Victim blaming thwarts survivors from reporting rape

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*Name has been changed to protect source’s identity. “[They said] it was my fault because I invited him over when I was vulnerable,” Hannah said. “They’d say, ‘You shouldn’t have called him, you should have expected it,’ never, ‘How could he have done this?’ I wish someone had told me, “It’s not your fault, it’s okay.’ I felt like a burden to them.”

Hannah was only 14 when her then-best friend, Duane, shoved her head toward his exposed penis in a locked car, said the hardest part of recovering was digging herself out of the hole her self-blaming created.

“The self-blaming was worse than the victim blaming,” Hannah said. “When I knew [my assault] was real, I could get angry. When I self-blamed, though, I was sad—it never left my mind. I was always down, and you have to dig yourself out of the hole you put yourself in.”

Kendall* was also in high school when her boyfriend at the time, Joe*, raped her on multiple occasions. He would frequently engage in oral and vaginal sex with Kendall without her consent. She said she didn’t recognize this was not normal relationship behavior—largely due to the way in which she was raised—until she learned about consent and rape in college.

June 1, 2014 was a date Joy* would never forget for a couple reasons.

One of her best friends had just gotten hitched, firstly, so she, along with some pals — Sara*, Kyli*, Lindsay*, Taylor* and Sara’s brother, Chad* — celebrated accordingly with a booze-fueled kickback.

A couple hours into post-wedding shenanigans, Joy was tipsy, but not drunk, by any means. The night had dwindled, so she fell asleep on a bed with Lindsay and Chad, but she didn’t sleep for long. Something woke her.

That something was Chad, sexually assaulting her. She would remember that forever.

Joy, Kendall and Hannah are three University of Arizona students who have a few things in common — they are liberal young women between the ages of 18 and 22 and they identify as passionate feminists.

They have all also been blamed for their respective rapes and sexual assaults.

Victim blaming has been discussed with more and more frequency in recent years, with more people identifying with, fighting for and talking about the feminist and social justice movements. Even as supportive, survivor-advocating communities grow, though, the victim-blaming problem persists.

People victim blame survivors in order to reinforce the idea that they have a sense of control over their bodies and can avoid rape if they follow a specific set of precautionary guidelines, according to alternet.com.

Victim blaming is somewhat of a two-way street, though — while survivors can be blamed by others for their rapes and sexual assaults, they can also “self-blame” in order to cope with the trauma they experienced. A study conducted by Perilloux found that while survivors blamed their rapist 70 percent for their assault, they likewise blamed themselves 19 percent according to Psychology Today.

Hannah, Joy and Kendall all agreed that while being blamed for their assaults sucked, their own self-blame is what really knocked them down.

“I felt trapped and unaware and was always self victim-blaming,” Kendall said. “I was manipulated to stay and this has to do with the way I was raised — it felt very normal and natural.”

After many anxiety-ridden months and struggling to accept that her rape wasn’t her fault, Kendall decided to tell her mother about her abusive high school relationship. She told her mom that Joe regularly had sex with her without her consent, even though she technically never said “no” to his advances.

She didn’t expect her mother’s reaction would be to angrily victim blame her.

“My mom and dad had an abusive relationship,” she said. “So when I told her she wasn’t in a good place, she told me, ‘No, you weren’t raped. I was.’”

Joy said when she started to tell people about her assault, they also blamed her. They shamed her for not turning her rapist over to the police and said since he ran freely on the streets, he would probably rape again.

“People shamed me for not reporting him to the police,” she said. At the time, Joy said her responsibility and focus was to take care of herself.

All three women did not report their assaults for a variety of reasons — Joy said she wouldn’t be able to pursue her career as a journalist and Kendall hers as a doctor, while Hannah said she just didn’t see the point if since even her “closest” friends didn’t believe her.

They didn’t think police, school administration or people in general would believe them, anyway.

Not reporting assaults is common, contrary to what media portrayals of the stereotypical “Heroic Rape Survivor” of NCIS or Law & Order: SVU would lead one to believe.

Only seven percent of rapes were reported to university and/or college officials in 2015, and of that seven percent, only four percent of cases were then reported to law enforcement officials. Survivors didn’t report their rapes because they either (one) didn’t think their assaults were “that serious,” (two) feared retaliation from other people or (three) thought others would partially blame them for their rape—the same reasons Joy, Kendall and Hannah didn’t report.

“I lost all my friends, and everyone thought I was making it up or lying,” Hannah said. “[Reporting] would have just caused more drama and pain. Nobody believed me—why would someone in the law believe me? They would think I’m using the rape card, the sexual-assault card.”

Though these women continue to recover from the degrading, scarring sexual crimes committed against them, they are victors. They still find joy, foster healthy relationships with others and themselves and fully experience life.

Their collective post-assault success is essentially an empowered “fuck you” toward the people who tried to knock them down forever. Keep on thriving, victors.


 

Brenna is an aspiring journalist, creator and student living in Tucson. She loves the arts, sarcasm, social justice and singing (borderline yodeling) in her car. Catch her drinking obscene amounts of cold brew and writing in her natural habitat — any coffee shop.