THE BLOG

It's Not Just India: Why Victim Blaming is a Universal Problem

10/03/2015 16:10 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 10:59 BST

"Only about 20% of women are good," announced Mukesh Singh, a man facing the death penalty for his part in the brutal gang rape and murder of medical student, Jyoti. The victim blaming and lack of remorse shown in the documentary 'India's Daughter' has attracted widespread revulsion across the world, particularly in the comfortable, Sainsbury's-stocked homes of the British public, where the misogynistic practice of victim blaming has supposedly been extinguished.

Whilst the horrific violence Jyoti endured remains a rarity in the UK, sexual attacks and harassment of 'women doing wrong' is still widely accepted, even if we like to pretend it isn't. As we rightfully condemn India's brutal culture of sexual abuse and victim blaming, perhaps we should take a look in the mirror?

I was 21 the first time I experienced sexual assault. He was a morbidly obese man caked in his own sweat, who grabbed me from behind as I walked across a dance floor. So far, so depressingly normal. When I tried to shake him off, he followed more closely, until I could feel his hot, boozy breath on the back of my neck, one clammy hand making its way up my skirt, the other pushing me against the club wall. Less than a year later I was sexually assaulted on a beach in Australia, by a man I'd been chatting to in a bar. This time there was no bouncer to save me. And as this stranger pushed me into the cold sand, I found myself feeling guilty. I should have been clearer. Should have yelled harder. Maybe he hadn't understood me?

Since then there have been too many smaller harassment incidents to count: Men grabbing my breasts, following me into changing rooms, stopping me by the side of the road to ask for sex or 'accidentally' rubbing their crotch against me on a packed bus. On one occasion, a casual acquaintance of a friend slapped the top of my thigh so hard it erupted into welts, leaving me bruised for a week. These incidents, particularly the smaller ones, were brushed off by me, and brushed off by friends, especially men. There was no extreme violence or hospitalisation. No lasting psychological damage. I considered them blips in the ocean of sexual assault, bouncing back relatively unscathed from these unwanted advances. They were certainly nothing compared to the descriptions of brutal rape we see on the news.

In a culture of casual sex, where rape jokes bounce around the walls of university halls, where sexual relations come without intimacy and hardcore porn is widely available to young people, the lines of what's acceptable and what's not have become increasingly blurred. Perhaps my failure to take these incidents as seriously as I should have done was down to embarrassment, or feelings of blame. It's indicative of how trivialised sexual assault and date rape has become that I wasn't sure my experiences 'counted'.

According to Rape Crisis, 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. More than 400,000 are sexually assaulted, with one in five women experiencing some sort of assault after the age of 16. Only around 15% of cases are reported to police, with many women citing fear at not being believed or self-blame as the primary reasons for failing to report these crimes. And it seems our fears are justified. A recent survey published by the Office for National Statistics shows that a quarter of people believe a woman is at least partly to blame for rape if she has consumed alcohol, while almost 40% of respondents agreed that flirting beforehand meant a victim was responsible.

Excuses for inappropriate sexual behaviour come hard and fast. She shouldn't have been drunk. She was dressed like a slag. She's already slept with half the football team. In 2012 the popular student website UNILAD was slammed for condoning sexual violence, after suggesting it was OK to rape a woman, as long as you shouted surprise. The line is about as old and as funny as a 1980's Christmas cracker joke, but it didn't stop the publication's pond-dwelling, FHM-masturbating followers from abusing its critics. We sluts just can't take the bants, you see. But the poison spreads further than lad culture. On a recent Facebook article, a woman announced that she 'partially agreed' with the comments of Jyoti's rapist. When I argued that choice in clothing should never warrant a sexual attack she responded with venom, suggesting anyone who dresses and behaves respectfully will get respect in return. Anyone who doesn't? Well, she wouldn't really be a victim, would she?

To believe a women should shoulder responsibility for the irrepressible sexual urges of men is not only offensive to females, but a gross misrepresentation of men, who don't deserved to be lumped together as potential rapists unable to control their own genitalia. Because sexual assault and harassment isn't about short skirts or overwhelming desire. It's about a lack of respect for women, a desire to exert power over another person. It doesn't matter if she's wearing a bikini or a burka, working as a nun or a prostitute, there is never a reason or excuse. Sexual violence, like victim blaming, boils down to an inequality between the sexes. The view that women, or 'bad women' are worth less than their male counterparts. Their voices aren't as strong. Their consent is only viable in certain circumstances.

We can't end rape, sexual assault and harassment by wearing longer skirts or being 'good women'. As Emma Watson pointed out in her UN speech, we need men and women to stand together for equality. To stop making rape jokes and normalising what shouldn't be normal. To accept that despite the huge strides of feminism in the west, the cancer of misogyny still remains. Only with the full support of both genders can we truly stamp out sexual abuse and victim blame.