blamed for their clothing choices.

Last year I worked with a local authority where their social workers felt strongly that girls wearing cropped tee shirts and showing their midriff were bringing CSE upon themselves and that took some serious work to challenge those beliefs.

In 2014, I was given access to case records of children being sexually abused and one of them said of a 12 year old girl who was being raped, ‘She prances around the house wearing knee high boots trying to seduce her Dad’.

In 2016, I read a missing person notification about a 13 year old girl who was being trafficked around the country; written by a police officer.

It stated that she must want it, because she had packed a small bag containing a change of underwear, a clean bra and make up.

Further, in many CSE risk toolkits used in local authorities and police forces all over the UK, there are items that ask what the child is wearing which include:

  • Sexualised dress
  • Wearing make up
  • Revealing clothing

This means that the common rape myth of ‘only girls and women who wear short skirts get raped’ has actually filtered right down into social work and police assessments, not only of women but of children who can’t even consent to sex.

Does it really matter if the 12 year old is wearing a crop top and shorts at the time she is raped? Really? Isn’t she a victim of serious crime anyway?

And to that end, even adult women should not be scrutinised on their clothing at the time of rape, abuse or assault. Why would her wearing a backless dress change the offence that was committed against her?

Unless of course we are claiming that the bodies and clothing of the woman are causing the offences. Which we are. Which is why this is still happening.

Interestingly, the appearance of the woman or girl can also influence a police investigation and a trial. In my PhD thesis, I wrote about research that has shown that body type and body shape of women and girls can change the outcome of sexual violence trials. For example, if the woman or girl is perceived to be overweight or unattractive, they are more likely for their case to be dropped or to be found not guilty in a court of law. Researchers argue that this is because there is still an assumption that ‘fat’ or ‘unattractive’ women and girls don’t get raped or abused because the offence is about sexual desire.

However, that doesn’t mean that other women and girls are going to get an easier time in court. Oh no.

Research has also found that if the woman or girl is slim and perceived to be very attractive, she also has a high chance of her case being dropped or found not guilty in court. This is because there is still a perception that the attractive woman or girl must have either wanted it, or led the offender on with their appearance, because he can’t help it.

Blaming the appearance of women and girls for sexual violence committed against them is related to sexual objectification.

Objectification and sexualisation of women and girls as constant walking sex objects for men and boys to use and abuse will encourage victim blaming. When we look at girls and women like this in our society, we will still see them as sex objects even when they are raped and abused. In fact, we are not likely to see certain sexual offences as ‘real rapes’ or ‘real assaults’ at all because we will be socialised to believe that women enjoy them or want them to happen. Therefore, our thinking about sexual violence becomes about the sexuality and sexual allure of the woman or girl – rather than thinking about sexual violence as a deliberate act of violence and oppression.

I’ve written about research that has shown that when we objectify women and girls, we also dementalise them. This means that we assume they have no thoughts and feelings of their own, as they are an object to crave and use, not an equal human being. Therefore, objectification will also result in an assumption that sexual violence against women isn’t that serious and women are exaggerating or lying about it.

This is not an exhaustive list of ways we blame women and girls

Far from it. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I have found in my research and work.

If I was to continue writing this blog, I would include the way we blame women and girls for their reactions to sexual violence, their culture, their upbringing, their age, their ethnicity, their social class, their assertiveness, their mental health, their relationship status, their knowledge of sexual violence and hundreds of other issues which will be covered in my new book, ‘Why Women Are Blamed For Everything’ by Dr Jessica Eaton.

This will be available on pre-order at the end of 2019 and will be published in 2020.

The fact is, we have cooked up thousands of reasons as to why women and girls are the ones to blame for sexual violence. The evidence is solid, and we have been finding these reasons and factors for over 50 years in the academic literature. However, even books such as ‘Rape in Antiquity’ can teach us much about the way women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and then blamed for it centuries and millennia ago.

Victim blaming is nothing new. But it does need to end.

We will never tackle male violence across the world whilst we use women and girls as the scapegoats and excuses for millions of rapists, child abusers, paedophiles and sex offenders.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Psychologist

Founder of VictimFocus

Published: 23 June 2019

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Jessicaforenpsych

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Six times when misogynistic bullshit was sold to us as ‘empowering women’

Written by Jessica Eaton

25/02/2019

It’s one of those blogs. And it’s been one of those days. Hold tight.

We have to call time on misogynistic, sexist bullshit being peddled to women as ‘empowerment’. More and more companies, activists, organisations and even governments are latching on to the concept of ‘empowering women’ and then using that concept to flog their wares. Even worse, we’ve seen a move towards misogynistic, sexist, hate-filled language as a way of ‘empowering’ each other as women.

