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Dear Prudence

On "Victim Blaming"

Bruce Barbour - November 2018

The notion that in discussion in the media or elsewhere after a sexual assault if any mention is made of what a victim of sexual assault was doing just before the assault is analogous to blaming the victim of the crime for the crime is frankly not very useful.

Let's look at a few examples:
  1. A woman is walking along a well lit street in early evening and is pulled off the street into a side alley and assaulted. Here everyone would agree that woman has no blame or guilt and the perpetrator is 100% to blame.
  2. A man is walking across a ill lit park at 2 o'clock in the morning and makes its safely to the other side. Is the man guilty of anything? I would say yes. He is guilty of imprudence.
  3. A woman is walking across a ill lit park at 2 o'clock in the morning and makes its safely to the other side. Is the woman guilty of anything? I would say yes. She is guilty of imprudence.
  4. A woman is walking across a ill lit park at 2 o'clock in the morning and is assaulted half way across.
The issue is, in the fourth example, is the woman guilty of anything? And - shock horror - I would say yes. She is still guilty of imprudence. As she was is example three. And as indeed was the man in example two. Because she was attacked in example 4 does not change the level of imprudence from example 3. Does this mean that the guilt of the perpetrator is in anyway lessened? Absolutely not. The perpetrator is still 100% guilty, just as guilty as the perpetrator was in the first example. Pointing out that the woman could have exercised more prudence in no way lessens the crime of the perpetrator. Imprudence is not a crime and should not, cannot, must not be used as mitigation of a crime of others.

What concerns me is that the cries of "victim blaming" on many occasions when a woman is assaulted is that it shuts down one part of the discussion on what can be done to lessen the risk to women of being assaulted. I sometimes wonder what the people who come out with the cries of victim blaming advise their own children or the children of their friends to do. Do they really say to them "It is quite alright for you to walk across that park at 2 o'clock in the morning. Don't worry if you get assaulted, you're not to blame"? If they wouldn't give that advice to their children they should not give it to others. If they would give that advice then frankly I despair at their naivety and apparent lack of concern for their children's safety.

There are many parks that I wouldn't walk across and lanes that I wouldn't venture down at 2 o'clock in the morning, and all I have to be concerned about is being assaulted and robbed, and not rape.

Any parent of a child, male or female, should be advising their children to be prudent. There are nasty people out there waiting to take advantage of opportunities that come along. Why make it easy for them? And yes - a lot of the nasty people are men. I wish society was otherwise - it would be great to be able to go out and leave the house unlocked. It would be great to be able to leave the car unlocked, keys in the ignition and wallet on the front seat and be certain of coming back in a couple of hours with the car and wallet all still intact. And to be able to walk anywhere at anytime in complete safety would also be fantastic. Heck - we could sack a large part of the police force and put the money saved to use in improving education and hospitals etc. But, unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. Nasty people exist and do nasty things. Melbourne, Australia, while certainly a lot safer than many other places, is not Utopia. All people, male or female, young and old, need to take care, need to be prudent by locking up their possessions and not putting themselves in dangers way. And I agree that action should be taken to change society, to improve society so there is less danger for women and all people. And this will include changes to the way society raises young men, which clearly for a proportion of men gives rise to a toxic masculinity. But that would be a medium to long term project, if it had indeed started. In the meantime we live in the society we have, and no amount of wishing it was otherwise, or blaming men as a species, will change that situation straight away.

So dear Prudence (and Fred), you can go out to play. But please take care of yourself and consider your safety. Please be prudent. After all you have the most to lose.

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