The Rape Blame Game

Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Featured, Thoughts | 7 comments


Unless you live under a rock, you would have heard about the Steubenville rape case, in which two teenage boys took advantage of a sixteen year old girl while she was inebriated from a night’s worth of drinking. The case brought forward many aspects of current popular culture that I’d like to explore, and also made me ask some very difficult questions about the nature of humanity.

First and foremost, I have no doubt that the two boys (possibly more) did take advantage of the girl, who was too drunk to be able to walk or stand, let alone make any decisions. I won’t go into the grizzly details of the night in question, as there’s been plenty enough detail written about elsewhere. (If you want to read a great piece on this, check out Soraya Chemaly’s piece in the Huffington Post.) It seems that this is not an isolated incident for the boys in question, nor is it an isolated incident for the town’s football culture. In fact, as we can see from stories coming out of India, it is not an isolated incident at all, and gang rape happens all over the world daily.

In both the cases I’ve pointed at above, one thing was common in the way these cases were treated by the press and the authorities: blame of the victim. In the case of the Steubenville girl, the blame was squarely pointed at her alcohol consumption. The press and media (including CNN) looked at the case and saw only a girl who took it upon herself to get so completely plastered that the boys had no choice but to rape her. In the case of the Swiss woman in India, she was blamed for being in the wrong place, one known for being unsafe, so she was basically “asking for it“. And even though the men and boys who perpetrated these crimes have been brought to justice, one thing remains clear; Society will always blame the women for their own rape, because it seems males are incapable of controlling their own animalistic drives.

It seems to me that it is a cultural norm to blame the victims of rape and assault on the person, usually a woman, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being drunk, being dressed in a certain way that is “provocative”, or any other number of excuses that psychologically leave the men in the cases blameless. While it is true that, to a certain extent, that we write our own destinies to the extent that had we not been in situation A, done B, then C would not have happened, this point is circumspect, and is of little use. We can’t blame the person who is violated for being in a compromising situation, because the perpetrator is just as liable for their own causal situation as is the victim in this sense. The main difference between being in the wrong place at the wrong time and choosing to perpetrate an act of violence against another is the idea of choice; In both of these cases, the victims had no choice in what happened to them, so therefore cannot be blamed. The choice was taken away from the victims by the perpetrators by their opportunistic and unwelcomed actions, and it left two women with a lifetime’s worth of irreparable harm which will be with them until they die.

The biggest difference in the two cases outlined above, is that in the Steubenville case much of the media attention was on the way the guilty verdict would affect the “promising” lives of these two would-be football heroes. There was an audible outcry of outrage by the American public for these two boys, lamenting how the decision had wrecked their futures, and that they would never be the football stars that their community so badly wanted for them. Of course this is ridiculous, but it shows an element of American culture (and other cultures including Australian) which worships male sporting heroes, and sees their actions as excusable simply because of their talent on the sporting field. By this, these boys, who will now have criminal records, will never fulfill their potential as national heroes, and it’s all blamed on the actions of the young girl they violated. In many reports, there was little mention of the victim.

Even more ridiculous is the claims that the girl is simply making it all up, and that somehow the story is aimed at sabotaging the reputation of the Steubenville football team. I even read that the coach of the team referred to her as a “terrorist”, a knee-jerk buzzword sure to garner some level of revulsion for the victim. Someone took it upon themselves to collate the reactions from social media on a Tumblr blog,, which is worth a look at if you can stomach the blame they are dishing out. As the case progresses it seems that the authorities who are dealing with the case have also been complicit in the covering up of evidence.

Let’s bring this back to reality for a moment, and away from the hyper-analysed philosophical realm of causality, and the outrageously misplaced rage of the American public, and see this for what it is.