We need to stop. Step back. Take stock – and start to wonder why lots of approaches to ‘empowering women’ actually continue to oppress, objectify and exploit us all.

So here’s six examples of misogyny and sexism being sold to us as ‘empowering women’.

1. Empowering women through boudoir or lingerie photoshoots

This one has throughly annoyed me this week, and inspired this entire blog. So let’s unpick it. A woman has grown, been through the trials and experiences of being a woman in the world, maybe had kids, maybe had traumas, maybe had loss in her life, illness, miscarriage, abuse or operations.

Maybe all of that has worn her down, made her feel tired, unhealthy, unattractive, unworthy.

And what’s the answer to how she’s feeling and everything she’s lived through? By empowering her again. By building her back up. By helping her feel worth something again. And how should we achieve that?

Why, by encouraging her to take her clothes off for a photographer of course!

What more could she possibly need than pictures of herself in awkward poses in lingerie with stupid props to help her feel ‘empowered’ as a woman?

And this is literally the central issue with the boudoir and lingerie shoots as a way of ‘empowering women’. Why is this approach not applied to men? Poor 40 year old Barry, having a midlife crisis, recently lost his Dad, struggling with diabetes. You know what he needs to do? Strip down to a thong and let some bloke take pictures of him on a fluffy blanket.

Yeah, sounds fucking stupid, doesn’t it?

There is absolutely nothing empowering about the assumption that women will feel better and more powerful by being objectified and sexualised. This is literally the opposite of female empowerment.

2. Calling each other ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ is empowering

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard some woke youth saying ‘We call each other bitches, sluts and hoes, because we are taking back ownership of the words and it’s empowering us.’

Lemme tell you a little something about how language constructs reality:

If the oppressing class is still using those words to oppress you, you can’t take them back and use them to empower yourselves as the oppressed class. If men are using those words to construct you as less than them, as sex objects and dogs; you also using those words to describe yourself and your friends is COLLUDING with the oppression, not fighting it.

Women and girls being encouraged to call their friends ‘my bitches’ and ‘my hoes’ and telling each other ‘I’m a slut’ is not empowering at all. It’s constructing and describing your friends and yourself in the exact same way misogynistic men see you and perceive you. All we are doing by adopting this language is supporting and reinforcing our inferiority and objectification.

We are not ‘taking it back’ when the people using it against us are using it in exactly the same way we supposedly are. It’s one of the reasons you will never ever catch me using misogynistic slurs or female cuss words to talk to or to describe women. We’ve got enough shit on our plate without calling each other hoes and bitches. Don’t play into their hands.

As a bit of evidence that we have already played into the hands of the misogynists, there was a study in 2011 by McMahon and Farmer who asked undergraduate university students to help them to review a rape myth acceptance psychometric scale. One of the items, written in the 90s used to say:

Women who wear revealing clothing deserve to be raped

The undergraduate students told researchers that it wasn’t modern enough and that it needed to be changed to make it *more* socially acceptable in 2011. You know what they changed the item to?

Women who dress like sluts deserve to be raped

Because apparently, that language is *more* socially acceptable and recognisable than the original. Go figure.

3. Pole dancing and lap dancing for exercise and fitness empowers women

Ugh. Just no. It never manages to stop shocking me just how long the tentacles of the sex industry are. Women are looking to lose weight, get toned, feel good about themselves and build fitness.

So what should they do? Run? Swim? Cycle? Weight train?

Oh no, no, no. That’s man exercise. Of course, the way to ‘empower’ women during exercise is the make the exercise about sex. Then it’s super empowering and gets them fit at the same time. Bloody genius.

Years ago I used to work for a children’s charity, upstairs was a pole dancing fitness company that allowed children from the age of 8 years old to take part in pole dancing lessons. In the years I went to that office to go to work, I never forgot the misogyny, objectification and sexualisation of women (and girls’) fitness. Every day I walked up the steps to see the huge poster encouraging little girls and women to feel confident, sexy and empowered by learning to pole dance upstairs.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but can you imagine ANYONE advising poor 40 year old Barry (from before) to take up pole dancing or lap dancing as a way to empower him again after all he’s been through?

There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason men’s interventions and approaches are not based around their sex appeal. Have a think. Keep reading.

4. Rape self defence classes are empowering to women

No they’re not. They’re a way of pushing the responsibility of rape and sexual assault back on to women and girls because no one has yet figured out how to stop sex offenders from relentlessly attacking women in some sort of genocidal madness we’ve been witnessing for centuries.

