Students stand up to victim blaming

Zoe Rogers, ‘Doah Contributing Writer
December 4, 2013

'Doah photo by Zoe Rogers

‘Doah photo by Zoe Rogers

On Friday Nov. 22, around 20 female Shenandoah University students attended class ‘scantily’ dressed, sporting stickers emblazoned with “this is NOT an invitation to rape me.” The demonstration, co-organized by senior psychology major, Heather Critten, and junior mass communications major, Maddi Armstrong, aimed to raise awareness on campus of rape victim blaming.

Rape victim blaming is an umbrella term for the perceptions in society that suggest a victim of rape was “asking for it.” By focusing, not on the rapist actions, but on the victim’s dress, behavior, alcohol consumption and sexual history, victim blaming excuses the perpetrator and places the onus on the victim to prevent the rape from occurring.

The demonstration hoped to raise awareness amongst students and combat a culture of ‘slut-shaming.” Armstrong argues that female rape-victims “are perpetrated thrice; by the rapist, by the media and by the trial process.”

Sixty percent of rapes in the United States go unreported, whilst 6 percent of those reported end in conviction of the rapist. Recent cases have demonstrated a disturbing common theme of victim blaming.

The landmark Steubenville case, where two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio raped an unconscious 16-year-old girl over a six-hour period and shared profane details via social media and text messages, sparked debate over victim blaming surrounding the case. Defense attorneys suggested that, whilst the girl was unconscious, she did not affirmatively say ‘no’ to the sexual acts. The indictment of the two boys sparked inflammatory comments on social media sites by spectators whilst celebrity tennis player, Serena Williams, was criticized for claiming the victim “should not have put herself in that position”.

Organizers of the demonstration felt inspired by similar campaigns from around the world. In 1994, Charles Hall and Eric McClellan of New York City created the “this is not an invitation to rape me” campaign in response to a friend, a victim of rape, who was too afraid of public humiliation to report the crime.

The campaign used posters, stickers and art installments to challenge the view that when a woman was raped, she asked for it. In 2008, Rape Crisis Scotland, a national rape crisis helpline in the UK, adopted the campaign to combat public attitudes that women ‘invite’ rape. Similar campaigns include “SlutWalk” demonstrations.

Participants on Nov. 22 found the demonstration sparked conversations and interest from bystanders. One onlooker, who had personal experience of assault and victim blaming, thanked the organizers for raising awareness. However, the demonstration was not without criticism. Some students agreed with the message but disagreed with the method. Julia Duke, a Business Administration major, considered it “counterproductive” to ask women to dress provocatively in an educational and professional environment. The demonstration has also been criticized for its refusal to allow men to participate, considering 1 in 8 rape victims are male.

In the aftermath of the demonstration, the organizers hope that Shenandoah University students will be more aware of the rape-culture that endorses female victim blaming in the media, justice system and institutions such as college campuses. They also hope to see greater student involvement in the (Not Just) Women’s center, located in Cooley 210, which also works with the Laurel Center, http://www.thelaurelcenter.org, to provide assistance and support for victims of sexual assault.

If you would like more information on the campaign, visit http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, you will find a safe environment to get the help you need in the counseling center in Cooley, the (Not Just) Women’s center on campus and the Laurel Center, in Downtown Winchester.

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