You worry for women when a judge resorts to victim blaming
Published 24/04/2015 | 02:30
A UK judge has said Karen Buckley had "put herself in a vulnerable position". It's particularly depressing when it's an actual judge, those people whose job it is to be trusted to provide justice for victims of crime, who can't address violence against women without perpetuating victim-blaming myths. Even worse, these attitudes may also be infiltrating the very institutions we all rely on for support and justice.
District Court judge Nigel Cadbury was speaking as he sentenced another woman for an assault outside a bar. "I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don't even know who they're with. One only has to think about the horrible situation in Glasgow to see how serious this could have been. It's very, very worrying how young girls put themselves in such very, very vulnerable positions," he said. But why is it always women who are told they have to modify their behaviour to stay safe?
One in three people believes that women who behave flirtatiously are somewhat responsible if they are raped, according to a rather depressing Amnesty International report. A similar number of people believe that women are partially or wholly responsible for being raped if they are drunk; while more than a quarter believe women are responsible if they wear revealing clothing. Wow. Men are marginally more likely to blame the victim than women, although in the case of drunkenness, 5pc of women thought a woman would be totally responsible if she were raped, compared with 3pc of men.
Whichever way you slice it, the argument amounts to the same thing: women and the things they do are responsible for anything bad that is done to them. Are you tired of that same old message being rehashed every time a woman is brutally attacked or killed? I am. It's a terrible mistake, so often made in rape "prevention" campaigns, where responsibility is placed on women to keep themselves safe, rather than tackling would-be attackers.
But as people have finally begun pointing out, aligning rape and sexual assault as the presumed outcomes of victim behaviour involving clothing choices or transport arrangements is victim-blaming. It's not actually helping anyone. And this shame goes hand-in-hand with low reporting rates of rapes.
The threat of male violence should never hamper women's freedom of movement, yet we still have a judge suggesting women are the ones who should be forever on their guard.
I hate this implication, that it is a woman's job to keep themselves safe from the inevitable threat of a man and just accept the curtailment in their lives that's necessary for self-defence. The older I get, the more jealous I am of men's freedom to walk around by themselves at night, and I think I can protect myself while also acknowledging that I shouldn't have to.
Too often, we're asked to accept male violence as though it's something that just happens, like rain. It's our job to carry an umbrella to avoid getting wet. But rape and other forms of assault are acts of men (and sometimes women), and we should be trying harder to stop them at the source by ending victim blaming and having the threat of long prison terms for would-be perpetrators.
A 2009 study of 600 files held by the Director of Public Prosecutions and more than 170 Central Criminal Court trials and transcripts of cases found just seven out of every 100 suspected rape cases reported to gardaí led to convictions.
Just one in five rapes were reported, probably because the woman felt she was to blame.
It is true that someone who is drunk, alone, and stumbling home can be vulnerable to attack. It's also true that campaigns that successfully got women to be eternally sober, carry an alarm at all times, and be tucked up in their beds by 10pm would not deal with the fact there are still some men out there who think it's perfectly fine to attack them.