Rape self defence classes are the opposite of ‘empowering women’. They are directly saying to women: ‘Let us teach you how to fight off the inevitable sex offender who will probably attack you multiple times in your life because we live in such a misogynistic world, you are better off prepared for rape than just hoping men won’t rape you.’

Women have a 1 in 3 chance in the lifespan of being raped or attempted to be raped. Rape defence classes are the ultimate admission of a society who are no longer interested in stopping male violence against women. It’s also in many cases, futile. As most women and girls will tell you, the shock and trauma they go into during an attack will prevent them from fighting back (Moller et al., 2017). Further, even women who are martial arts experts, MMA cage fighters and in the military report freezing during a sexual assault or rape. Even further than that, the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults of women occur in a relationship with someone they love, and they often don’t even know they are being raped (because they have been fed the myth that rape is from a stranger attacking you in an unfamiliar environment at night time). If you don’t know you are being raped because your partner has guilt-tripped you, coerced you or blackmailed you, you won’t fight back.

Rape self defence classes don’t empower women, they force women to shoulder the responsibility for a massive global issue so no one has to deal with it on a systemic level.

Instead of it remaining a societal problem of male violence towards women, now it’s your problem and you need to learn self defence. Clever, eh?

5. Make-up and contouring empowers women

Last week, I read a national news article about a school holding contouring and make-up classes for girls who needed a confidence boost or empowerment. My blood boiled. Whilst I can see that approaches like this are well intentioned (ugh, all the worst shit is, isn’t it?), this is not the way we should be helping our young girls build their self-esteem and feelings of power.

Further, Julie Bindel recently wrote an article about the way make-up has been oppressing women for so long – and she quoted a statistic that 15% of women wake up before their husbands to go and ‘put on their face’, meaning their husbands and boyfriends had never seen them without make up. I’m sure you know a woman or girl who even sleeps in make up, I know I do. We’ve created a world in which women are supposed to look flawless at all times, even when they wake up.

So what’s the issue with make-up, contouring and cosmetics being sold to us as empowering?

Well, it’s not exactly empowering to sell products to women and girls to make their faces look artificial, is it? Make-up to make our noses look smaller, skin look browner, eyes look bigger, lips look bigger and shinier, skin look smoother, cheekbones look more defined, eyebrows look darker and thicker.

How exactly is making ourselves look nothing like ourselves ‘empowering’ us?

*throws major side-eye at Snapchat and Insta flawless filters*

6. ‘For her’ products to empower women.

So finally, the ‘for her’ products invented (or usually just turned pink) for our ‘empowerment’. Like the pink toolkits that hardware stores sell. You know what I mean, the pink hammer and the pink screwdriver set meant to empower us to do our own DIY with our pretty new tools. Or the ‘for her’ Bic pens for the ‘feminine hand with a manicure’. That’s right, Bic invented pens ‘for her’. Fuck knows what we were using before they made these. Feather and ink, I think.

And what about the ‘for her’ laptop created by Toshiba. It’s a laptop with less power, less memory and less capability – but it does have special keys for long fingernails and it even comes with horoscope software! I mean. Wow.

What more could we possibly need? We’ve got laptops for her so now we can finally use the internet and our computers. We have pens for her so we can finally write things. We even have toolkits for her so we can finally tighten that loose dining table chair with our new pink screwdriver kit. We are literally so empowered now.

Take away message from this blog:

Not all that glitters is gold, my sisters.

Empowering women is about us taking back actual power in the world. Leadership. Research. Money. Property. Politics.

Empowering women is not about us being further objectified, sexualised and discriminated against.

Empowered women are not those who are duped into calling their best friends ‘bitches’, whilst they all go to their empowering pole dancing class to get fit, buying their pink toolkits for a spot of DIY whilst they google rape self defence classes on their new ‘laptop for her’.

Wake up. We are being manipulated.

This year for International Women’s Day 2019, be on the look out for these sneaky, disingenuous approach to ‘empowering women’ and call them out where you find them.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Dedicated to challenging victim blaming and misogyny

You can get books, resources and e-learning on these topics from: Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet this: @JessicaE13Eaton

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Women: How to be the perfect victim of sexual violence

*content warning for discussion of sexual violence and victim blaming of women*

Written by Jessica Eaton

03/02/2019

Today, a friend sent me an article about a young woman who managed to fight off three men who had abducted her, robbed her and told her they were going to rape her. The article from Australia tells the story as if she did something small to escape the offenders and so I read on (with my ‘cynical’ face on, I might add). To my surprise, the article reports that the 20 year old threw herself out of a moving car to protect herself from being raped.

