Don’t blame the victim

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Every 2 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Let that sink in a moment. Every 2 minutes.

The physical act of sexual assault, or rape, can be an ongoing, repeated violation or it can be an isolated incident, seemingly lasting only minutes.

That’s the physical damage done. It’s nigh impossible to measure the emotional and psychological damage that victims struggle with and have to overcome to try to regain some sense of normalcy.

Fear, shame, self doubt, guilt, blame and embarrassment … these are just a few of a number of emotions brought forth by the crime of sexual assault.

No, that’s not what is swirling around in the mind of those accused of sexual assault, but rather, their victim/s.

There is a strong tendency to blame the victim in a sexual assault case or rape trial, which only serves to further traumatize the already fragile mind set of the victim.

In no other manner of court case is the blame seen shifted more to the victim than in a sexual assault or rape case.

Cathy Campbell, the executive director of the Tri-County Help Center in St. Clairsville, referenced a blog posted on the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation’s (CAASE) website when describing the troubling trend.

“It talks about how we have difficulty in holding rapists accountable,” Campbell said. “We insist on seeing men who rape as monsters. So when the ones who commit the rape are not the monsters they are accused of being, we don’t believe it’s possible they could have committed the crime and start to shift the blame on the victim.

“We start questioning why she was out that night, why she was drinking, etc.

“The reality is, most men don’t rape. Many who do are not monsters. They have other positive characteristics.”

Such was the case with the Steubenville rape trial that conclude recently.

Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two Steubenville football players found delinquent in a juvenile court of the sexual assaulting a juvenile female from West Virgina, were not strangers to their victim.

They knew each other and it’s likely, Jane Doe never would have imagined either was capable of such a crime prior to that fateful night last summer.

In all rape cases, only seven percent are committed by an assailant unknown to the victim. Family members are the guilty party in 34.2 percent of the cases. Acquaintances of the victim account for 58.7 percent.

And like the CAASE blog posting explained, the majority of these assault are not committed by men any would deem a “monster.”

Because of this, victims often times start to internalize the blame and point the finger at themselves. Maybe it was something they did or were wearing that caused the assault. Maybe the fault does lie with them.

Obviously, this isn’t the case but that doesn’t stop the victim from feeling partially or even completely responsible.

Rape is a traumatic and personal experience to overcome, one that can take a lifetime to recover from. That recover can be hampered greatly by blaming the victim.

Campbell sees it all the time.

The victim’s judgement and integrity are called into question. They are accused of trying to ruin the life of the accused. They are called names. And that’s just the people who are strong enough to come forward to report the crime.

There are many that don’t.

“How in the world are we expecting these victims to do this, to report and come forward,” Campbell said. “That’s why the incidents of false reporting are extremely low. Why would someone put themselves through that.”

Especially in the case of juvenile victims, the identity of the accused is not revealed.

However, with the increased usage of social media and instant communication, it’s not long before everyone knows exactly who the victim is. The media can abide by a judge’s orders to not reveal the victim’s identity. But it still gets out there.

“In a small town, there is no such thing as confidentiality,” Campbell said.

Advocates of sexual assault prevention and education call it a rape culture that we live in, describing it as an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.

Campbell feels you only need to look at how women are referred to in casual speech. Women are not referred to in terms of she, but it. They are dehumanized, valued more for the sum of the physical features than the person as a whole.

“Look at how we objectify our young women,” Campbell said. “How we make them up, put them in beauty pageants, dress them as adults.

“If the culture is doing that, why wouldn’t young men follow suit.

“Listen to a group of people talk … they’ll say that is hot when referring to a woman,” Campbell said. “It’s like she’s not even a person, but just a thing.”

Hughes may be reached at