Responsibility vs victim blaming

There’s a big difference between taking responsiblity for the massive bruise on your arse because you got too drunk and stacked it, or the friendship that needs repairing because you said something offensive while plastered, and saying it’s your own fault that some arsehole raped you. Seriously, how hard is this to understand?

Jennifer Wilson has a piece in today’s Online Opinion: Grown up girls take responsibility.

My first problem is the headline which, admittedly, Wilson probably didn’t write. Grown up girls? Grown up girls are women. We don’t need to be infantilised. Sure, sometimes I refer to my boobs as girls (“my girls need some good strong scaffolding”), and sometimes I refer to my vagina as a falcon (“my falcon needs a good strong perch”), but I am certainly not a “grown up girl”.

Wilson is writing about a piece on The Drum by Melinda Tankard Reist on Brian McFadden’s latest single. Some of the lyrics are:

I like you just the way you are, drunk and dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage
I like you just the way you are, drunk and dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage


(For the best discussion of this song, check out this piece written by Clem Bastow.)

Wilson – who is using the piece to have a rant about Tankard Reist and Nina Funnell – writes:

But there is a difference between drunk, and passed out, and having sex when drunk isn’t the same thing as raping an unconscious woman. I don’t think McFadden is singing about the latter.

What is nowhere mentioned in the article is that women are responsible for their drinking behaviours, and a culture in which women believe that getting insensible on drink is a normal part of a good night out is also a vile one.

A woman has a responsibility to take care of herself. Nobody else can do that for her. It is a nasty world at times, particularly if you are of the drink and vomit, vomit and drink culture.

Sure, we all have some responsibility when it comes to drinking, like not stepping onto the road without looking, but should the victim be held responsible because someone else breaks the law?

There are two problems with her argument. The first is that it tells women that if they don’t get drunk, they won’t get raped. This is such a dangerous message. The latest stats from the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault reveal that 57 per cent of women surveyed had been physically or sexually assaulted at least once, but only one per cent said they were raped by a stranger. (Because the survey was conducted over the phone, it didn’t include women who are homeless, in prison, those in remote areas and those who don’t speak English. It’s a safe assumption that if those women were included, the numbers would be even higher.)

The second problem is that it says the victim is to blame because someone else commits a crime. If you don’t hear someone breaking into your house at night because you had too much to drink, we don’t blame you for it. You got robbed because someone robbed you.

Tankard Reist doesn’t blame McFadden for rape culture – which is, among many other things, the idea that if you don’t get drunk, don’t wear short skirts, don’t walk around by yourself after dark, don’t open the door to strangers, then you won’t get raped – but says songs like this help legitimise it. And that’s true.

Wilson writes:

Years of feminist rage against men seems to have achieved very little, as MTR admits, at least in the world of pop culture inhabited by millions of young women. It might be time to consider turning our attention to educating those women instead of wasting our energies blaming men. This is much harder, of course, but it might have a more successful outcome.

Hands up who did a self-defence class at school because the school thought it was a good way to prevent rape? And how many boys did an anti-rape class? Hmm? I’m not wasting my energy blaming all men for rape. I am blaming the rapists for rape. Just like I blame robbers for robbery. And Wilson is wrong. There is nothing in mainstream culture that says all men are rapists, but everything that says women are somehow responsible for being raped.

The first thing we should be educating girls and young women about is taking responsibility for their own choices and decisions. If you’re going to drink yourself senseless, bear in mind that you might get gang raped while you’re unconscious.

We apparently can’t stop some Neanderthals doing this, but maybe we can do our best to stop young women putting themselves into the situation in the first place. This will involve the whole village, of course, including the pubs and the parents, and not just some hapless male writer of horrible pop music.

We should be playing Rape Apologist Bingo here. If you get drunk, you’ll get gang-raped. We can’t stop them because boys will be boys. It’s only Neanderthals who rape, so you can spot them a mile off and avoid them.

Women and girls have been told this shit over and over again for decades and it hasn’t made one bit of difference. It seems we have been wasting our energies after all.

50 responses to “Responsibility vs victim blaming

  1. How many times do we have to say it?

  2. If you go out for the night leaving your door wide open, and you come home to find your house burgled, who is responsible for what happened? The burglar is obviously entirely responsible for the crime, but what would your insurance company say? Would they pay out even though you failed to secure the house?