I mean. That’s no mean feat. Throwing yourself out of a moving car on a highway? Not exactly the small tip her mum told her, that the article described it to be. It’s also extremely dangerous and terrifying to throw yourself out of a moving car (been there, long story, couldn’t do it, ended up stuck in the situation).

So this blog is dedicated to the way the media drip feed us these stories of the ‘perfect rape victim’. You know. The ones who fight off the attacker. The ones who go straight to the police station with skin of the offender under her nails so they can test for DNA. The ones who never shower after the assault and walk straight to the clinic with the semen still in their underwear for testing.

The media like to hold these women and girls up as perfect victims, and lets be honest, their stories are rare, unrealistic, amazing and well… they are used to place us all in a hierarchy of ‘bad victim’ to ‘perfect victim’.

That’s right, we are in a victimhood hierarchy. I’ve built a new model of this in my PhD and it will be released in my new book, too. My research, and the research of countless others, backs up the concept that women and girls are placed into a hierarchy of victimhood in sexual violence in which only the ‘perfect’ victims are seen as traumatised, innocent and telling the truth.

So let’s look at another story from the media. In 2016, U.K. This Morning Programme featured an interview with a young woman who was a huge CSI fan.

One day, she was abducted near her own home as she was walking back into her house and raped by a man in a car. Because she had watched hundreds of episodes of crime dramas, she told This Morning that she suddenly remembered the importance of DNA. She pulled out her own hair during the rape and left it in his car. She dug her nails into his neck to get DNA under her finger nails. She spat on the floor of his car to leave her DNA in there too. The presenters hailed her as a genius and hero, and that her quick thinking has led to his conviction. They even asked her what advice she would give to others in her situation, suggesting of course, that other women and girls should do the same.

I remember watching this episode with interest. I remember thinking how many hundreds or thousands of cases of sexual assault and rape I have ever been involved in and that none of them had ever looked like this. I concluded that her behaviour during the rape was incredibly rare (albeit amazing) but that the millions of women in the U.K. watching or hearing this story would not recognise this as what happened when they were raped or abused.

In fact, the majority (71%) of victims of rape or sexual assault freeze and don’t move or make a noise at all (muller et al., 2017). Fighting back is actually relatively rare.

Not only that, but the majority of all rapes and sexual assaults occur at home, with a partner or ex partner, with no witnesses, with no proof, with someone you’ve had sex with before, with someone who is emotionally manipulative or threatening. It’s just not realistic to expect women and girls to be able to respond to sexual violence in these MacGyveresque ways.

And herein lies the problem. Both young women are being held up as perfect victims. They did all the things right. They fought them off. They risked their lives. They did ingenious and dangerous things to save themselves. They reported to police immediately. They had enough evidence to prosecute and prove their accounts.

And now their stories are used to encourage women to ‘do more’ or ‘do better’ during rape or sexual assault.

And frankly, that narrative sickens me.

The victimhood hierarchy looks a little like this (although in much more detail in my research and books):

The perfect sexual violence victim:

⁃ Young, single, innocent female

⁃ Not from particular backgrounds

⁃ White

⁃ No criminal record

⁃ Not intoxicated

⁃ Doesn’t know the offender

⁃ Not wearing provocative clothing

⁃ Not sexually active

⁃ Never reported rape before

⁃ Tried to fight off the offender

⁃ Reported straight away to police

⁃ Had DNA evidence to provide

⁃ Had physical injuries from attack

⁃ Offender used extreme violence

⁃ Offender used a weapon

⁃ Offender is male or in a group

⁃ Situation was unfamiliar

All of the above factors are supported by almost 30 years of research and the trends are not going anywhere. My own PhD work has also confirmed these to be correct in UK populations between 2016-2018.

Without this turning into a chapter of my work, you can guess what happens when the victim doesn’t hit this strict criteria.

The same thing also happens when the offender doesn’t hit the strict criteria (maybe the offender is a rich, popular, successful business man with a loving family, so he doesn’t fit the stereotype). Victims are also perceived as less credible in familiar environments with no witnesses (at home, in bed, in bathrooms etc.)

So why is all of this so important?

Well, because for most women and girls, they will never ever be the ‘perfect victim’ stereotype that they are expected to be by society, by their families and by police.

In 2016, I interviewed Sasha*.

Sasha was raped by a stranger on her way home from a works do in broad daylight on a busy street. She told me the offender literally came out of nowhere near a bush and attacked her near a bus stop. She said he didn’t speak a word of English and that she thought he was an immigrant.

After he attacked her, Sasha called 999 and asked for help. They sent a police car and she got in, shaken but confident the police would support her. She told me that she was adding it all up in her head. She was thinking ‘I was attacked by a stranger, in broad daylight, there were witnesses – they’ll definitely believe me.’

