Twice victimized

I’m happy to see sexual assault getting more media attention these days, stemming from the Penn State scandal. I can only hope this will continue to snowball – to include family court cases, for example.

The New York Times ran this article and has a follow up next week on the care of victims:

The twice victimized of sexual assault

It is all too easy to see why. More often than not, women who bring charges of sexual assault are victims twice over, treated by the legal system and sometimes by the news media as lying until proved truthful.

“There is no other crime I can think of where the victim is more victimized,” said Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University who for 20 years has been studying what happens legally and medically to women who are raped. “The victim is always on trial. Rape is treated very differently than other felonies.”

So, too, are the victims of lesser sexual assaults. In 1991, when Anita Hill, a lawyer and academic, told Congress that the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her repeatedly when she worked for him, Ms. Hill was vilified as a character assassin and liar acting on behalf of abortion-rights advocates.

Credibility became the issue, too, for Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant chambermaid who accused the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of forcing her to perform fellatio in a Manhattan hotel room. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case after concluding that Ms. Diallo had lied on her immigration form and about other matters, though not directly about the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

When four women, two of whom identified themselves publicly, said they had been sexually harassed by Herman Cain, the Republican presidential hopeful, they, too, were called liars, perhaps hired by his opponents.

Charges of sexual harassment often boil down to “she said-he said” with no tangible evidence of what really took place. But even when there is DNA evidence of a completed sexual act, as there was in the Strauss-Kahn case, the accused commonly claim that the sex was consensual, not a crime.

Bill proposes those that make abuse accusations be called accusers, not victims

Sometimes, there’s more sympathy for the accused than there is for the abused. Sometimes, the abused become the accused – accused of lying, that is – especially women who allege abuse – who are often “liars until proven honest.”

Proposed GA bill to refer to rape victims as accusers

“Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) introduced a bill that would change the language of state criminal codes to refer to those who file charges for rape, stalking, and domestic violence as accusers, not victims, until there has been a conviction.”

She didn’t ask for it

She didn’t ask for it. She didn’t want it. She didn’t have it coming to her.

So goes the thinking in this great article in Salon, covering an ad campaign in Scotland – Ad campaign: She didn’t ask for it 

It starts with a familiar scenario: Pretty girl in a bar wearing a short skirt. Continuing the generic vibe of the scene, a guy catches a glimpse of her and exclaims to his buddy: “Check out that skirt — she’s asking for it!” Cut to the same girl earlier that day looking at skirts in a department store. The saleslady asks if she could use some help. The girl replies matter-of-factly: “Yeah, thanks, I’m going out tonight and I want to get raped. I need a skirt that will encourage a guy to have sex with me against my will.” The clerk excitedly coos: “The blue one. Definitely the blue one.”

Feel a wee bit unsettled? Aye, you should. Women don’t flirt, drink or dress their way into rape, and the ad highlights the absolute absurdity, and basic inhumanity, of the “asked for it” attitude. As the Scots would say, the spot is pure dead brilliant.

Very sadly, if you read the comments on this article, you’ll see that readers still “don’t get it.” They liken women dressing sexy to leaving a Mercedes Benz ulocked. Following this logic, why is it that women on the beach in bikinis don’t get raped? Aren’t they just like a fleet of unlocked Mercedes? How about strippers? Are they asking for it? (OH! You say there are rules to follow at these clubs? And, if they’re not enforced, the guy can get tossed out? Oh, I see! )This guy’s logic just doesn’t add up. And it’s very, very sad.

Here’s the video on YouTube: Not Ever

Here’s research that might help explain all those misogynist comments we find on rape-related articles:

Men lack sympathy for rape victims

The results showed that men had less sympathy for rape victims overall and tended to blame the victim more than women did. In particular men were blamed for not fighting back.

The men questioned in the study classed assaults on gay men as the least serious especially if the victim was conscious.

