Home The Op-Eds What A Victim-Blaming World Looks Like To A Victim

What A Victim-Blaming World Looks Like To A Victim

by Erika Nicole Kendall

There is ranting, foul language, triggering conversation about bodies and sexual violence, and various manners of voodoo and black magic in this blog post. Consider yourself warned.

Victim blaming. The idea that a victim has culpability in being victimized. Hold on to that definition for a minute.

We’d been sitting on the phone for a little over an hour, at this point. I laid sprawled out across my bed, nail file in hand, beaten-up cell phone attached to my face, listening to him talk. I’m not entirely sure what I thought he might be doing on the other end of the phone, but I remember the point where I legitimately stopped “half-listening” and had to sit up, anxiety overpowering my obsessive desire for perfectly straight nails.

“I mean, it’s hard to say it, but I’ve been raped before.”

“Wait, what?” There was a long pause before I could finish. “What happened?”

Apparently, as a basketball player in school, he went home with one of his team mates to spend the night at his house instead of going home. That night, sleeping on the couch, he woke up to find a woman – his friend’s mother – on top of him, taking advantage of the fact that he’d developed an erection in his sleep. He was terrified, confused, and – I could tell – crushed: this was his “first time.”

He never told his mother. She’d never understand. Men don’t get raped. Men do the raping, right? She’d simply tell him to never speak of it again… so he figured he’d get a jump start on that and not speak on it at all. This left him with countless misunderstanding about masculinity, his place in society, and whether or not he should trust his own body. It led him to misunderstand what “signals” are and what part of himself allowed this to happen.

He was a kid who got a hard-on in his sleep. That’s it.

As I recall this unfortunate story, I sit here, right now, with my jaw completely and totally in my hands. I am dumbfounded.

Across my screen flew this link, and I immediately felt anxiety all across my chest, my arms and down my spine.

A few…quotes… of… interest:

It seems as if the considerable push back again victim-blaming has pushed all the way past prudence and levelheadedness, making anyone who suggests that “women can actually be taught how to behave too” insensitive or a “rape enabler.”

…as the article continues, and lines such as “Consent can be withdrawn by the words “no “or “stop” and in many states, a woman doesn’t have to say no at all. Consumption of alcohol can prevent a woman from being able to legally offer consent” begin to seep in, the tone seems to shift from “men need to take full responsibility for their actions” to “men need to take full responsibility for their actions…and women have carte blance to act as recklessly and stupidly around men as possible without any trace of accountability.” and I just can’t agree anymore.

Sparkling little beauties, those quotes.

I look at those quotes, and I am astounded by the naivete they display.

People far more eloquent than myself have commented on the foolishness of telling victims (and potential victims) that they have some culpability in their ability to be victimized. I’d be a fool to re-mow that neatly manicured lawn.

However, I think we need to fully understand what the world looks like in a space where it is acceptable to tell people that they can protect themselves from being raped. It’s easy to talk about the immediate consequences of a society that thinks that women invite attack by “dressing like sluts” or by “drinking too much” (and yes, I am saying “women” on purpose, despite the story above) and how wrong-headed that thinking is, but what does the world look like when you are told to live in constant fear of being victimized?

You know what it looks like? It looks like young girls, suffering from the advances of grown men who should know and be encouraged to do better, who carry their books across their chest because their breasts attract too much attention. It looks like Mothers of young girls, buying their pre-teen and teenaged daughters giant sweaters to wear to try to hide their breasts, because they “know the boys will stare.” And, right now, as someone says, “Of course they will stare!” I have to wonder – do we even bother to tell our boys (and, hell, grown men, too) how wrong that is? That no, it is not simply “hormones” and “natural urges” to gawk at and objectify a young girl because she’s got a large rack?

A victim-blaming world looks a lot like Mothers calling their daughters (or someone else’s daughter) “fast” for attracting too much male attention, instead of wondering about, asking, or checking the men lavishing attention upon her (particularly when it appears that the male in question is hella old.) I remember hearing “Mmmmmm, she fasssssss…” all the time, but not once can I recall hearing anything similar for men. Also worth noting, Google apparently doesn’t know the male equivalent of “fass.” Neither do I… and I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

A victim blaming world looks like women who disconnect from their bodies – caring for them and appreciating them – because they are going out of their way to discourage rape. You know, because they have to do what they can to assume responsibility for rape, right? A victim blaming world looks like a place here young girls are discouraged from learning about their bodies because if they actually started to love and appreciate the things about them that signal their femininity – curves, for example – then it’d be their fault that they attract attention and, eventually and potentially, rape. It’d be their fault. You know, for dressing like sluts.

A victim blaming world looks like the women who participated in this post, who thought that they were raped because they were just “too damn sexy” for a rapist to even bother to ask whether or not she deemed him worthy enough to receive her body. It looks like women who do not and may never understand that rape isn’t about you being “too sexy for a rapist to wait for your consent;” it looks like women who will never understand that this violent, reprehensible crime wasn’t about them as people, individuals, human beings at all.

