A person’s speaking out about their sexual assault frequently has unprecedented consequences, namely victim blaming. During the Steubenville rape trials many were shocked to see such reactions from the mainstream media. Many were shocked at the ease at which people believed the boys who committed rape over Jane Doe’s story, despite overwhelming and shocking evidence against them. The bottom line remains that victim blaming is disgusting regardless of whether or not anyone is livetweeting the rape. Victim blaming is always disgusting – and weak.
And sometimes, the perpetrators are less likely suspects.
Immediately after Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty, two Steubenville teenagers – both girls – were arrested for threatening Jane Doe. The girls tweeted things like, “You ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry, so when I see you bitch it’s gonna be homicide” and threatening to “beat the shit out of [her].“
If you were like me, your initial reaction to these girls’ threats was horror. How could anyone threaten Jane Doe who had already been through so much and been the brunt of so much victim blaming at this point? And why? Why would two girls blame—let alone threaten—Jane Doe? Don’t they realize that in a society where it’s not only acceptable for teenage boys to rape a girl, but rape a girl and have people blame her when she comes forward with the story, they too are at risk of being raped? WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS? (Amanda Marcotte’s article about the Steubenville tweet threats made me think about the dynamics of the situation that these girls are living though.)
I like to think that if I had known about someone in my high school having been raped—whether or not they were a close friend—I would have stood up for them against bullies. I like to think that I would have never sided with the rapist, that I would have never laughed at a girl who had been raped or sexually assaulted. I would like to think that someone would have done the same for me.
But put yourself in their position: these girls are at risk just like Jane Doe was at risk. They live in the same place. They hang out with the same people. They hang out with the same rapists. Don’t they realize that Jane Doe’s problem is their problem too?
Yes. They probably do. In fact, that might be why they are victim blaming in the first place.
These girls live in a reality where boys who rape girls can still maintain superstar-football player status. The rape culture in Steubenville, Ohio is absolutely insane. From their point of view, is it safer for them to align themselves with the rapists or the victim? Boys in Steubenville think that it’s okay to rape girls. It seems to me, that by not aligning themselves with the rapist and other rapist-supporters, the girls could probably easily imagine a situation in which they were converted into the next Jane Doe.
The only person that can stop rape is a rapist. There is nothing that a sexual assault victim can do to prevent the assault. So how can a girl in an extreme rape culture like that of Steubenville make herself feel safer? One way, theoretically, is to victim blame.
As Marcotte argues, “women have an extra reason to blame and shame the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of rape: Doing so helps you convince yourself that you’re safe […] It can make a woman more popular, which in turn can also make her feel more protected from rapists.”
It’s a scary idea, but so is the scary reality that rape is not at all a rare occurrence and that there is nothing a victim can personally do to protect herself. Ultimately, it does not really make a lot of sense as to why girls would blame their peers for being raped. However, it seems to me that these girls have a lot of reasons to believe that they are next – and that victim-blaming makes it easier for them to put distance between themselves and that deep-seated fear.
Girls need a way out of rape culture. Girls need to come together to destroy it. And most of all, they need a way to feel safe without hurting each other.
You can follow Ty on Twitter @TySlobe.