A female Emory Student was raped Tuesday, February 11th at approximately 11:45pm in the wooded area between Dowman Drive and Oxford Road next to Emory Village. Approximately two hours later, there was another report that a girl was sexually assaulted on Fraternity Row. She reported an unknown male Emory Student touching her breasts and genital areas over her clothes, putting his hands in her shirt and touching her breasts, then proceeding to put his hands under her skirt (Full Report).
My first reaction as a female Emory student taking a class on gender violence and committed to issues on justice on gender violence to these reports was “What on earth were these females doing in those locations that late at night, especially an hour or two before Atlanta’s second winter storm of the year?” When I took a second thought to it, I realized that my reaction was the way society was taught to react—to instantaneously blame the woman.
The notion of blaming the woman is not unique to American society—it is apparent almost everywhere around the world. In Rwanda, blaming the woman was first manifested right before the genocide through the release of the 10 Hutu commandments, which targeted Tutsi women as evil conniving individuals who used their sexuality to rise up the social and financial ladder. Furthermore, during and following the genocide, victims of rape were held accountable for their experiences by their families, and subsequently abandoned. During the Bosnian war, Muslim Bosnian women and children were taken into ‘rape camps’ and following the war, someone of them were condemned by their family and consequently disowned by their husbands or their household (More information on Women Under Siege).
Why are female victims the first to be blamed for something that they most often never ask for? It is because society has enculturated us to behave accordingly. In most societies, a woman is most valuable if she is a virgin. In the US, though the perception of woman has changed widely over the last century, a woman is still looked down upon based on her sexual promiscuity. It’s fascinating how though feminist movements have succeeded closing some of the gap of gender inequality when it comes to social and financial strata, society still has been unable to close the gap of sexuality—it is considered normal for a man to sleep around a lot yet it is a complete veto for a woman to do the same.
Of course, even the mention of a woman’s sexuality is ingrained in our minds as a taboo by society. However, to achieve true equality, feminists should opt to focus on it. They have indeed taken huge steps in this movement already advanced in it—victims are no longer keeping their traumatic experiences to themselves and are now reporting their cases, as illustrated with the cases above. Women, whether victims, or bystanders, are beginning to condemn, subtle or blatant acts that are evidently a violation to a woman.
Now, the next step in the feminist movement should be to break the norm of subconsciously blaming the female victim.Women—whether western, African or East European—can unfortunately be among the greatest critics of female sexuality. We are quick to judge the victim on why she was at wrong place at the wrong time, or on how her demeanor or her way of dressing led to her experience. The general safety tips concerning sexualized violence are always aimed toward women—tips such as never walking alone, avoiding poorly lit areas, walking with a partner of group after dark etc. It is time that we, as feminists, stop limiting our dialogue concerning safety precautions to our own circles, but to the entire community especially when it comes to sexualized violence—that is men, and most importantly, the bystander.