A victim blaming world looks like a space where women believe that the reason they were raped was because they were too attractive and, therefore, must remedy this situation by making themselves unattractive. Throwing away makeup, no more high heels, no more fancy dresses, and no more svelte figure. (We can talk, all day, about what’s wrong with society thinking these are what make a woman attractive, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is what society thinks is attractive.) It is a space where women “make themselves ugly” by “making themselves fat.” It is a space where women cope with that fear (of it happening again) and that shame (because, you know, they have to take responsibility for their rape, too) by eating with their emotions. Except… fat women can be victimized, too.

A victim blaming society looks like a space where women, taught to perpetually fear assault, don’t know how to respond to men who say “Damn, boo, can I get that?” or the man who says “Good afternoon! How you doin’, miss?” In a victim-blaming society, every man is Schroedinger’s Rapist – every man is a potential rapist, and I have to treat you as such. A victim-blaming society also is the space where the victim is also chastised for being an angry and bitter Black woman for not speaking to said potential rapists. We are expected to swallow our fear and efforts to protect our vulnerability so that we can speak to you, potential rapist, because how dare we not respond to you?

A victim blaming world looks like a place where men can be victimized, and because we’re so used to women being the victim… we don’t know what the hell to do with male victims. Do we… tell him it was his fault? Do we… give him the screw face and tell him he should’ve gone home? Do we… question his manhood for being overpowered by a woman? (Remember, we tell men don’t hit women.) Or do we high five him and tell him “Dude, old chicks are the BEST first time! I had one my first time, too!” And, do they never understand that this, too, counts as rape?

A victim blaming world looks a lot like a child-ass curfew for a grown ass woman. Because she’s not supposed to be out after dark anyway.

A victim blaming world looks a whole hell of a lot like women who intentionally avoid alleys, construction sites, overpopulated street corners, large groups of men and certain stores because they are notorious for catcalling and street dominance. We don’t say “Hey, guys, you don’t show your masculinity by publicly dominating and embarrassing a woman.” We tell women “Dress in a manner wholly unacceptable to you to avoid being raped.” Because, of course, they have responsibility in this, too.

I said this a long time ago, and I’m saying it again – not only is rape about a rapist having control, but victim blaming is about controlling the female population: what better way to cajole women into standards of purity, decency, “learning how to behave” and sobriety than dangle the threat of “Well, if you don’t, you’ll surely invite rape upon yourselves?” What better way to get “these hoes” and “these broads” to understand that they don’t “know how to behave” than to help drive home the point that rape happens because women do bad things? Better yet, bad things happen to women who aren’t perfect, or at least striving to be. And who defines that “perfect?” Certainly not women.

That’s what “rape responsibility” and “victim blaming” look like – each phrase looks like another way to tell women that they can have the very essence of their humanity, femininity and womanliness taken advantage of if they don’t adhere to society’s standards. The message cant simply be that we need to lay the blame at the foot at potential rapists to take control of and responsibility for themselves and stop raping, no… it’s “you do things that invite rape… like leaving your house.” You aren’t an “acceptable” rape victim if you a) weren’t chaste before the attack; b) wore anything above the knee; c) wore anything form fitting (mind you, all three of these are marks of whoredom); d) were out past your grown ass woman society-imposed curfew (only whores are out after dark); e) had on red nail polish or red lipstick (only whores do that, of course); f) do anything that requires you to leave your house unaccompanied by a man (you lesbians? y’all are out of luck, here); g) are an actual prostitute (they’re whores for a living… of course they deserve to be raped.)

Think about how many women you know who break those rules on the daily. Now, think about the fact that, of the few rapes that are actually reported, only 20% of those actually end in conviction. While that may speak to the theory that many acts that are reported aren’t actual rape and the jury was simply effective in figuring that out, that kind of fail rate also means that more than a few actual rapists are walking these streets with us… and therein lies the rub.

When will we ever see advertising, blog posts, books and TV specials telling men how to be men? How to treat women with respect – yes, even when they show little respect for themselves (whatever that means), we should still feel called on to respect them – and how to value sex that consists of two people who are sober, able and capable of feeling and expressing not only passion… but consent? How to take no for an answer? How to appreciate but not objectify? How to safely approach a woman you’re interested in without being creepy, being obnoxious or making her feel like she needs to break into a full on jog to get away from you? When will the media ever set its sights on telling men how to be men for men’s sake, instead of telling Black women to be what men want them to be… because the height of Black womanhood is “finally getting a man?”

We’re won’t. We will, however, see perpetuation of the “there are no Good Black Men” myth. Women will desperately seek out one of the remaining twelve Good Black Men, jumping through various hoops and contorting themselves like Cirque du Soleil acrobats (or Magic City strippers, take your pick) to be deemed worthy. Other women will snag whatever raggedy man they “can get,” ignoring his faults because they have fallen for the “get a man” mentality: they believe that “the worst thing a Black woman can be is alone.”