And that’s when she said something to me that has impacted my career and my work with women ever since:

“So you know, as a victim that’s as good as you’re gonna get isn’t it? It’s like a best case scenario rape.”

I knew exactly what she meant. She meant that she knew all the hierarchies she was in. She knew the stereotypes and she knew what she was going to be judged against and she had mapped it out in her head to check whether she would be believed.

However, her story took a turn for the worse once she was being interviewed. She told me they asked her why she smelled of alcohol and she told them she had just come from a works do with colleagues up the road. They asked her why she didn’t fight him off. They asked her about a rape she reported and retracted a year earlier. They asked her about her mental health record and some records they had about her being in crisis a few years ago.

She said to me:

“I sat there and suddenly realised that I wasn’t the perfect victim. I wasn’t going to be believed. The rape had all the right bits but I wasn’t credible.”

The police dropped her case and nothing happened. She told me she often wonders about trying to reopen it, but she now knows she has two reports of rape on her police file in which nothing was done.

The reality for many women and girls, is that from the moment they realise they are raped or abused, they are already adding up the factors in their head that they know will go against them. And research has shown, that not being perceived as the ‘perfect victim’ leads women and girls to make the decision not to report at all. However, this is actually a wise move, because research has also shown that police hold the same stereotypes and victim blaming attitudes about sexual violence victims as the general public and that their beliefs influence how they remember accounts of sexual violence and whether they believe the woman (Dawtry et al. 2019).

The expectation on women and girls to be the perfect victim of rape and sexual violence is destroying the justice system and until we address it, women and girls will always measure themselves against the societal stereotype of how they ‘should’ have acted or how they ‘should’ have reported sooner.

Written by Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Buy Jessica’s Victim Blaming and Self Blame Education Flashcards here:

https://victimfocus-resources.com/search?q=Flashcards

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

By Jessica Eaton

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton

It’s not okay to victim blame – but it’s more than okay to force women and girls to take responsibility for their rape or sexual assault. This article examines recent evidence and possible reasons for why this is happening. 


In my doctoral research in forensic psychology, in my job as a writer, researcher and speaker in CSE and sexual violence and in my general experience of being a woman in the world (an observant, highly critical woman at that) I am becoming acutely aware of a societal shift away from ‘victim blame’ towards ‘victim responsibility’ – and this is something I have designed a new psychometric measure in, which will be tested on thousands of people in the UK this Autumn. (Update: This was completed in 2017)
When I say acutely aware, what I mean is a feeling that every time I look at the news, see an advert or campaign, hear a broadcast, teach at an event or get into a conversation – I find myself listening to people who are victim blaming whilst denouncing victim blaming.

What do I mean by this? Well, I can already tell as I am writing this that it sounds like waffle so I will give some examples I have seen or heard recently and then I will move on to more structured arguments:

“I’m not saying she’s to blame for being raped, but she shouldn’t have got into that car.”

“It’s always the perpetrator’s fault but if he hadn’t gone on the app in the first place, none of this would have happened to him, would it?”

“She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she does need to take more responsibility for her choices that evening.”

“We advise all festival goers to stay aware. Please do not get so drunk that you end up a victim of crime.”

“Women need to take more responsibility. They need to know that if they dress like that, they are bound to get inappropriate comments!”

“The child needs help to make better decisions and to reduce their risk of child sexual exploitation.”

“She’s received 47 death threats from the perp so we have advised her to take the initiative to move out of the area and to change her number so he won’t be able to continue harassing her. She refuses to move so the abuse continues.”

What we have here are more intelligent, more socially acceptable and more subtle examples of victim blaming. However, whilst the principle remains the same (the shift of focus from the perp to the victim), the wording is slightly softened and changed to ‘responsibility’ or ‘decision making’. Some of these comments actually contradict themselves by claiming to understand that the perpetrator is always to blame, but then use ‘responsibility’ to equally blame the victim without sounding like they are blaming the victim.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the rise of the socially desirable response.

This interests me so much because my research focus is victim blaming and the way women and girls learn to absorb these victim blaming messages from an early age which then leads to them blaming themselves when they experience sexual violence. I believe that as a general society, victim blaming is not reducing at all, it is merely becoming more insidious and cameoflaged by adapting the language used. People know that they shouldn’t victim blame, but they still feel the need to do it, so what do they do? They adapt.

