Here’s a statistic that shouldn’t sit right with anyone: Over 73 percent of people in a study by the Havens, a sexual assault referral center in the U.K., believe the victim should “take responsibility” for getting raped if they’ve already performed another sexual act on the rapist. Raped? Well, you’d already given him a hand job so, really, you should have expected that to happen!
But that’s not the worst of the victim-blaming attitudes: Two-thirds (66 percent) of people surveyed think the victim is partly to blame for getting into bed with the rapist in the first place, and a shocking one-fourth (28 percent) think the victim is partly to blame if they dressed provocatively.
This study wasn’t performed in backwoods Hicksville in 1912; it was performed in London, England, in the year 2010.
Granted, the Havens study was relatively small: 1,061 people in London aged 18 to 50, mostly female and mostly heterosexual, who were contacted online. Although the market research firm that conducted the study said the internet allowed respondents anonymity so that they could (allegedly) respond more honestly, we still know relatively little about the respondents’ identities. I am not saying, “Take it with a grain of salt”; I’m just acknowledging it’s a relatively small study done anonymously online.
In any case, the findings of the Havens study show that a lot of myths — yes, myths — about rape still persist: You “had it coming” if you’d been fooling around; you “had it coming” if you were drinking; you “had it coming” because you’d been dancing sexily. You “had it coming” because you were dressed slutty (or just in a bikini). You “had it coming” if you walked home alone.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind believes a person “deserves” to be raped. Yet it never ceases to boggle my mind how many excuses people make for men who violate another woman sexually. (Let’s not forget to thank Whoopi Goldberg for inventing the term “rape-rape”!) There are certainly mentally ill, brazen rapists in the world — trust me, while researching stories to include in Today’s Lady News every day, I read about most of them. But it seems to me that most rape occurs because our culture is not serious about defining what “consent” and “violation” mean. That is why all the excuses for rape — she was drinking; she came back to my place; she already slept with all my friends, etc. — are legitimatized when they shouldn’t be.
My own personal theory is that in many Western cultures (American/British/Italian/French cultures being the ones I can speak for) there is a “boys will be boys” mentality because men are considered more sexual. Women are “supposed” to tame men’s lascivious behavior because women are supposedly less sexual. Therefore, women are treated with disrespect, even punished, if anything bad happens to them because of sex. This concept is called a “double standard.”
And I think my theory about women, sexuality and respect is reflected in even more stomach-turning data from the Havens study: One in five respondents believe most rape claims are not true (18 percent) and men were almost twice as likely to hold that belief than women (27 percent vs. 14 percent). There are some women, of course, who lie about rape. But the fact that there are people who believe most rape claims aren’t true says a lot about the respect society affords sexual women. Victim-blaming on one hand and disbelief on the other hand make for a no-win situation: A woman could have “had it coming” if she was sexually assaulted after going home with a guy when she was drunk, but she could still not be believed when she calls it rape.
Though it will thoroughly depress you, I recommend reading the whole PDF file of the Havens’ survey for a complete picture. This study’s findings may have been bleak, but at the very least they underscore how much further the world has to go. [The Havens Study PDF, BBC]