Victim Blaming

Unfortunately, this is something you see happening quite often – where the person who is the victim of a crime is blamed for causing it.

An all-too-common case is where a woman is raped or sexually assaulted.

If she happened to be wearing revealing clothing, such as a short skirt, you may well hear people saying things like she was “asking for trouble”.  Or officials investigating the crime may ask her what she was wearing, rather than for details on her assailant.

We won’t mince words here: this is absolute bullshit.

It doesn’t matter what she was wearing, or if she flirted, or if she had a few drinks.  It doesn’t matter if she was walking down the street stark naked with a tattoo across her forehead saying “I LOVE SEX”.

If she did not consent to what happened, a crime was committed against her. No ifs. No buts.

She shouldn’t have to cover up or modify her behaviour to avoid being a victim of crime.  The person who assaulted her should simply not commit the crime. The blame is 100% with the person who carried out the assault.

This is one area where the patriarchal nature of society often rears its head.  The idea that if a man becomes aroused he is unable to control himself is something that people seem to accept. Allowing that to be a defence is victim blaming, pure and simple, and sadly that way of thinking is ingrained in many parts of our society.

The following dialog is a hypothetical conversation designed to illustrate this point.  It was published over 40 years ago (The Legal Bias Against Rape Victims – The Rape of Mr. Smith, Connie K. Borkenhagen, The American Bar Association Journal, April 1975), but sadly is still relevant today.

By making the victim a man, and the crime non-sexual it illustrates how unreasonable the position taken is:

Laywer: “Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of First and Main?”

Mr. Smith: “Yes”

Laywer: “Did you struggle with the robber?”

Mr. Smith: “No.”

Laywer: “Why not?”

Mr. Smith: “He was armed.”

Laywer: “Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than resist?”

Mr. Smith: “Yes.”

Laywer: “Did you scream? Cry out?”

Mr. Smith: “No, I was afraid.”

Laywer: “I see. Have you ever been held up before?”

Mr. Smith: “No.”

Laywer: “Have you ever GIVEN money away?”

Mr. Smith: “Yes, of course.”

Laywer: “And you did so willingly?”

Mr. Smith: “What are you getting at?”

Laywer: “Well, let’s put it like this, Mr. Smith. You’ve given money away in the past. In fact, you have quite a reputation for philanthropy. How can we be sure that you weren’t CONTRIVING to have your money taken from you by force?”

Mr. Smith: “Listen, if I wanted –“

Laywer: “Never mind. What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Smith: “About 11:00 P.M..”

Laywer: “You were out on the street at 11:00 P.M.? Doing what?”

Mr. Smith: “Just walking.”

Laywer: “Just walking? You know that it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that you could have been held up?”

Mr. Smith: “I hadn’t thought about it.”

Laywer: “What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Smith: “Let’s see … a suit. Yes, a suit.”

Laywer: “An EXPENSIVE suit?”

Mr. Smith: “Well – yes. I’m a successful lawyer, you know.”

Laywer: “In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at night in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you might be good target for some easy money, isn’t that so? I mean, if we didn’t know better, Mr. Smith, we might even think that you were ASKING for this to happen, mightn’t we?”



We all have hardship in our lives from time to time. But there are certain things that can make things harder for certain groups of people, on top of the day-to-day issues that everyone encounters. For example:

  • Illness
  • Disabilities
  • Discrimination
  • Poverty

If we don’t suffer from a certain disadvantage, then we are in a better position than someone who does, and that can be described as having a privilege over people in that group.

It’s important to realise that this can be complex – an individual may be privileged in one way – e.g. they are wealthy – but disadvantaged in others – e.g. they have a disability.

You may hear someone say something like “your privilege is showing” and this usually means that the person has said or done something that takes for granted the benefits they have over one of these disadvantaged groups.

For example, let’s imagine I make a post on social media saying something like this:

Ugh why are people so angry about the lift being broken?? Stop being lazy and take the stairs!!

In doing so, I would have overlooked the fact that some people don’t have this option – perhaps they are in a wheelchair, or weak from illness – I was taking for granted the privilege I have.

The easiest advantages to overlook are those that we were born with, like race and gender. A white, cis-gender male might go through his life thinking “I’ve never really seen racism or sexism as a problem”.  That would be overlooking that fact that, wrong as it is, other racial groups and genders may well experience prejudice or even abuse as a result of racism or sexism.

The Patriarchy

A patriarch is a male leader / head of a family or tribe.  A matriarch is the female equivalent.

A patriarchal society is one where those in control are male.

The term patriarchy is used to describe the state of our society where significant gender bias still exists – where certain roles are considered the domain of males, with others being typically associated with females.

It’s important to note that it therefore places artificial gender roles on both males and females.  However, it is described as a patriarchy because the bias puts significantly more men in positions of power than women.

For example, despite the fact that about 50% of the population of the earth are female, as of September 2016 only 7 percent of the top 1000 American companies were led by women.  And less than a quarter (23%) of national parliamentarians worldwide are women. The UN Women website has lots more facts and figures if you are interested.

Conversely, there are certain professions that have a much higher proportion of females – such as primary school teachers and nurses. This is less of an issue in terms of the privileges it grants in society, as these roles tend be less prestigious and less well paid, but, nevertheless, men wishing to enter these fields can encounter some stigma.