Trigger warning for sexual assault, stalking, victim blaming, and general annoyed ranting.
Tuesday night was, apparently, quite a doozy ’round here:
During an interview with Rolling Stone contributor Stephen Rodrick, a television news segment prompted Williams to discuss the case involving the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by high school football players.
“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people,” Williams said to Rodrick. “She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”[source]
As much as I love Serena – and by love, I might mean #nohetero – I was really grossed out by this.
Grossed out, but so severely unsurprised.
She did issue a statement on her own website, though, expressing her true, PR-polished, emotions:
“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.
I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”
…which, I sincerely believe she means.
What I’ve come to realize, in public dialogues I’ve had on twitter with other people far more vocal about the issue than myself, is that people sincerely don’t realize what “victim blaming” truly is. People – people who, apparently, include my physical fitness hero – don’t understand rape, don’t understand sexual assault, don’t understand the fact that rape is not always merely a “crime of opportunity,” don’t understand the sheer reality that says “Yes, you can do all the things defined as ‘the right things’ and still be raped.”
And why is it so hard for people to understand that? Because we live in a society that disregards these things as silly, implausible, half-truths. The only people who successfully learn just how little people can do to stop rape… are the survivors. Those of us who’ve had the therapy, done the emotional healing, and successfully given ourselves the space to grow from the situation know exactly what victim blaming looks like, smells like, feels like more than anyone else, and because of its pervasiveness, it’s difficult to change.
And that’s a damn shame.
…especially since Serena, once, was blamed for inciting a stalker by posting photos of herself, on her twitter account, that looked like someone was peeking through a peephole at her:
This month’s celebrity gossip included a scandal over a photo Serena Williams tweeted of herself that was quickly taken down. The photo was of Williams in a bra and panties behind what appears to be a curtain; you can see her silhouette and some fuzzy details of what she is wearing. It was timed to correlate with the release of the World Tennis Association’s Strong is Beautiful campaign, featuring Williams of course.
Williams took the photo down because of criticism. A man had recently been arrested on charges of stalking her and the image, critics claimed, was exactly the kind of thing that triggered men to stalk her. She shouldn’t encourage the creeps, said the blogosphere. Sports columnist Greg Couch, for example, called her a hypocrite for daring to release such a photo and still wishing to avoid being stalked, and then went on to discuss her appearance and clothing choices at length. [source]
None of this ever happens in a vacuum. People who are blamed for what happens to them often, in turn, resort to falling right in line with the cycle and continue to force others to feel accountable for the actions of others. It makes them feel empowered, when – in actuality – it creates an inability to properly heal. It’s a part of the game. I don’t expect anything about being a tennis dynamo to make Serena exempt from that cycle.
In fact, on one of my old posts where I wrote explicitly about victim blaming, I had a really frustrating dialogue with a woman who felt empowered – and weirdly so – by the idea that she, too, could do something to help her not feel like prey:
Her: I think the fine line comes in when people can’t seperate putting yourself in a bad situation and provoking rape. You CANNOT provoke rape. What you wear, say, or do cannot cause or stop someone from raping you. You CAN put yourself in a bad situation regardless of if you’re raped or not.
Leaving the club with a man you’ve never met before? Drinking until you black out in an unsafe enviorment? Getting into the car with random strangers? Those are not safe activities. No matter what people believe we DO NOT live in a perfect world. Acting otherwise is foolish.
We SHOULD be able to do a lot of things: leave doors unlocked, let children roam the neighborhood freely, be vurnerable around whoever and remain safe. In reality, we can’t. Yes, even people with alarm systems get their homes broken into, children who are carefully watched are kidnapped, and women who do everything “right” are raped. We can’t control evil people, they will find a way if that’s what they want but shouldn’t there be a way to teach safety without it being “blaming the victim”.
I was always taught that I cannot control anyone but myself. That I need to be careful and aware of my surroundings: do not drink to a point I’m not in control of myself, do not accept rides from men I don’t know, leave the “party” with the same people I came with, etc. NO that doesn’t mean that nothing will ever happen to me, but at least I know that I’ve done my best to assure that I’m not in a compromising situation to be snatched up or hurt.
