Being sexually assaulted deeply scars victims emotionally, but that doesn’t stop society from treating them as though they were the party at fault. Rape is never the victim’s fault, no matter where they have been strolling, or at what hour they were walking unchaperoned. Individuals should never have to worry about leaving the safety of their homes with a guardian to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted, and yet our societal norms usually drive people to question what the victim was wearing, or where they have been at the time of the atrocious crime. Here’s why society treats rape victims poorly, and what measures we can collectively take to counter this societal response.
Social Constructs and Second Assault
Women, as well as men, have long been oppressed by rigid social constructs since ancient times. Even after the Women’s Suffrage has emancipated the rights of women, the remnants of a male-dominated culture continue to affect both genders.
While male victims often get domestic and sexual abuse dismissed, women’s intentions in speaking up are often questioned or shunned as lies. Lawyers from AbuseGuardian.com explain how most of their claimants experience “second assault” after their initial trauma. This usually involves facing the family and friends of the abuser and having their abuse brushed off as a misunderstanding or as blatant lies.
This common societal response to rape victims is rooted in unspoken rules that we somehow ingest growing up, wrongfully teaching us that the victim is always at fault, either for being dressed in a certain way, or for consuming alcohol, and thus being unable to provide consent.
However, instead of being advised to avoid going to certain places, we need to educate children and teens more about consent in their school curricula alongside sex education. This can limit breeding more abusers, and nip this construct in the bud. Our current justice system has come a long way in fighting for victims of abuse to get justice; however, the social pressure that victims endure after their initial abuse continues to deter victims from speaking up.
Evolution of the Definition of Rape
As recent as the early 21st century, one would think of rape as a helpless individual being pinned down against their will, screaming at the top of their lungs for help, while another party forced himself onto the victim. As women and men fought for their bodily integrity, the definition of sexual assault and rape has come to include being forced, tricked, or coerced into sexual acts without consent.
But with the remarkable swiftness of the progression of human rights, comes the downside of how society views bodily autonomy. It’s common to see conservative individuals complain about how any encounter can be regarded as rape, as though consent is a hard concept to grasp. Individuals have the right to withdraw consent in the midst of a sexual encounter, if any abusive or harmful acts were involved, or if the person in question otherwise decides that they no longer feel safe or comfortable.
Although it’s not a difficult concept to make sure that a sexual partner feels comfortable, this has seemingly fueled feigned confusion about the matter and has become an excuse for society to question whether the victim was verbal enough about withdrawing consent or turning down an approach.
Spreading more awareness is crucial in educating the public on how they can approach individuals in a non-threatening manner, and how an individual’s bodily autonomy does not dissipate the moment they initially acquiesce to sex, seeing as consent can be withdrawn the moment a party feels uncomfortable.
Male Rape Victims
On the other hand, social constructs oppress men as well as women, seeing as men are pressured into masquerading their fears and emotions behind a macho façade. Male rape victims are much less likely to speak up about their abuse, as society can deem them weak, or dismiss their abuse altogether as “striking lucky,” especially if the rapist in question was a woman.
Although statistics show that male rapists are far more common than their female counterparts, men can still be victims of sexual assault under the hands of men or women. However, their trauma is often taken lightly by society. Unsurprisingly, the feminist movement has recently shed light on this issue; however, more awareness campaigns are needed in order to encourage men to speak up against their abuse.
If you know a victim of sexual abuse, the first step that you need to take is to listen to them, before advising them to get legal help. Rape victims may not be verbal immediately after their trauma, primarily because they want to avoid the harsh societal responses that come with speaking up.