Sexual Assault: Who is at fault?

Caroline Aronhime, Staff Writer

According to the Rainn Organization, one out of every six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Many women also face instances of sexual harassment. When you turn on the news or look at a newspaper, it is commonplace to see stories of sexual harassment happening across the country, and not just to women. A 2015 study by Cosmopolitan revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 to 34 has been harassed at work. If statistics about sexual misconduct do not change, information reported by the media could turn from infographic to reality for students as they graduate from high school and enter adulthood.

Victims of sexual misconduct are often blamed for their own experiences, either when reporting incidents of assault or through media messages and lines frequently used in society such as “What was the victim wearing?” Victim blaming, a common term at the heart of the current media conversation about sexual assault in America, is described by the Cambridge for Consent website as actions or words implying that the victim of an offense is to blame for what happened to her or him.

A sexual misconduct case that received widespread media attention was that of the Stanford swimmer Brock Turner when he was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman after a fraternity party. Facing a maximum of 14 years in prison, Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail and served only three before being released. In a letter to the judge hearing Turner’s case, one of Turner’s childhood friends stated that the victim drank too much on the night of the assault. According to an article by The Guardian, Turner himself repeatedly cited alcohol and college party culture as the reason for his attack, rather than blaming himself for his own choice to assault the victim.

Some common examples of victim blaming are lines such as “She must have provoked him,” “They were drinking too much” and “She was probably asking for it.”

Through the media coverage surrounding the Harvey Weinstein assaults and the many other cases of sexual misconduct that have recently been reported, there has been an extensive amount of victim blaming by both Hollywood insiders and people following the reports and the trending #MeToo hashtag on social media. Designer Donna Karan, for example, stood up for Weinstein and stated that women are asking for “trouble” by the way they dress and present themselves. Although Karan has since apologized, her remarks went viral and reminded the public that while progress is being made in acknowledging the prevalence of sexual assault, once considered a taboo subject that was swept under the rug, many believe that more education and awareness programs may be needed for society to overcome the tendency to blame victims.

“Society makes us feel guilty for wearing short tops or short shorts because guys will look at us differently,” Selvathambi said.

The topic of victim blaming is acknowledged in the FCPS curriculum for health, family life and physical education.

“We reiterate throughout any instruction on abuse/assault that it is never the victim’s fault,” FCPS coordinator for health, family life and physical education Liz Payne said in an email interview.

As more and more stories about sexual misconduct are reported by the media every day, victim blaming continues to be a topic of discussion for students and society alike. Many students believe that education is the key to social change.

“We have to teach guys to respect girls and allow them to dress and be themselves,” Selvathambi said.