It’s time to stop victim blaming

***trigger warning (sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse, rape)

We live in a society that constantly blames victims. This culture of blame repeatedly silences women and is a contributing factor as to why so many victims refuse to speak out. 

Abused? What did you do to provoke your significant other?

Assaulted or raped? Were you drinking? Were you dressed provocatively? Did you explicitly say NO?

I recently saw a tweet about the Gabby Petito case that encapsulates this culture of victim blaming. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Gabby Petito case, I’ll provide a brief summary. Gabby Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, set out on a cross country roadtrip in July, 2021. On September 1st, Brian returned home alone. Gabby’s family reported her missing 10 days later. Gabby was recently found dead, and sources are ruling her death a homicide. Police released body camera footage that showed Gabby in a clearly distraught state after an alleged physical altercation between her and Laundrie. It is speculated that Gabby and Brian were in an abusive relationship, and that Brian may be responsible for her murder. 

“Stop using Gabby Petito and her case as an excuse to say we need to ‘teach our daughters to leave toxic and abusive relationships.’ Teach your sons to not be abusive. Teach your sons to take no for an answer. Teach your sons to be/do better.”- @amikagott, twitter user.

Saying that Gabby should have left the relationship is an indirect way of victim blaming. It asserts that she could have done something to have prevented her death, and it puts the focus on Gabby instead of on her potential murderer. 

This is not to say that everyone (people of all gender identities) should not learn the signs of a toxic relationship and when/how to get out of one. But the language surrounding how we discuss these relationships can be very impactful. When we discuss cases like Gabby’s and say things like, “Girls, take this as a lesson to be more careful! Learn how to leave these situations to protect yourselves!”, we are inadvertently encouraging victim blaming. When we constantly turn discussions surrounding abuse/sexual assault/domestic violence against women into lessons for women, we are bolstering the rhetoric that victims are to blame for their abuse. 

Some of the comments on this thread are beyond disturbing. Comments like “teaching my sons not to take no for an answer,” “teach your sons to be abusive,” and “every time I see a woman post online I know it’s about to be the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen in my life,” garnered over 100 likes each.

Ummm, excuse me? The fact that so many people either agree with these comments or find them funny enough to like is beyond me. Abuse is not something to joke about, and we exist in a culture that has normalized abuse and victim blaming to the point where people feel comfortable enough to make comments like this. This is rape culture.

In my high school sex-ed class, an entire section of the curiculum was dedicated to educating women on what they can do to avoid getting assaulted/raped. 

What?

We should be teaching about consent, personal boundaries, and healthy relationships. When we focus on what women can do to keep themselves safe, we are further perpetuating the notion that victims are to blame for their assaults. 

A common misconception still taught in some high school health classes is that the male sex drive is uncontrollable, and women are therefore responsible for abstinence. Why are we placing this fully on women? When we don’t hold men accountable for sexual acts, we are leaving room for men to be sexually forceful or coercive. Yet the blame for the aggression is placed on the woman, because she is the one expected to not engage in sexual activity. Absurd.

What is the common theme? Our society has normalized victim blaming and, particularly, blaming women for their abuse. While we don’t yet know all the facts about Gabby Petito’s tragic story, the familiar narrative that is unfolding will do nothing to break the cycle of abuse. Let’s turn the focus to preventing the abuse in the first place; as @amikagott says, “Teach your sons to be/do better.” The cycle has to end. 

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