And that’s why I know things won’t change. After hundreds of comments, the original author of the post didn’t take it upon himself to apologize for throwing grenades and smiling at the damage (I’m sorry, but bringing up potential server costs and popularity – Facebook likes, son? – is not only tres gauche but tacky as every available f-ck.) Instead, he apologized for “being so flippant.” His male privilege flew out of his zipper, and he’s sorry that you’re offended by the sight of it, but at least you get to see how big it is. Stop playing… ’cause I’m still not impressed.

A victim blaming world looks like a space where a grown ass man can bring up rape on a “humor” website, say he “definitely reached for the inferences” he made about the article he read that “inspired” his post, say he “shouldn’t have brought it up” on his site and pair that with bragging about the hits the post got him as well as “all this success has undoubtedly made my large head even bigger.”

It’s a world where we use sexual violence to garner attention, and wax faux-apologetic for it. In the words of the great philosopher, Pharrell, “Got damn. It’s a new day.”

Y’all can have that, though.

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46 comments

NinaG January 26, 2012 - 11:54 AM

You talking about victim blaming beyond just the incident of rape is so important. *just had a light bulb moment* I think men can see themselves in those situations but not so much when it comes to talking about an actual rape.

Eva January 26, 2012 - 12:51 PM

I think the problem is men can’t seen themselves as rape victims. Heck, most people have a hard time seeing men as rape victims.

It reminds me of the TV movie I saw WAY back in the 80’s called “The Rape of Richard Beck.” It’s about a cop who thinks women who get raped are “just asking for it.” But then he is raped by a couple of felons (I think he was chasing these bank robbers or something and they jumped him in an alley). The part I remembered was that in the beginning he sees a rape victim and gets upset when she screams at him, “Don’t touch me!” So he has to let the police woman tend to her. After his rape, his partner tries to touch him and he screams at him, “Don’t touch me!”

Eva January 26, 2012 - 1:01 PM

Oh, one more thing. You are correct though, that things won’t change because as you said:

“We will, however, see perpetuation of the “there are no Good Black Men” myth. Women will desperately seek out one of the remaining twelve Good Black Men, jumping through various hoops and contorting themselves like Cirque du Soleil acrobats (or Magic City strippers, take your pick) to be deemed worthy. Other women will snag whatever raggedy man they “can get,” ignoring his faults because they have fallen for the “get a man” mentality: they believe that “the worst thing a Black woman can be is alone.”

And this is the issue. In this society we have all been taught that the worst thing in the world is to be alone, and when I say alone, I mean without a MAN. And not just black women either. I work with women of all races who feel the worst thing in the world is to be well…me, in your fifties, single with no kids. “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” they ask. And I tell them the truth, that having a husband and kids is a crap shoot. That you could be the greatest mother/wife in the world and your husband could still leave you or die, and your kids could move to another state or country. What happens if your husband or children become disabled and they can’t take care of you but you have to take care of them? (nothing wrong with disability IMO, but I’m addressing people who want to have a husband/children because THEY want to be taken care of…and they say I’m selfish).

BAnjeeB January 26, 2012 - 2:54 PM

You hit it all! The one thing that his wacktastic post did do was bring out thoughtful, passionate people to point out just how ridiculous he was. And the “apology” that he posted later?! Give me a f…in’ break! You’ve done right by this topic and definitely given everyone something to think about.

As always, thank you.

Annette January 26, 2012 - 6:49 PM

Read a story where a man was kidnapped by a man for two women and raped. He was a waiter they drugged him and they were rich women from wealthy families. Women like men can be predictors. I wonder if this woman abused her own child also.

Some countries wear their short shorts and “skimpy” outfits but feel it’s the guys that need to get a hold of themselves. They are the ones who must be mindful and gentlemen. Yet when someone gets raped it is such a violent act, I sometimes feel it’s a reflex to blame the victim. Yet why does this guy think he can get away with it. Why don’t we hold men to a higher standard we use to. You can look but not touch. In some countries they cover up the women so much that only her eyes are showing, yet they still get raped. It’s not about sex or appearing sexy. I read a story about a 8 year old little girl wearing her school uniform walking to school, kidnapped and raped. What was she wearing that was so sexy, I think we need to wake up and hold the rapists accountable and stop this nonsense of blaming the victim.

Rape is about violence, it’s about humiliating, and harming a woman/man to their core, it’s not about the clothing he or she wears or how he/she looks. It’s about the perp’s anger and disdain, about claiming lost power, feeling superior. Rape is a power play first with very little to do with sex but the feeling of dominating someone, taking away their power. That is what you do when you don’t get someone’s consent and force a situation. Enforce your feeling of being powerful.

Unfortunately that woman thought he was young powerless in her home, who was going to believe him. Thank God he didn’t get her pregnant now that is a whole other story. But parents must be aware, especially with who they have girls and boys sleep over with. Too often young kids get taken advantage of and with recent stories in the press of young disadvantaged boys in Pennsylvania it just sheds light on this. Rape is about taking power away someone’s personal power and making it their own.

Until society hold the value that without both consent as an adults it is rape period not excuses. I’m sorry a man cannot be given the pass of not being able to control himself. You go to other parts of the world they are not shouting obscenities ogling someone passing in shorts, as there right to do that it’s about respect. I think as women we need to demand respect and teach her sons to be more respectful.