Unsafe behaviors are unsafe behaviors. Bad things don’t always happen when you engage in unsafe behavior and refraining from unsafe behaviors doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen.
For men, I think we need to teach them what rape is. It’s amazing what some think is okay, and it’s because they were never taught differently. Many rapist don’t even consider themselves as such. I’d be really curious to know the statistics as far as rape “types” – date, random, drunken (unable to say yes OR no).
Me: “We SHOULD be able to do a lot of things: leave doors unlocked, let children roam the neighborhood freely, be vurnerable around whoever and remain safe. In reality, we can’t.”
I don’t think anyone is denying this.
The question, however, becomes… “if you DO do one of these things, and you are raped as a result, is the rape your fault?”
If your answer is yes, then you have to accept the fact that you are blaming the victim for someone else’s actions.
Regardless of whether or not you put yourself in a dangerous situation, it isn’t your fault that someone else chose to break the law.
I’m no longer willing to equate burglary with rape, because it’s still far easier to convict a burglar than it is a rapist; our perception of “well, if was your fault that you left your door open” doesn’t prevent us from finding it illegal for someone to enter into your home uninvited and steal your property. “It’s your fault since you got drunk” somehow still manages to prevent juries from finding it illegal for someone to enter your body uninvited and disregard your right to consent.
Her: Point taken. No, I would not say it was her fault. You cannot control the actions of another. Period.
And it really is a “langage” thing, as I was typing I wanted to say “If the rape is a result of drinking”, but that implies blame and that’s not what I’m thinking. I hate using qualifiers, but in my mind it’s:
It’s NOT her fault, BUT.. (if the rape was connected to drinking)
Could it have been avoided? Possibly
Are there situations where there is NOTHING the victim could have done differently to create a different outcome? Absolutely
I’m not talking things such as, if she had wore different clothes, not flirted as much, taken a different route – but more general safety things.
If I get naked and pass out drunk, I’m STILL not asking to get raped and it’s NOT my fault. But could I have acted differently and not been in that situation? Yes.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can take responsibility for my own questionable activites without accepting the blame of being raped.
And you are right about burglary. It doesn’t make it right, but I think that is because it’s more concrete. It doesn’t matter HOW it happened or why – guilty is guilty. It SHOULD be the same way with rape, but a lot of the time (when it IS reported) it’s seen as he say/she say. No one knows exactly what happened unless they were there and that’s why it usually becomes a battle of character – who SEEMS more trustworthy. Who’s story to believe, who’s story seems more likely. If she was drinking and flirting did she WANT to have sex? If she has bruises or is injured I think it’s much more cut and dry – but outside of that? It gets ugly, and I think that’s why so many never say anything. If you’re already hurting and KNOW, considering the way our court systems are, you’re going to get dragged through the mud – why report it?
ETA: I don’t think that any of the victims actions (outside of saying yes/no or not being able to say either) should play a role in how the rapist is charged. I don’t think it should be a part of the trial/defense any of that, because NONE of that should matter when it comes to judging the rapist. It doesn’t make it anymore okay or the act any less of a crime. I think it’s something we should realize, but legally it should be moot point. I just don’t agree with refusing to see that point of view completely or not teaching girls how to TRY to be safe.
Me: “I just don’t agree with refusing to see that point of view completely or not teaching girls how to TRY to be safe.”
I feel like people always make this weird argument that to challenge victim-blaming means that we don’t teach people how to be safe. You teach people to be safe, but to imply in any way that THEIR actions are the cause for someone else committing a criminal act and abusing another person is inaccurate and, you guessed it – victim-blaming.
You keep trying to gussy it up in fancy language and “rational arguments,” as if that makes it better or more sensible. Just accept it – you are more comfortable believing that you have some ownership in what happens to you, and you’d rather perpetuate that instead of accept the fact that we, as a society, are at the mercy of people who don’t always have our best interests at heart. You could be wearing a habit in a church, and if the wrong scumbag comes for you, it’s still a wrap. You don’t get ANY say in whether or not you are victimized some day. Your efforts to waste my time arguing about what amounts to pretty victim-blaming are better spent going around and telling people to NOT victimize people and NOT commit rape. Seriously. I’m not budging on this.
