Elevator speech: Victim blaming and why it matters

NSVRC and OAESV recently released a statement to follow up on the findings in the Steubenville case. “Turn off the victim blaming. Turn on support for survivors.” discusses some of the negative media feedback that has surrounded the case. I kind of feel like that title alone is all you really need to get from this post today. Why are we still talking about victim-blaming? The message must not be clear yet. I suppose it never hurts to practice my elevator speech, so let’s unpack the idea a bit.

I can remember a time when disrupting victim blaming through rape jokes erupted into a giant family fight. It led to a 3 solid days of silent treatment tempered with outbursts with one of my sisters (yes, me and my adult sisters still have “teenage melodrama” at times…I like to think it’s all part of sisterly affection). Her point was simple: everybody knows it’s a joke and that she doesn’t really think what she said is true so it doesn’t matter anyway. My point was that it does matter.

Casual victim blaming among friends, rape jokes, or blatant disregard for the feelings and experiences of people who survive sexual violence in the media are all a part of rape culture. If we hear this stuff often enough from people we love, respect, believe in, or care about, then it becomes normal. It matters because we start to believe it. It also matters because people who subscribe to rape myths and victim blaming are more likely to commit acts of sexual violence (check out McMahon & Baker’s paper on perceptions). It’s all connected because even if you never rape someone, accepting rape myths or spouting victim blaming statements makes it easier for someone else to do it.

One person in Florida recently shared her event with us—a walk to raise awareness about child sexual abuse—and shared that she’s faced problematic media coverage about her experience of abuse. This is too common. It happens every day and it needs to stop. Name the problem: victim blaming in the media. What’s the solution: educate the media on appropriate ways to report on sexual violence.

It’s important to emphasize that while the media plays a big role in informing public knowledge and opinion in cases about sexual violence, blaming statements are not only made by reporters. What is reported through mainstream media is only a reflection of the attitudes and beliefs subscribed to, promoted and consumed by the general public. We all have a role to play in ending rape culture.

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