BlackBerry Molasses January 26, 2012 - 7:14 PM

Thank you for this post.
I was simply appalled at what took place on that post, and how people who were trying to say exactly what you said here were nothing short of CRUCIFIED.

I wrote my own story of my own attack when I was in college to drive home the point of the fact that, according to that post, I was the girl who was “asking for it”. Except, I didn’t. I never did, and I’ve lived with the aftermath for 13 years.

And they still don’t see what they’ve done. I’ve had some of their “supporters” come onto MY blog and rail me… and I was wondering why they’re so full of vitriol. Its because they don’t realize that being a victim of rape does not depend on your “preventive measures” and your ability to successfully execute them. Its in the hands of those who will attack people. They don’t want to come to grips with the fact that unless the discourse changes and stories like the one you presented are added to the “this is what rape is/looks like and does” people will continue to say “Yeah, you were raped, but you probably should/shouldn’t have….”

Alovelydai January 26, 2012 - 8:52 PM

Erika thank u for expressing everything I’ve been trying to articulate in more than 1 conversation for the past 2 days. What bothers me sooo much now is that this could have been a wonderful teachable moment. Instead the author and fellow “brothas” completely brushed off the discussion along with any attempt to understand why his logic is flawed.

Ktz January 27, 2012 - 3:38 AM

I used to read the blog in question fairly regularly,,, but now, I don’t think I will or atleast not for a while. Not that it matters to the blogger, as he noted, he has readers, doesn’t need those of us who will stop reading.

I did not tell my story there, too much ignorance, even from some women, however, I will tell you some here.

I invited a man over for dinner. We watched TV for a while. I left the room, was in another part of the house when he called my name. I was busy and I indicated I would be there in a minute. The next thing I knew he was barging into the room and dragging me out by my hair. His member needed to serviced.

I did not do anything to deserve what happened. But I could not stop it. His excuse? He called me and I replied I was coming, maybe he overreacted but it was on his agenda so why wait. Never did understand why I was screaming,,, kept saying calm down and get over it.

According to the other blog I deserved it because,,, I was nicely dressed? He was in my house? I was polite, mannerable? Idk,,, such was the level of ignorance displayed there,,,

One thing that was very obvious about the foolish child at the other blog was the fact that he never once stopped to look at rape stats. You can tell based on his very defensive responses and the defensive responses of his readers. If he would have done that he would have stopped trying to endlessly justify his foolishness. But instead, it was all about him and his issues and the responses his foolishness provoked. Women who disagreed or who told their stories were condescended to by other commentors who continuously returned to the meme, ‘these women ain’t trying to hear what we saying cause it is something wrong with them or that’s why you can’t talk to these ninja women cause they don’t listen’.

Yep, our hurt, our anger, our rage was once again turned back on us as justification for all of the heaping abuses we endure. That’s why no one want’s us because we won’t let them spout fountains of ignorance and bile and it be ok.

What is even more interesting to me, knowing my experience and the experiences of my friends and family is the truth behind their weak justifications. It isn’t the ratchet, drunk, half-naked women at the club who is most at risk of being raped. It is the woman who is dong the right thing, who is in the right place who is at risk. These punks wouldn’t try to go there with Miss Ratchet, SHE would take a pound of flesh.

Yes I called them punks beacuse that is what he is to me. A young, uninformed punk. He had the temerity to lecture women on their responsibility to mitigate their chances of being raped as if he’d just had an AHA moment that the rest of us had never considered berfore. Just like Jay Z was rumored to have given up the B word because he had a daughter, it won’t occur to this child the terror he has chosen to support until his own daughter is (heaven forbid) hysterical after an attack. Then it will become clear. He will not ask HER why she wore a miniskirt and drank beer. Then he will understand that the sanctity of her body is hers and should be respected.

Forget talking to his female friends about this subject first, he should have asked his mama what her experiences have been and what she thought of his foolishness. But then again that goes against his pompous argument that some (they kept throwing around ‘some’ like that was their get out of jail free card) women invite the rapist to do his thing.

Thinking about the whole mess makes me want to throw up. I feel hopeless and even frightened, yes frightened for us because these are supposed to be the good guys and instead you know they are the ones who will decide yet again, that someone asked for it. Many years ago I thought that black men were heroes,,, it is harder and harder for me to hold on to that ideal. We aren’t talking about thug love here, we are talking about our literate classes,,, and now they have revealed themselves to be ain’t sh*t either.

Sorry about this long comment and I understand if you don’t post it. I really couldn’t say what I felt over there, what I’d lived through. The ignorance masking as urbane wit and wisdom was too much, much too much. Thank you for reading my ventings,,,

Diandra January 27, 2012 - 4:56 AM

Recently, I heard someone suggest, “In case you are raped, don’t fight back, because it might anger the attacker.” And this made me incredibly angry. I’d suggest, “In case anyone lays a finger on you, teach them that was a big mistake.” I believe that women AND men have the right to love and protect themselves, and that often the only way to do this is to fight back.