    Rapists are entirely responsible for the rapes they commit. But women are plain dumb if they make rape even easier to commit.

    • Susan, your analogy doesn’t work. Wearing a short skirt/getting drunk is not the same as leaving the front door open. Everyone has the right to be able to go about their life without being attacked.

      Plus, you can’t say that rapists are entirely responsible for their crime but women are also to blame. Logically, that doesn’t make sense.

    • If a woman left her “door wide open” while she was in public, I’m pretty sure she’d get arrested for public indecency.

      If you reverse the analogy and apply your conclusion, then people who don’t have ultra-high tech security, guard dogs, monitored cameras, automatic steel doors and barred windows are plain dumb for making their houses easy to rob.

      Either that, or they should have a reasonable expectation of being able to live somewhere other than in a prison and still be safe.

  3. It all started with that fucking apple…here we are a couple thousand years later STILL paying for it. It’s never Adams fault, even when it is. It’s always Eve.

    I get so tired of explaining that rape is rape. I sometimes wonder how the different classifications of rape have damaged the victims claims. Statutory rape, date rape. Rape is fucking rape. (I get the difference of statutory rape, I just don’t like the term, because rape means against her will, without consent. Statutory rape is sex with someone under the age of consent who quite possibly gave their full consent.) I hate the term date rape. It doesn’t matter if the rape occured during a date. Rape is rape.

    • And if someone is too drunk to know what’s going on, then there is no consent. What kind of person wants to have sex with someone who is so out of it they don’t know what’s going on?

      • If the other person is unconscious or too drunk to know what’s going on, the “sex” would be terrible, but I think at that point, it’s no longer about sex, it’s about power and dominance, hence its appeal to rapists.

  4. I think it does make logical sense. If you knowingly and deliberately commit a crime, then you clearly have full criminal responsibility and liability for the crime. But that doesn’t mean other parties have no role to play in the prevention or otherwise of that crime. If someone shoots me in the head, then that person is guilty of murder. Questions may still legitimately be asked as to whether everything was reasonably done to prevent that person having a gun, whether there are laws on gun control that legislators should be changing, etc.

    Your picture of things is too black and white, and you can get away with it because it is – and justifiably so – an extraordinarily emotive issue. It is no contradiction to say that rapists have full liability for their crime, but that women should take precautions to protect themselves against such a crime. One such precaution being not being totally drunk, alone, late at night, in a sketchy neighbourhood.

    • The problem with that argument is that it tells women they can prevent rape. That if they follow the rules they won’t get raped by a big bad stranger lurking on a dark corner. Which is bullshit. You’re much much much more likely to get raped by a relative, family friend, former boyfriend or work colleague – all people you’re unlikely to avoid because they aren’t big bad strangers.

      You’re right about my thinking on this issue being black and white. It has to be, because if we keep doing what we’ve been doing – ie, telling women they can prevent rape – then nothing’s going to change.

      • Women can’t prevent rape, but they can take steps to make it more or less likely. I don’t think it’s terribly empowering to tell women they can’t do anything to prevent rape.

        • Susan, my point is that telling women they can prevent rape is the only thing we have done. And as long as we keep telling them that if they don’t get drunk they won’t get raped, we are doing them a horrible disservice. We are lying to them.

          My point is that we’ve done that and it hasn’t worked.

          • I guess it also depends on how you define empowering. Personally, I think it’s empowering to know that if I am sexually assaulted, I won’t be blamed for it. I won’t be accused of making it up. I won’t be called a gold-digger. People won’t point at my skirt and yell, “See! See! It’s short! She was asking for it!”

        • So, Susan, here’s the steps I took to make rape less likely, like I was taught they would: didn’t wear revealing/sexy clothes, didn’t strike up conversations with random strangers, carried a panic alarm, didn’t drink or take drugs, didn’t walk around alone at night, always let someone know where I was going to be and what time I was expected back. Hand me one of those ‘steps to keep yourself from being (stranger) raped’ tip lists, and I could tick off every single one of them.

          Y’know what all those things did to prevent me from being repeatedly raped by my boyfriend? Absolutely NOTHING.