Examples of the shift from blame to responsibility:

Anti-rape wear by Defendables (and others)


Anti-rape wear is the ultimate shift from blame to responsibility. The slogan of Defendables on all of their marketing materials is:

“DEFENDABLES -DON’T BE A VICTIM

Anti-rape wear is generally marketed as underwear or other garments that are designed to lock (you’re thinking chastity belt aren’t you? Yeah, you’re not far off) so you don’t get raped. Genius, eh? All those millions of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence and all that was really needed was a pair of knickers that can’t be tugged, unlocked, cut off or ripped.

AR Wear advise women that they can wear the knickers when they go running, travelling or on a first date. Excellent.


However, there are a few problems with anti-rape wear.

1. To prevent rape, you would have to wear these 24/7, 365 days a year 

The fact that these items are marketed for running at night, travelling alone and going on first dates just confirms that the designers and founders of these companies have no idea what they are talking about. With the large majority of rapes happening within the home of the victim and perpetrated by someone they knew well (family member, partner, friend or ex partner) – women would have to wear these for the rest of their lives in order to get protection from them.

2. These knickers completely ignore wider sexual violence acts

So you’ve got your anti-rape knickers on, you’re safe, you’re confident. You are now protected from rape. Really?

The sexual offences act 2003 defines rape as including oral sexual assault. What are we going to wear to prevent that? A Bane mask? (Sorry, Batman fans.)

But seriously, what about women being forced into sexual acts that do not require the penetration of their vagina? What about being touched? What about being coerced or threatened into taking the knickers off and unlocking them? What about being sweet-talked and groomed into not wearing them?

This garment is designed based on the myth that all rapes and sexual assaults are random acts of severe violence perpetrated in unfamiliar environments by a stranger. Every other form of sexual act is ignored. The concept of grooming, threat and charm is ignored.

3. “She should have been wearing her anti-rape knickers!”

In more direct and overt examples, victim blaming will most certainly increase if these garments ever became a serious trend. Imagine the ridiculous arguments in court, by police, from friends and family and the wider public when a woman gets raped and she wasn’t wearing her trusty anti-rape underwear. It’s just more pathetic excuses added to the arsenal of rape-deniers and victim-blamers everywhere.

In more subtle blaming, the focus will shift to a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is prioritising her personal safety by wearing these knickers. It will be her duty to ensure she is taking adequate steps to reduce her risk of rape. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t live one hour of your life without your anti-rape knickers on. You fool.

This is not a route we need to go down, ever. Anti-rape wear is not the answer to rape. It never has been and it never will be. Forcing women to take more precautions and more responsibility to prevent their own rape is ridiculous. What about women who have been with their partners for 12 years and then they begin to show abusive behaviours and start manipulating them, eventually leading to their partner raping or sexually assaulting them? What would be said to them? That they should have worn their anti-rape knickers for their whole relationship just on the off-chance? That she ‘should have seen the signs of abuse’ and bought anti-rape wear to protect herself?

The fact that a lot of money, innovation and resource has been pumped into designing prototypes of knickers that imply that the burden of responsibility to prevent rape sits with the woman feels like a massive step backwards.

Public safety campaigns aimed at potential victims 

Some excellent examples below contain messages that place an incredible amount of responsibility on the victim and even her friends – to ensure she is not raped. It feels as though our government and our public services have just resigned themselves to the fact that women and girls will continue to get raped so they have decided to target all of their messages and resources at women and girls rather than perpetrators. It’s a sorry state of affairs that teaches women that they are responsible for their rape, if they break any of the rules in the campaigns.


I doubt that you will be surprised to see this one. The U.K. and USA especially have created solid links between alcohol and rape in recent years. Their reasoning is so frequent and confident that they make it sound as though it’s the alcohol that rapes women. It’s incredible really.

This poster is implying that if you drink alcohol, you might get raped. More than that, it positions your choice to have a drink over the choice of the perpetrator to target you and rape you.

This poster sends the message that if you were drunk when you got raped, you will have broken the golden rule and you will not be afforded any sympathy. Case in point: The Sun headline about India, who was raped and murdered. #2The coverage of the Brock Turner case in which the fact that the woman had been drinking was a massive focus.

You had a responsibility not to drink and you did not uphold that responsibility – you will therefore come under heavy scrutiny from both men and women about why you were drinking in the first place.


Again, another example of subtle victim blaming in which the shift is based on the responsibility for personal safety and ‘looking after yourself’ and ‘making good decisions’.

This poster by Essex Police clearly instructs women not to walk home alone. Well, what happens if they do walk home alone? Are they less deserving of justice? The answer to that, sadly, is yes. There is a high chance that people around them will question why they decided to walk home alone and why they didn’t reasonably predict that they would be raped or sexually assaulted. The focus will shift back to the ‘everyone is responsible for their own safety’ message, which is what this poster is based on.