My sister and I were sexually abused as a child, and although we told our mother about it, we never received any support, and no one helped us.

I do not know a single woman who has never at least been touched without her consent. Many of them suffer the consequences even years later – they hide, they cannot hold healthy relationships, they are unable to use their full potential because they are afraid. All. The. Time.

About one and a half year ago, I was approached and touched against my will by a guy, at a bus stop, in the middle of a crowd. Several people watched, no one reacted. The guy left in a hurry when I started shouting and threatened to beat him up. (I am 5.7, blond and chubby – he clearly did not expect any problems.) When I later told people about the event, they had the NERVE to ask, “Are you sure you did not simply misinterpret the event?”

Sexual abuse and rape are so terrible that most people still prefer to close their eyes and not see/hear/speak any of it. And it will not change until we fight back.

I am looking into taking self-defense or boxing classes. Thank you very much, I have had my share. [/rant]

Annette January 27, 2012 - 11:28 AM

I agree I think every girl should be thought self defense. We need to take back our own power, and stop pretending it didn’t happen. Just because you like a guy and are interested in getting to know them don’t mean you should put up with the mess. All of the excuses are used to justify rape. Goes to show some of these guys are messed up, and you need to quiz them, being educated and having a great job means nothing. It’s about respecting women every woman cause when you can justify hurting one you will hurt them all. What happened to men’s hearts, what happened to truly loving and honoring women they need to get back to that.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 27, 2012 - 10:24 PM

To be clear, self-defense classes – which I support – can help you once an attack has occurred, and that’s to help save your life. They can’t, essentially, discourage or stop attack. It’s only useful once an attack has happened.

Annette March 6, 2012 - 4:23 AM

It can change the energy around you, self defense courses empower you, it would help change the energy in and around you making you feel more empowered.

I had to take courses when I was a young girl cause there was an energy about me that made some feel and was weak. Could be bullied, it helped a lot, for my brother and sister. Once we did that we were tested but attacked have not happened since.

Also we must follow rules of caring and protecting ourselves, also meditation for a calming, balance, and protecting spiriting. It keeps us in contact with things around us, we become more aware.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 6, 2012 - 7:33 AM

So victims of an attack become attacked because they don’t have an “empowered spirit?”

You think the reason you weren’t attacked was because of what you learned in a self-defense course?

That’s a painfully naive way of looking at things.

Please don’t take all of this the wrong way, but it needs to be made clear. Being attacked isn’t about YOU or what vibe YOU give off. It’s about being the right person at the right time. It’s about opportunity, not your “spirit,” and there’s nothing you can do to prevent that. You can protect yourself once an attack has occurred, but this has nothing to do with preventing an attack.

This is why it’s important to spend equal amounts of time telling men, “DON’T RAPE.” We’re down to telling women that they give off a “weak spirit” and THAT is why they were raped. It simply isn’t accurate, and it, too, is blaming the victim for being attacked. Unacceptable.

Red May 7, 2015 - 12:00 AM

This is a reply to Erika’s post below–good points. I don’t believe in telling a female “Be a good, nice, compliant little girl and don’t make him angry,” and I don’t believe in telling her that she’s a sissy who just doesn’t fight hard enough. You can’t #%!£&! win with the people who say this stuff! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Kicking rapist ass is a terrific thing, and anyone who says “don’t make him angry…be nice” deserves some ass-kicking themselves, but telling someone they are a little weakling who doesn’t fight back is just as vicious. Do what your instincts tell you.

They (not the same people, obviously) say that “if you were raped and survived, whatever you did must have been the right thing, because you are still alive.” Maybe they are right.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2015 - 3:26 PM

Ain’t no “maybe” about it, baby. None at all.

Crommunist February 19, 2013 - 4:42 PM

There was, in the not-too-distant past, a court case in which a man was acquitted of rape because the woman had not fought back hard enough. I have two hands I could use to respond to those who say “just don’t fight back”, but I only need one finger.

Part of rape culture is that you can’t win if you’re raped. The fact that it happened is proof you deserved it.

@Erika – thank you so much for writing this. It needs to be shouted from some rooftops.

Alisha H. January 27, 2012 - 8:50 PM

Wow, Erika, this one is striking a nerve. I was abused as a kid by my father’s father. My grandfather lied, my father (unable to accept the full situation) believed it, and the one time I brought it up again, he told me to my faced that I lied. So why should he believe anything else I said? For the longest time, I was the liar of the family. My mother insisted that I go to therapy, but those few sessions did nothing for the emotional cocoon I went into.

This is the first time I’m saying this out loud, but is it bad that I’m afraid of Black men? Not all, just ones that look a little too long, leer as I walk by. (Tearing up as I write this) I find myself even today hunching over to hide my large chest, walking stiff as the dead to prevent any ‘unnecessary swaying’, and keeping my eyes to the ground so that I won’t bring on any unwanted conversations. That’s sad. My cousins are Black men. My little brother will be a Black man.