          Y’know how I felt about those rapes? That it was my fault, that I had somehow not done enough to prevent them. Because that’s what our victim-blaming culture teaches: women have to take steps to minimise the chance of rape, so therefore if/when we get raped it’s our fault for not trying hard enough. Saying that people should take responsibility in ensuring that their sexual partners have not only given enthusiastic consent but are capable of giving consent is not the same as telling women that they “can’t do anything” about rape, no matter how much you attempt to make them the same thing. And telling women that all responsibility for avoiding rape lies on us is sure as fuck not empowering.

          • Merinnan, that is awful. It must be incredibly hard for you to share that story, so thank you. I always struggle when I hear stories like this, because I know that nothing I can say will make any difference, but I hope that you are ok now, and that you got some counselling to help you feel positive again.

            • Thank-you – I’m more okay now that I’ve come to terms with it enough to write about it than I was for awhile afterwards, and I put that down to the support I’ve had from people. Mostly now I am just angry about it, and I can channel that anger into productive uses.

              Re-reading it, I should have specified ex-boyfriend. My current boyfriend is one of the people who’ve been most supportive of me.

        • QFT:
          [women] should have a reasonable expectation of being able to live somewhere other than in a prison and still be safe.

    • If someone shoots me in the head, then that person is guilty of murder. Questions may still legitimately be asked as to whether everything was reasonably done to prevent that person having a gun, whether there are laws on gun control that legislators should be changing, etc.

      Your analogy is flawed here. In this example the shooter is the rapist and you are the raped. The way we talk about rape and treat women who have been raped is, in your analogy, to ask them what they did to prevent someone shooting them in the head.

      Which is ridiculous, right? Except, apparently, not if you’ve been raped.

      There is only so much a woman can do to “protect” herself against rape. She can try being really old, being really young, being fat, being ugly, being completely covered by clothing. Unfortunately, none of those things are a guarantee, because women still get raped when they’re really old, or really young, or fat, or ugly, or completely covered by clothing.

      In the entire history of humanity nothing that women have done has prevented men from raping them.

  5. “And how many boys did an anti-rape class? ”
    Like that would stop a pervert, prison and severe parole conditions, social condemnation and ostracism haven’t stopped them. Relatives and friends of the victim beating the shit out of them hasn’t stopped them.

    Educating people that its not her fault, that she wasn’t asking for it should help but a change in the culture that accepts terms like “damage” seems to be a fair way away.

    • Uh, one problem with that – I don’t see the social condemnation and ostracism going on. When I think back high school, guys got slapped on the back for “rooting a chick who’d passed out”. Sure, there’s social condemnation over violent rapes, but that gets back to rape culture, where only violent rape is considered “real” rape. And a woman must fight her attacker to the death.

      • I’m going to use a British example here, but a recent survey found that 46 per cent of 18-25 year old men believe it’s ok to have sex with someone who is too drunk to know what’s happening. I don’t know what the Australian figures are, but I reckon they’d be pretty similar. So this isn’t a case of a few perverts who wouldn’t be affected by anti-rape classes in school, but almost half the young male population clearly needing those classes.

        Remember that footage a while back of the rugby league players in the respect for women class? They were asked if it was ok to have sex with their mate’s girlfriend when she was asleep, and said yes. Make all the jokes you want about league players, but if we have to teach grown men this stuff, then we need to get it into their heads earlier.

      • And the “prison and severe parole conditions” is pretty uncommon.

        Of an estimated 1800+ rapes in SA in 2002, *6* people were convicted.


        When your odds of getting caught and thrown in prison are one third of a percent, the disincentive is basically non-existent.

  6. Stop calling it rape and use its proper name violent assault . Prosecute for violent assault ,no blame for the victim .If the assault has a sexual nature making it a more intrusive assault make the penalty far greater.
    Reporting of assault ,that is people getting bashed up, never blames the victim for their attire . The victim should never have to prove they didn’t deserve a flogging. All that needs to be proven is an assault took place then the penalty added for the viscousness .
    These are just thoughts ,rape is abhorrent and the person it happens to should not have to prove their innocence but far to often the reporting mentions the sexual nature of the attack and changes the focus to the victim leaving the thug to plead that he was led on. Nobody asks to be assaulted and the thug should not be allowed to use this defence.

    • Tredlgt, that’s a really good point. It is a violent intrusive assault. Any legal experts want to discuss this point?

      The media reporting of sexual assault also deserves some blame. I read a story a few weeks ago on the ABC website about a woman who was raped and it included details that she had been in a nightclub earlier in the night.