This is not crime prevention, this is victim blaming. However you dress it up.


I really do not like this one. The poster depicts a woman with her knickers around her ankles with a bit of text aimed at her friends saying that she might get so drunk that she will make bad decisions. However, the large text overriding the poster says ‘she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no’.

Well, in my opinion, she didn’t make a bad decision. Her decision was that she didn’t want to have sex. However, she was unable to communicate her decision due to being drunk. And when you are too drunk to convey your decision about sex…

(Say it all together now)

That is rape.

So why exactly has this police force reframed a very clear example of rape due to the person not having capacity to consent or communicate – as a ‘bad decision’ and then placed the responsibility on the friends? It’s astounding.

There are hundreds of examples of these types of campaigns, resources and anti-rape wear garments and judging by the quick and critical response to most of them on social media, I would hope that a lot of these messages are being rejected – however, a critical look at academic research and professional practice in sexual violence has a slightly different story to tell. A story that ultimately suggests that the ‘take responsibility’ message is alive and well and unfortunately, increasing.

Academic Research 

There are a string of studies into victim blaming that sparked my interest into whether victim blaming was becoming more intelligent and more subtle. Having recently conducted a very large literature review in victim blaming and self blame in sexual violence which led to me designing a new measure of victim blaming, I noticed something really important that I hope to test.

In the 1980s, Martha Burt found that around half of all people surveyed blamed women for their rape, usually using reasoning like ‘they were asking for it’ or ‘they deserved it’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves by the way they were… (Insert reason here)’. As you can imagine, half is a pretty big claim. However, as someone who works in this field, I accepted that to be fairly accurate. However, in 2005 Amnesty International performed a very large survey or victim blaming and rape myth acceptance and found that the proportion of people who blamed women for their rape had dropped to a third. Many researchers hailed this as a true reduction in victim blaming and put it down to better education, rape prevention programmes and good campaigns around sexual violence. I was sceptical.

My observations and criticisms were based around the survey items used to test people. They were so direct and so overtly sexist that I doubted whether even the most confident sexists would admit to agreeing to the items. Examples include items such as ‘if a woman acts like slut, she deserves to get raped’ and ‘rape is a common weapon that women use against men’. I argued that it was much more likely that people were just responding in a socially desirable manner and were therefore disagreeing with the most overt examples of victim blaming and were only agreeing to the items that were more subtly worded such as the items that talked about responsibility and casual factors that ‘led’ to the rape. I also had issues with language and wording of a lot of items due to the scales being written some decades ago and the way the general public speak having changed.

I was delighted to find that McMahon (2010) had the exact same criticisms as I did and had done an excellent piece of research that asked university students to look at the IRMAS scale and to be honest about whether they thought people of their age group (18-25) would answer them honestly. The findings were really useful to researchers like me. They confirmed that many people would not like to be seen as agreeing to overt victim blaming but would be more likely to agree to the more subtle forms of victim blaming, which usually involve responsibility or cause rather than blame.  One item about women who deserve to be raped was completely dropped from the updated version of the scale because so many participants said that even if they believed that some women deserved to be raped, they knew that it was not socially acceptable to say it like that so they would not answer that question or would lie about their views.

Once McMahon had amended the scale using updated language and the ideas from the participants, it was found that the proportion of people who blame women for their rape went back up to half. For me, this was good evidence of my argument that victim blaming was not reducing, it was evolving.

The second issue I have been looking at is language around blame, responsibility, fault and cause. In every day language, we use them interchangeably. However, when it comes to sexual violence, it appears to me that people think they mean different things. This results in people saying ‘they are not to blame for being raped but they need to take more responsibility for their actions that caused it’. Most people would say ‘that’s still victim blaming’, but in the mind of the speaker, they are reasoning that blame, responsibility and cause are different concepts that do not lead to the same level of culpability. They are saying that you could be at fault, but not to blame. They are saying that you should be held responsible, but that it wasn’t your fault. They are saying that your actions caused it, but that the perpetrator is equally to blame. What!?

At the moment, other than the fact that people have started to realise that research in this area has seriously muddled up these terms, not much else has been achieved to unpick this web. I have built this into my new measure and will be excited to see how language plays a role. I will also be conducting interviews across the UK on this topic to see what we can learn about this mixed up set of concepts. One thing is fairly clear though, ‘blame’ seems to carry much more negative weight than ‘responsibility’ which means that professional practice has already started to adopt this approach (either consciously or unconsciously) and I can already see the effects.

Professional Practice Example: Child Sexual Exploitation

I am going to use a fictitious but typical case study of a child who is being sexually exploited in the UK and then unpick some of the ways the ‘take responsibility’ message is harming professional practice with victims of sexual violence.