I beat myself up for a lonnnnnnggg time over this one, sis. I told myself that I was less of a Black woman because I didn’t embrace my fellow Black man like my girlfriends did–something was seriously wrong with me. Right? Right?? When I came of age to date, the young Black men that I were interested in weren’t interested in me: I was too smart, too sassy, and I was ‘unattractive’. The ones that went after me were ones that were uneducated, and tended to look at my chest instead of in my eyes.

I ended up being in an interracial relationship with a man who is half White and half-Arab. Do you know he was the first man who told me my caramel brown skin was beautiful? I was angry and emotional. Didn’t he know I was ugly? That he was with me because of my sense of humor, not because he thought I was attractive? That the only thing I apparently had to offer to a man was my body?!

To this day, my boyfriend of seven years tells me on a daily basis how amazing I am–inside and out. I could wear a mumu and he’d get all ‘excited’ (ahem). He gets very, very upset when I tried to push him away because I felt as though I didn’t deserve him–surely there’s some size 4, long haired blonde that he’d be better off with. I cried in front of him. Told him my story. It’s his constant encouragement and support that has helped me find the strength to be vulnerable. And to write my story on your site today.

(Whew, don’t know where all that came from. Glad you let me write it, though. 🙂 )

Erika Nicole Kendall January 27, 2012 - 10:25 PM

I love it when we share together, so no, I don’t mind that at all.

It was hard to write this, which is why I haven’t been very present in the comments. I will come back, though. I just… I had to get this off my chest and then I had to move away from it for a moment.

TJ January 27, 2012 - 11:18 PM

And it’s a victim-blaming society when a woman’s likelihood of being raped again actually INCREASES after she’s been a first time.

I’ve been raped three times, by three different people, at three different times in my life. What happens in the aftermath of a date rape is that people convince you that you, your experience and your response to it are abnormal, because the circumstance in which a man raped you is an inherently normal one (I typed “where you were raped” at first, and then judged my own use of passive tense in absolving these men of what they did to me).

So in a victim-blaming society, rape victims are less likely follow our guts when they tells us not to agree to a date with someone, and not to have a drink on that date, or to tell a man to get the F away from us, because the situation is normal and our mistrust isn’t. In a victim-blaming society we are taught that protecting ourselves by carefully curating our surroundings and acquaintances is wrong – but then when we internalize these messages and are raped again, we are to blame for our repeated lapse of judgment. This is despite the fact that even in a victim-blaming society, WE DID NOT RAPE OURSELVES.

Red May 7, 2015 - 12:10 AM

You know what, also? When people go to seek help sometimes from family, “friends,” or therapists, sometimes saying “I was raped” or “I have abuse-caused PTSD” brings out the vulture in these people. You may meet wolves in sheep’s clothing by reaching out for help. “Oh, I want to help, I am a caring, kind person, look how nice I am, I want to earn your trust…” and then they pounce, because it’s easy to kick someone when they’re down. They use the need to heal as bait to attract potential prey. Evil, n’est-ce pas?

BJ March 4, 2012 - 8:14 PM

A victim blaming society is one where my mother’s adoptive father can tell her that if she ever comes to him saying she was raped, she’d better have bruises or broken bones. Because her virtue’s got nothing to do with being a kind, intelligent, witty woman — which my mom is — but by the anatomy between her legs and she’d better be prepared to die to protect that.

Juniysa Serens March 4, 2012 - 9:24 PM

In full support of this post. We definitely need more pressure from the “men” side because enough is enough. Even if we women make ourselves as unattractive as possible, we are still susceptible to being sexually assaulted- that was my case. I never thought I would be sexually assaulted in the state that I was, but it happened. It angered me intensely because the police did not take me seriously. That anger ate me up inside until I came to terms with it- there was nothing I did wrong, it was the attacker’s fault. I traced back to why he did it and recollected my peace.

Phil Mole' April 3, 2012 - 4:11 PM

I stumbled upon this post, and I’m very glad I did. This is an *amazing* and insightful post, and it’s nothing but truth. Thank you for writing this.

Key April 9, 2012 - 10:05 PM

This touched my heart – favorite post yet! THANK YOU for your great insight, as always.

Bannef May 13, 2012 - 3:29 PM

I was thinking of prostitutes before you mentioned them – they were really “bad” so of course it was coming to them. Although the dynamic is absolutely different when it comes to men, I think this might partially affect how society views rape between men in prison. After all they did something bad to be in prison, so they “deserve it.”

I feel uncomfortable making this comparison, because it seems to imply that wearing the “wrong” clothes is the same as breaking the law, but I think the attitudes surrounding it are the same – the overriding assumption that someone could possibly deserve to get raped. It doesn’t make any sense, for anyone.

