“What were you wearing?” Why does it matter? “Were you alone?” Why does it matter? “Why did you go out so late?” Why does it matter? Ask him why he followed a girl into a back alley. Ask him why he said vulgar things to her. Ask him why he touched her without her consent. 

Rape culture and victim blaming begin with asking the wrong questions. Questioning the victim of an assault as to why they were present at a certain place at a certain time, in certain clothing, frames nonconsensual experiences as the fault of the victim. It releases the perpetrator of all responsibility, placing the guilt on the assaulted. Making them feel like they should change their behaviour. Telling them their traumatic experience is invalid. Telling them they were asking for it. 

If you find yourself leaning towards blaming a victim, step back and address the root of your concerns; why should any situation warrant the use of force against another individual to satisfy a sexual desire? The answer is that it should not. The answer is that the length of someone’s skirt, or the expressions on their face, or the place they decide to be at at the time they choose to be there do not, in any way, invite sexual assault. The actions and choices of the abuser do. Nothing else. 

Society blames abuse victims subtly and outwardly. Active victim blaming can be seen in the public spotlight, such as the media. CNN reporter, Poppy Harlow, commented on an Ohio rape case – where two high-school boys raped a drunk 16-year-old girl at a party – saying “these two young men that had such promising futures… literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.” What about the victim’s life? Her mental health? Her physical health? Her sense of safety, freedom, and self worth? Forget all of that, right? 

Passive victim blaming exists in every crevice and corner of our society. It lives in our conversations, steering individuals who have been abused towards questioning their own actions, instead of the actions of the criminals. It is riddled in everyday interactions, in the judgement against certain styles of clothing, tones of voice, choice of career or hobbies or company. Something as mundane as the way a girl walks past a group of boys, or the way a woman sits in a chair can be twisted to make her seem at fault. “Sit with your legs shut, maybe?” No. Thank you. Keep your body parts to yourself, maybe?

Pop culture, Hollywood, music, art – and so on – are all vessels for a disease that has become a normative influence in almost every form of entertainment. They live, breathe, and perpetuate rape culture. An overwhelming amount of rap songs we listen to and the shows we watch have subliminal, and unmasked messages that normalize sexual violence and advances specifically towards women. The female body has been sexualized to the extent where artists aggressively and repeatedly objectify women – and get paid for it. Some brag about drug rape stories, rapping about “putting molly all in her champagne” while “she ain’t even know it.” Music has a particularly profound influence on youth and their conduct; demeaning language and detailing stories of sexual abuse send the message that it’s okay. “If these rich, famous, powerful role models are doing it, so can I.”

Acknowledging the effects of victim blaming and a society festering in ever-present rape culture is crucial. Talk to your friends. Teach your children. Educate yourself. Where your attention and money goes defines the experience of victims – present and future – to a painfully large extent. The aspects we focus on regarding abuse and the entertainment we consume is all a basis for the injustices that victims face. There is no “it’s just a song” or “think about what SHE was doing.” There should be accountability and action – both publicly and inside yourself. There should be solidarity without questioning experiences. There should be change, action, and correction. Because women are tired. Our bodies were never objects and will not be treated as such – and we will fight until every gathering, every form of art, every system and institution of justice understands this.

About the Author

I am a second-year sciences student at the University of Alberta studying psychology and sociology. I’m a Pakistani-Canadian and a Muslim, as well as a local spoken word artist! I enjoy writing and reading and painting - artistic expression makes me feel at home. I love poetry - especially performing it - as it lets me put words to the feelings of others (and myself) that often go unspoken.