A young girl was raped. She was violated without her consent while she was in no state to give consent or otherwise. To make things worse, it is alleged that they not only physically violated her, but that she was also subjected to other physically demeaning acts, including being dragged around the room by her arms and legs, being photographed and videoed, and being urinated upon. These are not the actions of people who hold any kind of respect for fellow humans. No, these are the actions of people who have psychologically removed themselves from society, creating not a girl, a human being, but an inanimate sex toy, to whom they show no regard, and certainly no respect. Once the girl was dehumanised, it freed these boys of the burden of guilt, and allowed them to do whatever they pleased with this girl.

It’s too early to tell, but I doubt that these boys are monsters. I doubt they would grow up to become mass murderers or serial rapists (then again, they may, who knows?) They have definitely been brought up in a culture where women are treated as objects, and where weakness or vulnerability is seen as an invitation to brutalise.

It has been said that we live in a pornografied society, where porn is available at every laptop, on every phone and tablet. Far be it from me to make a judgement on whether porn is bad or not, much of the porn being circulated these days is based on an idea of “pleasure for men”. Men’s faces are rarely seen, just as we don’t see our own faces unless looking in the mirror, and it often ends in an act of seeming domination over the woman in the piece, having her face covered in semen. No doubt the Steubenville boys have seen plenty of this kind of porn, and it seems that this domination over women is being normalised to an extent in the way they treat members of the opposite sex. Take this out of the porn-theatre, and look around at the way women are portrayed in the mass culture. Much of the advertising industry uses pornographied images of women, designed to entice us, tantilise us, and subdue us, making psychological connections between consumption of goods and the reward of sex. It is all around us, and the mass media knows how this moves and motivates people to consume. This does not justify any acts of violence against women, nor does it place the blame for these boys’ actions upon their upbringing. It only serves to highlight the society in which we live, and the culture that emerges from this. When it comes down to it, these boys must take responsibility for their own actions.

In any situation, we take responsibility for our actions. In a conscientious society, we give heed to the rights of others in an empathetic and thoughtful manner. In both the Steubenville rape case and the case of the Swiss woman who was gang-raped in India, these men have removed themselves from the what is acceptable in a modern world, and given in to their own selfish urges. There is no situation where “no” means “yes”, and there is no excuse for these deplorable acts. To bring an end to this kind of violence against women we need to foster a society which doesn’t worship women as sex-objects, but respects the rights of women in the same manner as that of men. This should be our aim, and if successful, while we may not stop the violence completely, we will at least stop blaming the victims of rape for the actions of others. As Soraya Chemaly says in closing her article:

… explaining context and shifting the focus from individual people to the systems that produce them isn’t a mentality of victimization, it’s a critique of the deeply entrenched, destructive attitudes at the heart of violence and oppression, and the first steps toward dismantling them. That is a matter of personal responsibility.

It is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to foster a society that nurtures, respects and cares for itself and others, and only then can we move toward a more equitable and fair society for us all.

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The Rape Blame Game, 9.4 out of 10 based on 18 ratings


  1. I agree with almost everything here except the attempt to tie in modern western culture. Although they are real issues, the rape problem is much deeper. It crosses culture (as witnessed by India and in particular Africa where rape is a weapon of war) and history. The bible makes it clear that rape was a crime against the father or husband rather than the woman.
    Sadly what has changed in modern culture largely due to the rise of feminism is that people see anything wrong in what happened. You only have to look at how recently marital rape became illegal. The voices blaming the women are expressing the traditional view of a “bad” girl loosing all rights. This attitude is changing but far too slowly and in fits and starts

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  2. Well done Martin.  I would also like to point out that Soraya Chemaly’s article was also brilliant.  I was quite disgusted by the media coverage of the Stubenville case here in the States.  There is a very dark part of human culture regarding rape (as the commenter before me, Simon, wrote).  This needs to change.  The rape victim is never responsible for what happens to her (or him).  It matters not where she walks or what she wears.  A choice by the perpetrator must be made to violate the body of the victim against that person’s will or without their consent.  Period.  The entirety of the blame lies on the perpetrator, not the victim.