    • Awesome response. Yes, rape is a violent crime and should be classified as assault.

      Although the only down side I can see to that is the acceptance of violence in our culture. Violence against women, though most people agree is abhorant, is still rampant and female victims of violent crimes where the perpetrator is some one close to them, like a family member, spouse or partner is still very hard for a woman to get fair treatment within our legal system. The crisis centres and shelters full of battered women show that violent crimes against women are not taken as seriously as violent crimes against men.

  7. That,s right the reporting makes assumption that you must at all times remain sober and in complete control or you could be giving permission to a thug to attack you. That,s bullshit but again the MSM think it is acceptable to justify assault if sex is a factor on the possibility that you may be in the position of not being able protect yourself. Fucked .If you can’t defend yourself you deserve it.

  8. Rhiannon Saxon

    I remember in a sexism class at high school (Yes I went to an extraordinary highschool which has since been closed down, surprise) we read a parody of a police interview which had lines like, ‘So, you, a man on your OWN, wearing a nice suit were just STANDING there on a street corner, carrying cash on you? Don’t you think you were just ASKING to be mugged? Really. You must know that that kind of behaviour is an invitation.”

    It certainly gave some class members something to think about, heavy-handed as it was.

  9. thefirstJanineonthisblog

    Although I am not promoting this with any great researched legal authority on this issue, I would like to see a procedural change in the prosecution of rape charges insofar as a presumption would exist that consent can not be given in an intoxicated state. Because it can’t.

    Such presumptions exist as legal doctrines in contract, equity, wills and other laws propping up a civilised and just society in the context of economics. Why are are bodies any different to our bank accounts?

    I do also think a lot rests with the cops and their interest in supporting prosecutions when the victim is intoxicated. There is a lot of judgmental noise in the media driving the status quo and not many cases making it to court to push the case law in such a direction.

    • I’m pretty sure that, to some extent at least, South Australia’s laws relating to rape and sexual assualt mean that consent cannot be legally given while intoxicated.

      “Consent to sexual activity must be free and voluntary. It is not free and voluntary under the following circumstances:
      … * Asleep, unconscious, intoxicated to point of being incapable …”

    • Good idea however I wonder whether cases would end up in lengthy and side tracking debates about proving how intoxicated the victim was or was not. This could be a lot of white noise distracting from the assault and confuse the jury, especially as we still have a culture that latently (if not under law) blames a victim on some level if we know they are drunk

      • thefirstJanineonthisblog

        Lexy, I am very surprised by your argument. At least it would make it to court to have that evidence based argument. Plus, such evidence matters can be heard not before the jury but in a voir dire (in the absence thereof). It only needs legislation on this issue. At the moment being drunk (to any extent) is relied upon by the NSW police in not supporting such charges (- thanks to Chris for the SA law). We managed to legislate around not allowing the prosecution to bring into evidence sexual history (with some exceptions) and inferences can not be drawn because the victim was wearing short skirts. These are all legislated improvements in our legal process.

        Over the years I have had friends with dreadful stories of being drugged and/or drunk and raped as teenagers (some by sailors where the incident is known by the Navy) and the intoxication is used (even in the case of injected drugging by sailors) to minimise the violence of the assault and blur the point at the police investigation stage (a highly important part of the process and one dictated to by the words in statute). Judgements on levels of proof are made in the police station based on proving elements of a charge – the words in the statute. If the statute said something about consent and intoxication at least the cops can not say “well you were drunk”; it would be an element of the charge against the bloke. We would also need the issue to be clearly dealt with through legislated rules of evidence. I am now off to research the SA law…

    • No doubt through pressure from the record company, not because he thinks there’s anything wrong with the song. I saw his tweets over the last few days – he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his lyrics.

  10. fuckpoliteness

    First, thanks for an excellent post. I’m thoroughly sick of this as well: the song is bad enough, the slut-shaming/victim-blaming crap is worse though.

    Susan, your gun analogy is just plain weird. In the analogy of victim gets shot in the head, the crime that gets investigated is shooting someone in the head. You then say questions can be asked about gun control, the ‘guns/gun control’ in this picture are rape and rape culture. So News With Nipples IS doing just that, asking about guns, who has them, why they think they have a right to them and what the fuck is society doing to STOP this. That’s the weapon in this analogy. Not a woman’s body. So unfortunately it does nothing at all to advance your ‘women who get drunk are like houses with doors open, just WAITING to be burgled/rape’ point. Thankfully actually since it’s a disgusting point.