Emilie August 11, 2012 - 8:25 PM

Wow. I found this post from Shape magazine and I was amazed at your insight. I am a rape crisis advocate and we did a training on victim blaming. They included The rape of Mr Smith.. which I thought was interesting to see how absurd it is to blame the victim.

http://www.crimevictimservices.org/page/sexassault/79#rapeof

This society is skewed for sure. Due to my past experiences with men (I have been followed home before, hit on by older men while underage, etc.), I have no faith in men on the street controlling themselves, and even some at my job. You can see their eyes objectifying you openly, it’s disgusting. One coworker has a baby and wife and whenever I talk to him, he is looking at my breasts. And don’t even get me started on construction sites. It’s ridiculous for men to ogle women no matter how they are dressed. Who are they to stare? I am sometimes wearing black pants and a blouse and sneakers and just get stared at. I admit I dress in a way that covers my body, but I can’t hide my breasts, ass and hips from being out there. So what can you do. I’m going to buy pepper spray so I feel more secure. My friend was assaulted a month ago. It’s funny, I sound like a mom when I tell my sister and friends to cover up. And why should they? Because some men are dogs and will attack you. I feel like I sound crazy right now, but if you are raped by a stranger and there is no dna evidence, there is no case. Hell, it can be hard if there is dna because you must prove it wasn’t consensual (acquaintance)….Is it better to anticipate it and perhaps live in fear or be free to dress how you want. I haven’t come to a conclusion yet, but I know that society has to change. I definitely don’t blame the victim, I just don’t like being objectified or gawked at and as of right now, men in this society are not taught how to treat a woman that is not their mother, grandmother or sister… Sorry this comment is everywhere, but really good post!

smb August 12, 2012 - 11:26 AM

WOW….some of the comments amazed me and others I have heard over and over again as I have worked with victims of sexual and domestic violence for over 20yrs. The youngest victim was a child under 5 and the oldest over 70…I just wonder what they would say to these comments . Neither of them were dressed provactive, they didn’t ask for it or deserve it…yet it happened. It was not there fault. It is about control and many other reasons..I work with women in the military as well and they learn hand to hand combat as well as other ways to defend themselves but rape – is a different batttle that we as a society are often not taught how to prepare for…to all the surviors of violence – I pray your strength. Blessings.

Katherine December 8, 2012 - 6:03 PM

I completely agree with this article, but in my humble opinion, rape isn’t about passion. Not all rape victims are dressed “provocatively”, or doing anything to attract obviously unwanted attention. Rape is about power, and having control over another person because you perceive them to be weaker than you. Rape is an act, not of uncontrollable desire, but of hate and aggression.

Jason May 5, 2015 - 4:44 PM

See, to me, I never understood rape couldn’t be uncontrollable lust for sex. Like, I understand raping for the feeling of power over a weaker person and I do believe that’s the main reason for most serial rapists, but I’m sure some people have done minor rape just because they were unable to control themselves

Erika Nicole Kendall May 5, 2015 - 5:25 PM

I can say without a shred of uncertainty, that there is absolutely, under no circumstances, not a single, or solitary such thing as “minor rape.”

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about one victim or infinite victims. Rape is and always will be “rape.” It will never be “minor.” The number of people won’t affect the “severity” of the situation. A person’s life is still irreversibly changed.

If you are “unable to control yourself,” that is *still* about power, because in the process of the violation you are weighing the likelihood of having to suffer immediate consequences for your choice… and you still chose to violate anyway.

Rape isn’t about sex – there might be some people who get off on violating someone’s personal right to consent, or the fear, but the power is still inherent in the exchange because, without it, there is no desire to violate.

Many serial rapists actually admit to a hatred of women and, in some cases, a belief that they “deserve” what they got because of some *thing* that they do to men.

So…there’s also that.

onamission February 19, 2013 - 8:38 PM

Please delete the above comment, I changed my mind. Thanks.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 19, 2013 - 9:54 PM

I’m respecting your wishes, but understand that your reluctance to share the important comment you left… is borne of the same culture you so eloquently put on blast.

I’m also hoping you change your mind, so I’m saving your comment. Big hug, mama.

Crissy April 25, 2013 - 2:55 PM

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).

Erika Nicole Kendall April 25, 2013 - 3:25 PM

“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.

Crissy April 25, 2013 - 9:34 PM

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?

Crissy April 25, 2013 - 9:40 PM

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.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 26, 2013 - 12:26 AM

“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.

Crissy April 26, 2013 - 1:26 AM

“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.

I lived.
I learned.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 27, 2013 - 6:36 PM

“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.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 26, 2013 - 12:17 AM

So, you’re willing to acknowledge the importance of language and what it signifies, but you keep using this really inopportune “but” in your sentences.

So, what are we really saying here? That victims have some culpability in their being victimized. Okay, you want to say that. Fine. Just accept that it’s victim-blaming, an I don’t agree with it.

“I can take responsibility for my own questionable activites without accepting the blame of being raped.”

You essentially can’t. “Taking responsibility for your own questionable activities” isn’t the full sentence. Your full sentence is “taking responsibility for your own questionable activities that led to your victimization.” And if that works for you, okay. Just know that it’s victim blaming.

Tam June 6, 2014 - 2:50 AM

Wow. Just… Wow. How awesome and powerful. I feel I have no right blogging my journey after reading your stuff. You are AMAZING.

icecycle66 July 25, 2014 - 6:13 PM

Great piece.