Attribution of blame in cases of rape:  An analysis of participant gender, type of rape and perceived similarity to the victim


This paper reviews studies exploring the effects of a variety of factors on participants’ judgments of hypothetical depictions of rape within an experimental setting. The focus is on attribution of responsibility or fault to the victim or attacker and related judgments. Three aspects have been reviewed: the effect of participant gender, the type of rape depicted (stranger rape, date rape or acquaintance rape) and perceived similarity with the victim/perpetrator in line with the defensive attribution theory. There are limits to generalization due to populations studied and methods used, and the observed effects of several factors are either minimal or inconsistent. However, some factors have consistent effects on judgments. Findings indicate that men engage in victim blaming more readily than women; victims who are acquainted with their attacker tend to be assigned more responsibility for a rape; and participants who view themselves as similar to the victim attribute more blame to the perpetrator of the rape, demonstrating the effects of “harm avoidance” and “blame avoidance.”

A situational model of sexual assault prevention through bystander intervention


Bystander intervention is a potentially potent tool in the primary prevention of sexual assault but more information is needed to guide prevention programs (Banyard 2008). Undergraduates (378 women and 210 men, primarily White) at a central coast California university completed an anonymous questionnaire measuring five barriers identified by the situational model of bystander intervention (Latane and Darley 1970) and bystander intervention behavior. As expected, the barriers were negatively correlated with intervention, were greater for men than for women, and intervention likelihood was affected by perceptions of victim worthiness, especially for men. Hypotheses predicting a positive relationship between having a relationship with the potential victim or perpetrator and intervention were supported. Implications for sexual assault bystander intervention programming are provided.

And, finally, here’s a study that looked at the media:

Media attributions of blame and sympathy in ten rape cases


This study builds upon previous research investigating the nature of magazine coverage of rape cases between 1980 and 1996. The previous research examined the low versus high visibility cases vis-a `-vis case characteristics. The present examination explores condemnation in rape cases in light of case characteristics. A total of 123 articles have been compiled from national magazines. Ten rape cases are included in this study. Concerns pivot around media attribution of rape culpability. The research questions whether the victim’s/offender’s race and/or class affects the media’s exculpation or vilification of the rape victim and/or offender. In other words, the study investigates whether there is a perpetuation of the victim blaming ideology by the media as it pertains to certain rape cases. The research goes on to explore whether the rape scenario, e.g. stranger, acquaintance, single offender or multiple offenders impacts media attributions in rape cases. The findings of this content analysis are viewed in the context of the backlash against feminism and the ‘feminist’ rape reform movement. It is important to understand the phenomena of beliefs about rape in the present era of the backlash that continues to erode gains of the feminist and the rape reform movements.
Understanding the backlash against feminism and the rights we’ve worked so hard to protect – in both sexual assault and domestic violence – is extremely important in understanding attitudes. Also, understanding that there’s been backlash against the Civil Rights Movement, the LGBT community, being PC, etc. is important because we see that the backlash is not just intended for women & their allies but rather is a wide net, including progressive issues that bring about change.
For us, the backlash is mainly from men (and some women) protecting the privileges that patriarchy affords them – status, respect, promotion, entrance into networks, public presence (representation), etc.  This includes the “right” to abuse – silence protected that “right” until the 1970s, when the Victims Rights Movement started. Exposing these abuses has not been made without a fight. There’s been “false memory syndromes,”  “false allegations” propaganda, and the “Fathers Rights” guise that are uses as tools to fight back. (The Fathers Rights people stopped domestic violence victims from getting free legal aid; they want to limit restraining orders; they sue domestic violence shelters; and, they believe domestic violence is mutual, just a “mistake,” and can be resolved in couples counseling, even battering.)
We have to recognize backlash and fight to preserve the gains we’ve made. Progress – egalitarian beliefs and marriages – offer men a chance to have healthier and longer lives (the bread winner status is stressful) and healthier relationships with their wives and children. Healthy relationships benefit us all – this is worth resisting the backlash and forging ahead.      

Snap, Cackle, Pop!

Snap goes the violent man,

Cackling or naggin was the “cause” of the violence,

Pop goes the gun!