  11. fuckpoliteness

    Actually I’d like to revise that. The victim blaming isn’t ‘worse’ than the song, that gets the song off the hook. I just mean that it compounds the offensiveness and frustration.

  12. another great post nips – I actually went and looked up the OLO article, as I couldn’t believe that someone actually wrote the last two paragraphs that you quoted. Just wow.

    • Thanks Natalie. The rest of that OLO piece seems to just be about how Tankard Reist and Funnell are wowsers because they think cleavage is bad. Which misrepresents their argument.

  13. To take a digression from this particular discussion, I’m much more interested in taking a pot shot or two at this particular messenger.

    As well as her blog site (No Place For Sheep – get it?) and her established OLO CV, Jennifer Wilson has now put up her first piece at ABC’s The Drum Unleashed in which she makes all these same straw arguments (often literally cut’n pasting them), only in the context of pornography.

    She’s on a roll. Needless to say, Ms Wilson is receiving massive praise and adulation from the persistent nucleus of self-pitying misogynists (not always men) who maintain a permanent tentsite at the OLO and, increasingly, The Drum commentary sections.

    The premise in virtually everything she writes is that feminism infantilises all women and judges all men as brutes. Gender politics all comes down to taking responsibility for yourself, as long as you’re not a man.

    Like the many who peddle this stuff, she writes as if she has made a major breakthrough peace intitiative in the feminist-driven gender wars – rather than regurgitated a tired old anti-feminist backlash trope that’s been around since at least the 80s.

    She is one of those pretend anti-feminist feminists in the Hoff Sommers tradition – only more shrill if that’s at all possible. However, to give credit where it’s due, her articulate take-no-prisoners writing style is definitely bound for patriarchal media stardom and I wouldn’t be surprised if she soon gets a call from the House of Murdoch, if she hasn’t already. Move over Albrechtson.

  14. Telling women that it’s their responsibility to avoid rape is, aside from all the other excellent points made here, just not fair. Men are rarely told to protect themselves from violent crime, so why should women be? Why do people think its ok to encourage women to adjust to these unfair conditions instead of cracking down on men’s actions? Women’s liberties – their human rights, bascially – are curtailed according to these rape assumptions: be careful what you wear, don’t look men in the eye, don’t go out at dark etc etc. Why can’t people see how unfair that is? It’s a perfect example of how unjust and sexist society still is. The ‘boys will be boys’ argument does nothing to make the world a better place. Instead it fuels the status quo – a nasty and unfair status quo for women.

  15. Sorry for the late post. What gets me about this whole area is there seems to be an expectation that women need to do something about this. When it is patently a male problem. Women are the victims, but the problem rests with us. **We** need to do something about it.

    I am never sure what that would be. I know I fight the sort of acceptance of rape culture expressed so often in the media and in popular culture.
    I have commented before that, even if a woman is really drunk and carries a sign with her saying “Come and get it”, there is never an excuse for sexual attention that is not explicitly invited. Step one is to figure out whether the person is in a state in which they can give informed consent.

    Your comment about young males attending rape prevention classes is really astute. We, as a society, don’t bring up our young men with a mature attitude towards other people (not just women but all people). And we far too often tolerate “rape jokes”.

    For example, I am in the middle of an argument at I am trying to put the view that these things go so far beyond people merely being offended. People do and say things that have a dramatic effect on society as a whole.

    One of the many issues with reporting what the victim was up to prior to the attack is that it creates prejudice. If you can’t report what the offender had previously done because it might prejudice his defence, then neither should you report what the victim has done because it might prejudice the prosecution.

    Sorry – I am rambling a bit here.

    • David, rambling is fine. And fighting rape culture, just by pointing out how jokes and attitudes contribute to it, is a great thing to be doing.

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      “One of the many issues with reporting what the victim was up to prior to the attack is that it creates prejudice. If you can’t report what the offender had previously done because it might prejudice his defence, then neither should you report what the victim has done because it might prejudice the prosecution.”

      Beautifully put!!

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  17. Pingback: Down Under Feminist Carnival #35 | Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony

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