Debated in Britain: Study Respondents Blaming Rape Victims

A shocking survey leads to shocked editorials

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A new survey on sexual assault has the Brits up in arms. A majority of respondents thought "that there are some circumstances where a person should accept responsibility" for being raped, for example "drinking to excess" and "getting into bed with a person." Shockingly, female respondents were "less forgiving" than men, many more thinking the rape victim should accept responsibility, for example, when having dressed provocatively (31 percent vs. 19 percent), gone back to the assaulter's for a drink (35 percent vs. 19 percent), or having gotten into the assaulter's bed (71 percent vs. 57 percent).

U.K. op-ed pages are busy both condemning and trying to parse the results. "These are depressing findings," writes The Daily Telegraph. "There is never an excuse for violently forcing sex on another." In fact, "the fact that so many women think there is suggests a drastic redrawing of moral boundaries." Cara Kulwicki, in The Guardian, has a different idea. "Women are given further incentive to blame victims of sexual assault through the myth that if they follow 'the rules'--don't go out alone at night, don't get too drunk, don't wear anything too revealing, don't flirt too much--they themselves are safe from becoming victims." But the entire discussion, Kulwicki argues, has a decidedly "sinister" tone:

When headlines blare that "more than half of women" blame rape victims, we overlook that almost as many men responded the same way. When we say that women are less "forgiving" of rape victims, we ignore that being raped is not something for which one needs to be forgiven. And while being blamed for your own rape is an incredibly traumatising experience, we forget in this discussion that there would be no victim to blame if there wasn't a rapist committing assault first.

Here, we draw ourselves back to where the high rates of victim-blaming begin: the idea that when it comes to rape, women's behaviour is more interesting and important than that of male rapists.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.