When Victims Aren't Blameless

Bloggified by Jake on Friday, April 15, 2016

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich is in hot water for answering a question about sexual assault on college campuses by suggesting coeds avoid parties where alcohol is served. He also talked about things like anonymous reporting of sexual harassment and rape kits at schools in Ohio, and threw in the party bit as a piece of advice after mentioning how nervous it makes him just to think about the subject because he has two teenage daughters who'll be going to college soon.

Several critics have accused the governor of victim blaming. That term gets thrown around a lot, particularly in cases of sexual assaults. It should be noted that the governor wasn't blaming a victim ("You deserve what happened to you!") but warning potential victims not to put themselves in dangerous situations.

Saying a victim may have taken actions (or potential victims should take actions) to make the crime less likely to happen is not absolving the perpetrator of any and all condemnation.

If you hear that a friend's car is stolen, you feel terrible for him. If he then tells you he parked it in the high crime part of town with the windows rolled down and the keys on the passenger seat, you still feel bad, but you'd be a fool not to think your friend's actions may have contributed to his situation. That doesn't mean you think the car thief had a right to steal the vehicle or that police shouldn't waste their time trying to find it.

It shocks me that in 2016, news outlets continue to cover stories about people being taken in by Nigerian email scams. Actually, I'm shocked that people still get taken in by Nigerian email scams*. And, yet, the local news reporters covering such stories will try to evoke sympathy for the person who had to ignorantly make the obviously wrong decision in about ten different circumstances in a row.

Again, the scammers are not innocent. It sucks that there are people out there who take advantage of stupid people and steal their money and they should be caught and prosecuted. But do we say that someone who gets an email claiming he won a European lottery he never entered, or that a distant, never-before-heard-of relative died while on an African vacation and left a trunk full of $16 million cash in his hotel room and never questions played no role in his fate?

Likewise, if a woman spots a celebrity at a nightclub, flirts with him, drinks on his tab all night, accepts drugs from him, and goes back to his hotel room, that celebrity has no right to rape her, but at what point in the evening should she have acknowledged there was an expectation on his part that she would have sex with him? I will keep saying this, if he sexually assaults her, he is 100% in the wrong and should be arrested and prosecuted, but suggesting that she should have been allowed to put herself in that situation without any fear that she would be in any danger is like suggesting you should be allowed to dip your feet in alligator-infested waters or run across a live shooting range without risk.

If you tell your friend, "lock up your car," is that victim blaming? If you tell your uncle, "don't reply to that email in your spam folder," is that victim blaming? Then why is telling a woman "avoid drunk, horny assholes with a sense of entitlement who are already bigger and stronger than you but also not above using roofies?" By the standard being set by those you toss about the victim blaming accusation, telling kids not to take candy from strangers would be victim blaming. "Instead of teaching kids not to take candy from strangers, why don't we teach strangers with candy not to kidnap children?"

The world is full of scumbags who will take advantage of those they see as vulnerable. That will never change no matter what legal measures you take and policies you institute. By all means, those measures and policies should be pursued, but suggesting that people avoid situations where they could be vulnerable or that they take precautions to make themselves less vulnerable is not victim blaming. It's good--albeit sad--advice.

* Did you know email scammers purposely fill their emails with bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, and factual errors (like claiming to be a prince from a country that has no royalty)? The point is to make them so obviously false that any even moderately intelligent person (who is likely to put up resistance, ask questions, or go to the authorities) will spot the scam and delete it, leaving only the stupidest and ripest for the plucking to actually respond.

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