We want a community that supports survivors and holds offenders accountable
News of the rape of a young Baton Rouge woman initiated by a relationship on the online dating platform Tinder has opened a heated dialogue in our community about blaming victims for assaults committed against them. While people may have the best of intentions in talking about the circumstances surrounding a rape in an effort to help prevent future acts of violence, victim shaming helps no one and harms the people affected by sexual violence. It also perpetuates epidemic levels of sexual violence and trauma in our community.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that almost two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Thirty-eight percent of perpetrators are a friend of or acquaintance to the victim, while 23% of perpetrators are an intimate partner. Nearly six out of every 10 sexual assaults reported by victims occurred in their own home or at the home of a friend, relative, or neighbor. Just last weekend, there were three other rapes reported in our community: one where a man raped a 16-year old while she was asleep and a double-rape including robbery of two women. Considering these facts, it is important to recognize that our â€œcommon-senseâ€ strategies for preventing rape are not applicable in most cases.
When a person is raped, an incredible amount of courage is required to report it to law enforcement, and the process of following through with criminal charges is often scary and overwhelming. There are countless questions that force the survivor to relive the assault, numerous police inquiries and court proceedings, and the potential for public exposure of a survivorâ€™s personal and sexual history. In addition to this official questioning and exposure, there is also the publicâ€™s reaction, which tends to overwhelmingly shame victims for their behavior prior to an assault rather than focusing on the violent behaviors of the offender. For these reasons and many others, most survivors do not report, and many decide to withdraw their complaints out of fear, intimidation, and the additional trauma they experience from the process.
As long as we collectively continue to perpetuate a culture in which survivors do not feel safe to report, offenders will go free and continue committing rape and other forms of sexual violence against more victims.
Based on this fact, members of the public who criticize the victimâ€™s actions in discussions about instances of rape are not preventing rape, despite their best intentions. They are actively perpetuating rape. When we fail to support survivors and instead shame them for the non-violent behaviors they engage in (i.e., allowing someone into their home, drinking alcohol, etc.), we tell offenders that their violent, antisocial behavior (i.e., raping another human) is acceptable in those instances.
The only morally justified response to an instance of rape is to support the survivor and hold the offender(s) accountable. Individuals can support survivors by being there for them, having empathy for them, and offering public and private support throughout the reporting process. Individuals can hold offenders accountable by directing outrage, judgment, and blame for the situation squarely where it belongs: with the offender who committed an absolutely unacceptable act of violence against another human being. Communities can support survivors by providing fair and supportive response systems, and can hold offenders accountable by conducting thorough and unbiased investigations into reports of rape and prosecuting cases in which the evidence indicates there is probable cause that a rape has been committed.
As a community, we must stand up and say that how an individual comes to be in a position in which he or she was raped does not matter. It is irrelevant. To truly make ourselves and our loved ones safe from sexual violence, we must support all survivors and hold offenders accountable for their violent actions. It is that simple.
Tune into the local news tonight for statements from Executive Director Racheal Hebert: WBRZ Channel 2: 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. NBC 33: 5:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m. FOX 44: 9:00 p.m.
Catch the Jim Engster Show tomorrow, July 31st at 9:00 a.m. on 89.3 WRKF to hear Executive Director Racheal Hebert discuss these issues on air.
CHALLENGE victim-blaming attitudes, such as "she was asking for it," "she was stupid," "what was she thinking," or "she deserved what she got"...rapists are the reason rape happens.
SHOW SUPPORT by expressing your gratitude for survivors coming forward and to law enforcement for promptly arresting perpetrators.
BELIEVE survivors when they come forward and DON'T QUESTION or JUDGE their actions, behaviors, dress, or decision to delay or defer reporting.
HOLD OFFENDERS ACCOUNTABLE by highlighting their predatory behavior and utter disregard for sexual boundaries, human dignity and an individual's basic human right to decide with whom, when, where, and how they want to engage in sexual activity.
Voice your support by sharing our graphic above on social media and using #supportsurvivors.