In a disturbing British survey, a majority of respondents said victims bear responsibility for rape in some cases. And women were even harsher than men.
54% of the women surveyed said victims were partially responsible for their rapes. Of those who believed this, 71% said someone was to blame for rape if she got in bed with her rapist. A third said she'd be at fault if she dressed provocatively or went to a man's house for a drink, and 13% would blame a victim just for dancing sexily or flirting.
A majority of men also believed that there were situations in which the victim was at fault, but they were less harsh than women. For instance, only 57% of men who thought women should accept some responsibility thought they were at fault if they got into bed with their rapists. Of the 1,061 people surveyed, those between 18 and 24 were especially likely to blame the victim. Says Elizabeth Harrison, manager of one of the sexual assault clinics that commissioned the study,
Women look at court cases and think she was drunk, she wore a short skirt, I don't do that so it won't happen to me. But rape can happen to anyone in any circumstances. It's particularly worrying that younger women are more likely to hold people responsible for what happens to them.
The 18-24 group were more likely to say that engaging in conversation in a bar or accepting a drink makes them partially responsible. But it is this age group that are more likely to be going out doing that. We need to get the message out in schools that rape is never your fault.
Harrison may be right that women engage in victim-blaming as a way of feeling safe, convincing themselves that only people who act a certain way get raped. It's possible, too, that a decline in the numbers of young women who identify with feminism have made more young people convinced that a woman who wears a short skirt is "asking for it." Natasha Walter has written that young British women find such activities as pole dancing and posing in skimpy outfits empowering — but at least according to the survey, they seem to think these very activities make it okay for men to rape them. Do 18-24-year-old women believe that "ownership" of their sexuality — the freedom to dress and dance sexily if it makes them feel good — also means ownership of rape? Do they think rape is an acceptable consequence of free sexual expression? Whatever the case, the survey revealed another disturbing statistic: more than 10% of respondents weren't sure they'd report being raped to the police, and 2% said they definitely wouldn't. In a society where victims are blamed for as little as "flirting" with a rapist, it's all too easy to see why.