—-
We don’t say “Hey, guys, you don’t show your masculinity by publicly dominating and embarrassing a woman.” We tell women “Dress in a manner wholly unacceptable to you to avoid being raped.”
—-

Why can’t we say both? Must it be one or the other?
Can we do neither?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 27, 2014 - 7:05 PM

“Why can’t we say both?”

Because the way a woman dresses doesn’t determine whether or not she should have the right to feel safe, because PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BE RAPING. By your logic, lotsa folks should be getting raped at the beach. I mean, with all the nakedness and near-nakedness that happens there.

“Must it be one or the other?”

Yes, because manner of dress doesn’t determine whether or not you are assaulted; the only thing that determines whether you are assaulted is whether or not you cross someone who feels like violating your personal space and boundaries. In other words, the message STILL needs to be “STOP RAPING, THANKS.”

“Can we do neither?”

No, because the need to dominate women is inextricably linked to the prevalence of sexual violence. Change the paradigm behind the definition of masculinity, change the proliferation of rape culture, change the frequency of sexual violence.

Kareem September 9, 2014 - 1:56 AM

It should go both ways. One without the other will not work. Why don’t we look at the core and root issue as to why little boys to grown men over-sexualize little girls and women? Because of their parents, family, peer groups and ultimately media.

Media over-sexualizes women in every and any possible form. Porn is a billion dollar industry. It perpetuates the notion that women are sexual objects whose purpose is to be sexually dominated by men.

There are predatory men and predatory women out there. As early as my sophomore year in high school I had many different teachers try to start a sexual relationship with me. My wisdom led me to ignore such ignorance and perversion. There are also men and women out there who are not predatory.

So I should teach my sons not to rape women and what have you (which I of course will), but not teach my daughters to look for the signs of males who are of low quality, males who are sexual perverts, males who only want sex from you?

Should I just pray and hope that other men have taught their sons not to rape women and to treat them right, for my daughters’ sake? Or should my wife and I intellectually inform them of the type of individuals out there who will only want you for sex and other reasons.

Its more logical to inform our sons and daughters of both of these things. And I’m sick of the women should be able to wear whatever they want and not have any problem with that. Sure, in a perfect world that would work!

But we live in a perverse society where porn and sex is prevalent. Wearing tight and revealing clothes will make you more susceptible to attracting men who are only interested in you for sex.

Same goes for men. Back when I lifted weights and exercised, I would get more attention from women who only wanted me for sex.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 10, 2014 - 12:35 PM

There are vast, gaping, obnoxious holes in your logic.

“It should go both ways. One without the other will not work.”

False. If you adequately handled one, you wouldn’t need the other.

“but not teach my daughters to look for the signs of males who are of low quality,”

Men who are, by societal standards, “high quality” rape, too.

“males who are sexual perverts,”

There are many sexual perverts in this world who still understand consent, and who find play partners with whom they can respectably and safely explore their personal perversions. Rape is not about perversion. It is about power, control, dominance.

“males who only want sex from you?”

Casual sex is not about rape – it is about two adults agreeing to enjoy sex with one another outside of the confines of a monogamous relationship. This has nothing to do with rape, especially since “stranger rape” isn’t the plurality of instances of rape. Rape within marriage is a thing. Rape within regular relationships is a thing.

“Should I just pray and hope that other men have taught their sons not to rape women and to treat them right, for my daughters’ sake? Or should my wife and I intellectually inform them of the type of individuals out there who will only want you for sex and other reasons.”

These are not related.

You tell your daughter that, if she wants a relationship, she needs to learn how to date smartly and honestly, and to eventually understand her needs and be upfront about them with the people she is dating… and to expect that upfront nature in whomever she chooses. And, if she doesn’t receive that in kind, she should feel empowered enough to leave them alone.

“Wanting you only for sex” isn’t about rape, nor is rape about “wanting you only for sex.” You’re conflating issues that are unrelated. Because of this, it’s difficult to address your idea of what you should be informing your daughter of, since your idea of what causes rape is “wanting women only for sex.” There are too many casual and CONSENSUAL ‘friends with benefits’-type situations out there, and too many people willing to freely and safely enter into them, for anyone to think that ‘rape’ is how this is rectified.

“Wearing tight and revealing clothes will make you more susceptible to attracting men who are only interested in you for sex.”

Women can wear revealing clothes for themselves, OR for attracting men. The right response to this, on the part of the man, is to approach the person he’s attracted to and, if she is interested, pursue her for dating or a casual encounter. The inappropriate response to this… is rape.

And, once again, rape isn’t about what you are wearing. It is about power, dominance, control. By your logic, nuns and the Amish are probably never sexually assaulted, huh?

I sincerely hope you find the awareness you so, so desperately need.

The Most Inspiring Weight-Loss Blogs | Shape Magazine April 9, 2019 - 3:26 AM

[…] for you. She also covers more difficult subjects like sexual violence, body image, and racism. Her post What a Victim-Blaming World Looks Like to a Victim will really make you think.The […]

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