September 1, 2012
Victim Blaming Prevention Tips... Again
I am sadly used to women bearing the responsibility of 'preventing' sexual assault even though these tips (like Ms. Ford's) are totally ineffective. Sexual assault prevention tips which focus on the behaviour of the survivor ignore the facts about sexualized violence. Such as:
* 85% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (a friend, family member, spouse, someone the victim is dating, etc.)
* For children, this statistic is 95%
* Many survivors "freeze" as involuntary coping during an acute stress response to trauma (aka fight/flight/freeze); this is especially common if the perpetrator is someone the victim knows and/or trusts and/or if the victim has been sexually abused/assaulted before
* Survivors may consciously or subconsciously choose not to physically resist (e.g. fight back) in order to minimize physical violence, including death
* Some offenders target women who behave in the ways prevention tips tell us how to act (e.g. act confident, walk tall, make eye contact, etc.) because sexualized violence is not about sex but about controlling and humiliating another person
* Especially in cases of sexual assault where the assailant is someone the victim knows and trusts, the survivor may feel confused and unsure of how to react, thus creating an involuntary shock/freeze response, rendering her or him unable to use self defense course skills
* Weapons the victim carries, including mace, can be used against her or him
If these prevention tips were simply ineffective but benign, there would be less of a problem. However, these tips tell survivors:
* You SHOULD have fought back
* You SHOULD have been more aware
* You SHOULD have been more assertive
* You SHOULD have never let your guard down, ever
* You SHOULD never ever drink alcohol
* You SHOULD never dress a certain way
And these messages contribute to the shame and self-blame many survivors feel, as well as blaming by supports.
Instead, what survivors of sexualized violence need to hear is:
* It's not your fault
* I believe you
* The offender is 100% to blame
* You are NOT responsible because you did ______ or did not do _______
(In contrast to prevention tips, these are the messages that contribute to healing.)
So prevention tips like Ms. Ford's (and this is by no means limited to Ms. Ford) actually harms survivors. These tips increase internalized self blame and other post-trauma reactions, and can decrease the likelihood of survivors reaching out for help.
Which is why I STRONGLY oppose sexual assault prevention tips focused on the behaviour of survivors (usually women).
Some people may see this as a reach, but I invite you to think about it. There are pages that facebook has yet to pull despite multiple reports, and other websites, that say things like "Is rape of a prostitute theft of services?"or "Is raping a hooker shoplifting?"
Clearly our society treats sex workers like crap and with the direct connotation of the word "whore" I couldn't help but think Ms. Ford was, at least subconsciously, attacking women in the sex trade who may experience higher rates of sexualized violence if they are legally forced to work alone and/on the streets.
Some offenders/sadists/murderers target sex workers because they know that sex workers are less likely to report victimizations to the police, are less likely to be believed, and may be forced into working in isolation due to current legislation. These offenders tactically choose victims in order to decrease the likelihood of being caught.
So when Ms. Ford casually tells women to not dress like whores, she is not only engaging in victim blaming but is directly contributing to the stigma faced by sex workers.
I mention this last, not to shame Ms. Ford, but to illustrate the importance of holding perpetrators (and not victims) accountable for sexualized violence. Ms. Ford was reportedly a member of the Lingerie Football league, which essentially involves women playing in their underwear.
While I am definitely concerned when women's sports are popular because they titillate men, my point is this:
Ms. Ford, when you dressed in lingerie as part of your league, you do not invite sexual assault. You do not ask to be victimized, and you in no way deserve to be. You (like everyone else) have the right to wear what you want without fear of rape.
And if you were ever sexually assaulted when you were wearing lingerie as part of your league involvement (and I truly hope this is not the case), these same rules apply. The sexual assault is not your fault, you are not to blame, your clothes are not to blame. Sexual assault is 100% the fault and responsibility of the offender.
Krista Ford has since apologized for her tweet, stating: "I didn't mean to cause such an alarm and I apologize if I did. I just want women to be safe."
Ms. Ford, I agree 100% with your statement about women being safe. But telling women how to dress does not keep women safe. True prevention focuses on holding offenders accountable (see the Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton campaign: www.sexualassaultvoices.com/our-campaign.html )
For more info visit on the tweet and apology, visit:
For other responses visit:
Posted by Monika