  • The child is 14 years old
  • They have a Facebook account through which they have been groomed repeatedly
  • They have been sexually exploited by a number of peers and adults
  • They are taken to hotels and pubs by perpetrators in nice cars
  • They are in love with their main perpetrator and have no idea why everyone thinks they are being abused
  • They are being given drugs and alcohol regularly

This case would be classed as ‘high risk’ in the UK using the CSE risk assessment toolkits (I don’t have time to go into the serious flaws in those here but the fact that a child who is already being raped is classed as ‘high risk’ probably gives you a good idea of my main criticism).

The child and family would have a number of different agencies involved in an effort to keep them safe and to reduce their risk.

The ‘take responsibility’ victim blaming message really takes hold here, and this is how:

“Parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of this child”

Whilst this seems fairly reasonable, because as parents, we are all legally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children; this is not quite what that statement means to parents of exploited children. This statement is used with parents even when they are trying absolutely everything in their power to keep their child safe but the perpetrators are just too powerful. The child climbs out of the bedroom window whilst they sleep. The perp pulls them out of school at dinner time. The perp threatens the child to ensure they run away and come back to the perp or the residence where the perpetrator are. In these situations, the power of the parents is limited. And yet, if the child continues to be exploited the child will inevitably be removed from the parents on the basis that they are failing in their responsibility to protect the child from harm. The local authority will seek to put the child in care which generally solves nothing, creates further trauma and vulnerabilities for the perp to exploit and ultimately, punishes the parents.

This is victim blaming.

Instead of focussing on the perp and the power of the perp, professionals are being taught and forced to focus on the responsibility of the parents. Rather than working with them, they eventually decide that the parenting is the source of the problem, in line with the traditional child protection model.

Even the CPS have banned the criticism of the responsibility of parents in CSE cases in court – but it still happens regularly in frontline practice. The shift in language from ‘blame’ to ‘responsibility’ has meant that parents continue to be blamed, but in a more subtle manner.
The ‘take responsibility’ message to parents results in parents and carers feeling helpless, disengaged and blamed by professionals who are using standards of ‘responsibility’ unfairly against parents who cannot override the power of the perpetrator. Nor can the professionals, and yet there is no punishment or blame for that. It is common in this country to see children who are removed from parents under the explanation that they were failing to protect their children from external perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation – but then the children are put in care homes and foster placements who also struggle to protect them and in most cases, the risk actually increases. Yet there is no such equivalent process for the professionals who are now also failing to protect the child. Surely, when the child is removed from the parents and the CSE continues to worsen, isn’t that just evidence that the risk was never coming from the parenting or the lack of ‘responsibility’ of the parents themselves? Is it so hard to see that the risk comes from the perpetrators?
“We need to help the child to make better decisions and to reduce their own risk

Nope, the children are not safe from the ‘take responsibility for your own abuse’ message either. The child in this case study would be told to complete work on ‘staying safe online’, ‘drug and alcohol awareness’ and ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships’ – in an attempt to engage the child in taking responsibility for their own safety and ultimately, for the actions of their perpetrators. The thought process behind this baffles me.

We have a child in serious trauma, being sexually exploited, going missing and already deeply groomed by the perpetrators and the national response to that is to help the children take more responsibility for their own safety? That horse has bolted, my friends. Why are we even doing these pieces of work whilst they are in active exploitation and active complex trauma/crisis? We have perpetrators sexually abusing children and we get them to sit down and watch a DVD about sexting and tell them that they need to take more responsibility for their online behaviours – completely ignoring the actions and grooming methods of the perpetrator, whom is the true catalyst behind these risks.

We can do all the ‘take responsibility’ work we like, but if the perp is still in the picture, we are actively and consistently perpetuating victim blaming by focussing on the responsibility of a child rather than putting all of our resources into the disruption of the perpetrator.

Which brings my to my final point. You will notice that throughout this post, there has been no mention by the anti-rape wear companies, the police, the home office, the NHS or the professionals about the responsibility and decision making of the perpetrator. I get the distinct feeling that professionals and larger structures feel that it is just too hard to target perpetrators so they target victims. This in itself, could be construed as victim blaming. Moving to the ‘take responsibility for your own safety’ message might look more socially desirable than victim blaming and it might cost organisations less money than chasing perps but this approach will not reduce sexual violence and it will not empower people who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The focus MUST shift back to the perpetrator and their responsibility.

Rather than ‘don’t get raped’ messages, we need ‘don’t rape’ messages.

Take responsibility = blaming the victim.

For more information about this article or my research, get in touch

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@JessicaE13Eaton