Slut walks and the psychology of blame

No means no

“No means no, however we dress, wherever we go.”

Thousands of provocatively dressed protesters have been marching through cities across the world on ‘Slut walks’, chanting slogans against a Canadian policeman who cautioned students to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to stay safe.

The message ‘Don’t blame the victim’ came across loud and clear.


Why we blame

But do we blame the victim and, if so, why?

Last year a survey by Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centres found that 54% of women think rape victims are sometimes to blame for their attack.

This tendency to blame is understandably couched in self-preservation. We want to believe such things would never happen to us, so we look for what the victim ‘should’ have done differently, particularly with traumatic violent and sexual assaults.

I caught myself doing it last week when I read about someone nearby who had been assaulted in their own home by an intruder.

Immediately I questioned whether they owned an alarm or had previously upset the attacker. Subconsciously, I was partially blaming the victim in order to ease my troubled mind.


Black, white or grey?

Psychologist Ofer Zur asserts that we are right to suspect that the situation isn’t always black and white.

Zur suggests that a murder ‘victim’ who is a rapist, killed in self-defence by the stranger that he was attacking, is entirely to blame.

However, we tend only to think of the worst incidents, where the victim is entirely blameless, such as a child attacked by an adult. But statistics show it is rarely this simple. In the US, 88% of murder victims have an ongoing relationship with their murderer.

Because this is such an emotive subject, it is understandably easier to be politically correct, assigning all the guilt to the perpetrator, than risk upsetting those who have already been hurt. However, we don’t need to blame the victim to investigate the circumstances of the situation.

As Zur says, “Do not blame the victim has been translated into: do not explore the role of the victim.” This is a subtle and important difference. We can never improve the situation if we don’t understand it.


Understand and improve

As a woman, I wholeheartedly agree with the slogan of the ‘Slut walks’ that “No means no, however we dress, wherever we go”. However we act we should be able to stay safe.

But it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s helpful to act or dress provocatively. Paul writes that, “All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”

Humans are made for relationship, and as such we are jointly responsible for the culture in which we live. Whilst everyone is responsible for his or her own actions, we also have the responsibility to help each other not to fall. If we want men to see women as fellow humans and not sex objects, let’s not act as if we are the latter.

In order to change society for the better, and mitigate further violence towards women, we must not be afraid to examine the wider context in which it occurs. But first let us look inside ourselves and, as Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Lifestyle