Her: “going around and telling people to NOT victimize people and NOT commit rape”
And what do you HONESTLY expect that to accomplish? Rape it wrong, go you. You know that, I know that, rapist know that. Does that matter to them? Doubtful. People know stealing and killing is wrong, yet they still do it. So clearly teaching our children right from wrong has not cured all that’s wrong with the world. The only pt that this MAY be effective is teaching all the different forms of rape, that’s it’s not always a stranger attacking a woman that’s kicking and screaming.
99.9% of rapes might be unavoidable, but if “victim-blaming” and pointing out how doing certain things can put you in a dangerous situation causes even ONE girl to rethink that 3/4/5 drink that would put her over the limit – I’m for it. I’ll own that.
Honestly, I don’t think either of our “arguments” would be highly effective in lowering rapes. IMO that can only come through strict legal consequences that treat all cases equally without regard to circumstances. Stop letting men claim ignorance to the fact that what they did IS actually rape regardless of if they view it that way or not. Stop putting rape victims on trial when cases get to that point. Stop confusing bad choices (drinking/leaving with strangers) with criminal ones and thinking that one excuses the other. A party girl raped while passed out drunk is just as much of a victim as a nun raped in a church. A wife raped by her husband is just as much a victim as a woman raped by a stranger. Both of them had something taken from them against their will and the circumstances surrounding that shouldn’t change how they’re treated or viewed.
And yes, I rationalize everything lol. That is how I make sense of the world and I’m fine with that. Even though I’m sure my posts seem like a jumble of randomness I love that this has helped me crystalize my views for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to write down exactly what I mean and this kind of helped me work through it.
I think it’s only fair to point out that this, in a sense, is also me trying to work out my own past. It’s hard to wonder, if I had been sober and SAID “no” would it have changed anything? I will never know, but by the same token I will never put myself in that situation again where I have to question myself. Was it my fault? No. Could it have been prevented? More than likely.
Me: “And what do you HONESTLY expect that to accomplish?”
A lot. We wouldn’t know the outcome, because we’ve never tried it.
“Rape it wrong, go you. You know that, I know that, rapist know that. Does that matter to them? Doubtful. People know stealing and killing is wrong, yet they still do it.”
But why? Have you ever had the phrase “rape culture” defined for you? People steal and kill for a multitude of reasons, none of which make that even remotely similar to rape… something that we enable in society.
“I think it’s only fair to point out that this, in a sense, is also me trying to work out my own past. It’s hard to wonder, if I had been sober and SAID “no” would it have changed anything?”
It’s not only fair; it’s obvious. And that’s what makes these kinds of debates around this issue so difficult: so many women on the side of “it’s not victim-blaming!!!111ONE” are trying to find ways to accept culpability in a situation where they have none.
I think you need to have a fundamentally sound understanding of what rape culture is and how it contributes to an environment where people are things, put on display for the pleasure and satisfaction of a potential rapist. You can be smart and be safe, but understand that if you are still attacked, even with all your smart-ness and safeness, it’s not your fault. You can NOT be smart OR safe, be attacked, and it’s still not your fault. To say anything else implies a victim has culpability in the crime committed against them, and they are in fact blamed for their attack.
There is no amount of hefty paragraphing that can change that.
I am so, so very saddened to hear that my suspicions were correct, and hate to know what it has done to you. I do hope for the best for you, though, as you continue to work through your past.
Quite frankly, this dialogue – and its unfortunate result – is hella common.
The fact of the matter is that, as a society, it is far more assuring (and easy) for us to believe that we, as individuals, have a say in whether or not we are victimized. It’s really terrifying to think about just how much of our existence is at the mercy of others. If we understood that we need to ensure that people don’t rape (or, for that matter, don’t fart or burp in public), and if we policed rape-enabling behavior just as much we as policed piss-poor manners, we’d be doing the work of defeating rape culture.
…and since we’ve done none of that, no..I don’t expect progressive brilliance on the part of my hero. I can only hope that she’s willing to see, and grow from, her stance.