Victim blaming is still an issue

The fact that I am even writing an article in an attempt to defend the integrity of victims of sexual and physical violence is a troubling reality in and of itself.

The fact that I am even writing an article in an attempt to defend the integrity of victims of sexual and physical violence is a troubling reality in and of itself.

Victim blaming is widely recognized when the victim of a crime or wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them.

Often the victims are women who have been in abusive relationships or have been subjected to sexual violence.

According to research conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the belief that women are to blame is not surprising.

At least 20 per cent of survey respondents have said women invited sexual assault by being drunk in a public setting, while others blamed women for wearing short skirts or being a “flirt.”

Young adults in today’s society have adopted these deplorable attitudes.

One of the most tragic cases of victim blaming is the story of Rehtaeh Parsons from Halifax. In 2011, when she was 15, she was drunk at a party and four young boys raped her.

A photograph of Parsons being sexually assaulted while vomiting out of a window circulated around her high school soon after. For 18 months, Parsons was called a “slut” by her peers, did not believe she was raped and shamed her for being drunk.

Parsons attempted suicide by hanging, and as a result, was put in a coma and taken off life support three days later. She was 17 years old.

Last week I was at a journalism conference in Ottawa and Parsons’ father, Glen, was present for a panel titled “#YouKnowHerName.”

He shared with us that earlier that day, one of the boys accused of raping his daughter was only given 12 months probation and would not be given jail time.

Glen also shared that, even after his daughter’s death, she is still called a slut by people on the Internet. Is this the proper way to show respect for the victim?

Victim blaming is also prevalent in physically abusive relationships. The most recent example is that of Ray Rice. After elevator surveillance videos surfaced of the football star knocking his then-fiancée into unconsciousness, several people have wrongfully pointed their fingers at Janay Palmer, who has since married Rice, claiming that if she were truly abused she “would have left.” This claim is not as easy as most people believe it to be.

The lack of education surrounding victim blaming perpetuates the abuses forced onto the victims, and often results in misdirected anger and disgust. Instead, we should hold abusers accountable for their actions and refuse to allow them to make excuses.

Giving into the excuses of the perpetrators relieves them from the blame they deserve and gives them undeserved power.

Putting a permanent end to victim blaming has become internalized within our culture, and this has unfortunately made it hard to eradicate. However, simple changes can be made.

First of all, challenging rape jokes is one of the most powerful changes.

When people make rape jokes, they internalize the belief that rape is an acceptable act of violation.

When someone makes a joke about it, ask them why the sexual violation of the person involved is funny.

The joker must know that it is not a humourous experience for the victim.

It is also important to start asking different questions. Instead of asking why the victim stayed in a physically abusive relationship, why don’t you ask why the perpetrator abuses in the first place?

To address the root causes of physical or sexualized violence, we must have the courage to ask difficult questions, even in the face of outrage.

The next time you want to blame the victim for being a “slut” or make the claim that “they could have stopped it,” remember Rehtaeh Parsons. Your blame on the victim has the power to end a life.

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