The recent Ray Rice scandal brought to light a domestic violence issue that people don’t often address: why women stay in abusive relationships. His actions provoked many to ask the question: Why did his then-fiancée and now-wife, Janay Palmer, stay even after he knocked her out?
Beverly Gooden, author of the book Confessions of a Church Girl and sexual abuse survivor, had enough of the question and started tweeting using #WhyIStayed. One of her tweets reads “He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied. #WhyIStayed.” Her tweets gained attention, and thousands of people shared their experiences through the hashtag.
Although Gooden’s actions were well-intended, these tweets are the answer to the wrong question. Instead of asking why Palmer stayed in the abusive relationships, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask why her fiancé hit her in the first place?
As a woman, it’s always appalling to me how commonplace victim blaming is. Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime is held totally or partially responsible for the harm that was caused to him or her.
If you don’t believe me when I say victim blaming is real, think back on all the times you have heard those around you ask women who have been raped how they were dressed. It’s as if women could prevent rape by covering up in winter coats and not showing any skin.
The reality of victim blaming is that by asking questions like “How was she dressed?”, “Did she know she shouldn’t be walking around alone?” and “Was she drunk?”, we place the responsibility on the victim. They feel guilt and shame about what has happened to them and therefore don’t report the assaults they have experienced.
I recently read an article on The Huffington Post in which Annie E. Clark, the co-founder of End Rape on Campus, relates her experience on reporting her rape to her university’s administration. Clark said when she reported her rape, the administrator she talked to said, “Well…rape is like football; if you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback, Annie… is there anything you would have done differently?”
These kinds of responses to reporting sexual assault have to stop now. It is ridiculous to think that someone would want to, or is asking to, be raped. It is sad to know that victims are treated like they are responsible for something that might emotionally scar them for the rest of their lives.
According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. They also state that domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes. Maybe it goes unreported so much because society places so much of the blame on the victim. They feel guilt and shame and, on top of that, responsibility for something they didn’t ask for.
Asking women why they stayed, how they were dressed, or how much they drank are all the incorrect questions. Instead, people should focus more on finding the person responsible and holding them accountable for their actions.
It’s sad to think that we live in a world where girls get warned to not get raped, yet nobody teaches boys not to rape. Maybe, if people’s perceptions of victims of sexual assault changed, and the reports were taken more seriously, victim blaming could be minimized and therefore allow girls, and even men — who sometimes fight a harder battle to be believed in cases of sexual assault — to come forward and say “I was raped,” without a hint of guilt or shame. Because in reality, it’s not their fault.