Here is an example of a cookie-cutter approach to reporting that is used for domestic violence. The media reports that a “nice guy” (as reported by his friends, family and neighbors) “snaps” and shoots his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend/children. The cause? Why, her behavior, of course.

Read the article by The Washington Post, “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told” (April 3) here.

Read my Letter to the Editor, published April 11, 2009, here.


You’ll notice many of these articles on domestic violence refer to the abuser/killer as a nice guy. One reason is that they often interview friends and family of his. Many batterers do provide a likeable, even charming, exterior to their colleagues and neighbors. Another reason is, if he committed murder-suicide, many people don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But, this kind of reporting often fails to paint an accurate picture of the individuals’ behavior in the house, where they may have acted completely different from the way they acted out in the community. Reporters should dig a little deeper to find out if there was a pattern of abuse in the couple’s marriage or live-in situation. Murder, as much as they’d like us to believe, is not something that occurs out of the blue. While researchers find no previous use of violence in some femicides (like the Stacy Peterson case), sometimes it just takes some investigation to uncover it  – and it’s up to the media to take this step.   


The story mentions that the wife “nagged” for two years. Well, how did the husband act? Was he controlling or jealous, which is the case in many domestic violence accounts? Why is her negative behavior listed but not his negative behavior?

A recent New York Times article did the same thing. It said more about the wife “complaining” and being “uncooperative” than it did about her husband (a judge) that hit her. Why are negative or harsh terms used for the victim but not the perpetrator? Can you imagine a reporter writing about an unknown perpetrator on the street attacking an elderly man and then referring to the elderly man as grumpy or mean? Wouldn’t it sound as if he deserved to be attacked by that stranger? Why, that perp did society a favor by choosing him as a victim! Really!

The New York Times article also included the lawyer’s comments, “It’s a personal and private matter and it was appropriately dismissed and sealed. ” Ouch! Domestic violence advocates have been trying for decades to educate us that this is a societal problem rather than a “private matter.” Justice does not stop at your door mat. You are not free to use illegal drugs or run a brothel from your home – nor can you assault someone in there and get away with it.


Hmmm, why did the guy have a gun? Did he have a prior history of domestic violence? Was there a restraining order? Was there a history of mental illness (diagnosed or not), anger management problems, issues in his other relationships (past or present)? All too other, batterers have access to guns. Police officers in my town – some who will be called upon in domestic violence cases – have their own charges of DV and yet they still have their jobs and their guns.

 As a lesson from this article, we should demand:

1) to know the real cause of domestic violence (hint: it’s not the other person’s behavior)

2) to understand that domestic violence doesn’t often come out of the blue (“snapping” is not a cause of DV either)

3) to see the victim treated with respect and dignity

4) to hear from domestic violence experts

5) to learn where to go for help



We never saw it coming…

A man in Alabama shot his estranged wife, 16-year old daughter, 2 family members and himself right before his divorce trial. Reporters wrote how family, friends and neighbors never saw it coming.

Read the article here.

“…gave no hints of the mayhem to come, police and court officials say” (umm, how could court officials be CLUELESS when the wife alleged domestic violence IN COURT????)

If the reporters would have asked domestic violence experts, they would have learned that this was not a shock but rather a classic case.

Separation presents the most dangerous time to a woman, especially when there has been domestic violence or child abuse. This is a time when violence can start for the first time, when violence can escalate, or when stalking and harrassment begins or exacerbates. (In contrast, most men that leave abusive women, leave trouble behind.)

Why the media continues to frame these cases as “shocking” —shocking to the friends of the abuser/killer that is— is outrageous. Had they interviewed the friends of the wife’s, they could have learned that there was a history of domestic violence, that perhaps she tried leaving him before, and that probably he had threatened her life. But, nooooo….we are all too often left with the kind words spoken about the abusive guy that “gasp!” kills his wife and kids and leaves people (his friends) “shocked” – shocking, indeed.  

And, more shocking news, we hear the kind words said of this same killer in this article:

“an all American guy”

“a perfect gentleman”

How about showing a little sympathy for the victims?! It’s a pretty ruthless society that shows kind words to the perpetrators and not a single damn one for the victims.