    I would also like to point out, that to imply that a “woman was asking for it” because of how she dresses or where she was walking, etc, is incredibly to offensive to her (for the reasons I pointed out above) and also to men.  Am I to believe that I, as a man, have no self-control?  Are we to believe that men cannot stop themselves from raping simply because a woman is wearing provocative clothes?  Of course not!  That notion is absurd.  It is well past time that we all stand up and put the blame for rape where it solely belongs: on the rapist.

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  3. I’m reminded of an especially nasty case in the United States where a 17yo rape victim faced charges of criminal contempt for naming rapists who attacked her while she was passed out and shared photos of her being abuse with their mates. Apparently the rapists, who were so keen to violate this girls privacy and dignity didn’t like being named themselves so they wanted the girl sent to jail for naming the, as if they hadn’t hurt her enough already.
    To me the girl is a hero for standing up to her attackers whom the law seems too eager to protect. So when I posted the following on twitter:
    “17 yo girl in criminal contempt of court after tweeting the names of two teens who sexually assaulted her #freespeech”
    I was surprised by the number of people who insisted that the victim was in the wrong. She didn’t ask them to abuse her, why shouldn’t she be allowed to talk about it.
    Anyone who thinks rapists have more rights than the victim can go fuck a dagger (or other painful instrument).

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  4. Thank you, I have been thinking along these lines and it is nice to see it articulated well. One thing I would disagree with is the use of the phrase “took advantage of” the young woman. To some this phrase may seem a nicety, a polite way of talking about rape. I have seen it used a lot in the organized child rapist scandal in the catholic church. What seemed initially to be the odd “bad apple” who abused a child here and there turned out to be a world wide system of evading law enforcement through the use of privilege, diplomatic immunity, “rehabilitation centers”, and various other tactics behind a worldwide public relations campaign. Invariably it was child abuse or molestation, because the term “child rapist” seems to harsh. Sometimes though, I think those that are indifferent or non-committal on these issues can be won over by the correct language. And these child rapist are not just baby sitters gone astray. The other issue I have been thinking about is the wondering what extent the deindividualization inherent in sports programs like football plays a role in these incidents. TO what extent does our education and athletics systems emphasis on norming teens work in creating the mind set and social circumstances that continuously produce these types of incidents?

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  5. To be clear, the “urges” in question were only tangentially sexual. The urge was to dominate and degrade.

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  6. What happened in this case is sad.  It’s sad in a number of ways. 
    It is sad because she was raped.  No one deserves that.  No one asks for that.  
    It is sad because what happened to her is commonplace.  We hear stories about this sort of thing all the time.  
    And it is sad because as a society, we are just now beginning to address the problem.  And make no mistake.  This is a long standing problem.  We’ve accepted this type of behavior for far too long.  It needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.  And that brings me to the last reason it’s sad.
    It’s sad because these boys, for no other reason than bad timing, are going to be made to pay for the sins of all those who came before them.  This too is a mistake that society tends to make, over and over again.  We tolerate something quietly until we simply can’t stand it any longer.  And then, if we have the power, we lash out with all our pent up rage and anger, and strike down the offender. 

    Make no mistake, what these boys did was wrong, and I think this is exactly what needs to be done to ensure other young men think twice before acting similarly, but also make no mistake that these two had no warning that the consequences of their actions would be so severe.  Based on prior actions, they had no way to know this would happen.  You can say “they should have known”, but they acted as they learned was acceptable.  
    Regardless of whether others felt this way or not, this is what they were taught.  The fact that they posted this publicly shows how acceptable they thought it was.  The horrible truth is they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, because their experience and education had told them they weren’t.  And now their lives have been destroyed.  Probably forever. 

    These two boys have been made example of, and rarely, if ever, does that work out to be fair.  Necessary perhaps, but not fair.

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  7. The world is now seeing, what always until now, was hidden. Jocks. Version 2.0

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