She Wasn’t Asking For It

In 1988, the movie “The Accused” portrayed a horrifying gang rape and the resulting legal process. While the focus of the plot became the contributory guilt of the cheering onlookers, a prominent sideline was whether or not the victim was asking for it, since she was wearing a short skirt, dancing and drinking. Obviously, the correct answer is no, she was not. Nobody asks to be raped. As a society, we’ve been mostly clear, most of the time, that rape is an act of violence. This awareness is essential for the emotional healing of the victim. She must see herself as not responsible for the act and, consequently, not a whore, not a slut, not bad and not dirty. This understanding of the reality of the situation helps her move on with her self-esteem intact and her self-image accurate.COLUMN: Overcoming Abuse, an Inspirational True StoryNow, “Spring Breakers” has sparked similar online chatter about whether girls/women “ask for it” with how they dress and behave. I haven’t seen it (full disclosure), but two former Disney starlets and their friends spend the entire movie in bikinis, surrounded by, and often participating in, rampant drugging, sex and violence. From the talk about this movie, it seems that there is still a segment of society that views a woman who is presenting herself in a certain way as begging for someone to brutally assault her. Walking naked past a group of men is probably incredibly bad judgment, won’t help your reputation as a “good girl,” and may contribute to a very uncomfortable situation. But it isn’t an invitation for one or more of those guys to rape you. If one of them were to run over and stab you with a knife in that circumstance, it would be clear to anyone that it was wrong. There’s no difference in terms of who deserves the blame.Here is a real-life example, from one of my patients, of the problem with the “asking for it” mentality:MORE: Somaly Mam’s Personal Fight Against Sex TraffickingJenna and her friend—both in their late 20s—went to an event at a restaurant one night. They met a small group of men there and hung out for a while after the event. They all decided to go to one of the men’s house to continue socializing. Due to an odd series of events, it ended up being just Jenna and her friend driving to the man’s house, in his car. When Jenna realized how the evening was progressing, she whispered to her friend that she wanted to go home, and her friend told her that she was being silly. When they arrived at the house, Jenna began walking out the door, though they were miles from her home. The friend (who has a long history of making bad decisions regarding men) insisted that they stay, and said that she would stay even if Jenna left. Jenna felt a responsibility to stay with her friend and resisted her own strong impulses to go. The man soon became very verbally and physically aggressive toward Jenna. She pushed him away. He became angry. Jenna’s “friend” did nothing helpful, and he attacked her again. She kicked him so hard that she sprained her toe and she punched him so hard that his nose bled, but he raped her anyway.Months later, Jenna still has trouble letting herself be angry when she thinks about that night. She’s not sure she has a right to be angry because she feels that she might have done something wrong to cause the rape. Maybe some of her decisions that night weren’t as cautious as they could have been, but nothing causes rape, except the rapist. It is tragic that the trauma of the assault is exacerbated by Jenna’s totally unwarranted self-blame, which erodes her self-esteem and impedes the emotional healing.QUIZ: Measure Your Self-EsteemIsn’t it time to move past this issue? If you’re raped, you’re not a whore or a slut, you’re not dirty or damaged goods and you certainly didn’t ask for it. You’re someone that had a bad thing happen to her. If you’re angry about it, direct that anger at the right person (not you). And don’t let it damage the way you see yourself.

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