[The Sexuality Blog] Back to Basics: Does a rape victim bear any of the blame?

We at The Sexuality Blog are revisiting the basics, and as best we can, explaining the concepts of sex, consent and the different aspects of rape culture with analogies that are specific to Nigerians. We are also trying to answer a number of questions that revolve around rape culture and how our current beliefs and practices help to foster a culture where rapists are excused their bad behaviour, never punished for their actions and victims are blamed for rape.

Does the rape victim bear any of the blame for rape?

We have spoken at length about consent and rape, and how in the absence of consent, sexual activity will often quickly devolve into sexual assault, or worse rape. The statistics tell us that rape is prevalent and pervasive and about a billion women will experience some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime. With those kind of numbers, it can’t all be the fault of the rapists right?

Don’t things like how the rape victim was dressed and where they were and who they were with factor in if they get raped or not?

The short answer is no.

With the exception of mentally ill people, who need to either receive treatment to control their mental illnesses or be sequestered from the larger society in a place that can manage their illness if it cannot be cured, we all have autonomy. We do not make decisions without thinking about them and weighing the pros vs cons. Especially when it comes to sex. Sex is such a multi-layered action that relies on physical attraction and deliberate action that the argument that a person saw a person they were attracted to and simply couldn’t control themselves cannot pass muster.

If human physiology really worked that way, all celebrities male or female would suffer constant sexual assault (not that most female celebrities don’t, but that is another discussion).

The reason why we act on any kind of urge towards a person or thing that doesn’t belong to us, or we have received consent to act upon is entitlement. Entitlement is why we steal another person’s property. A belief that we deserve the item more than the person who owns them, and because we know it will not be given freely to us, we should take it without consent. Entitlement works on the premise that there will be no consequences for our actions, or if there are, the consequences will cost far less than what we have gained from the act we have committed.

We feel we have unmitigated access to other people’s bodies because of the entitlement patriarchy gives. Patriarchy, a system that elevates men way above women and ensures that women are marginalized and discriminated against, ensures us through examples we see and behaviour we learn right from our childhoods that women are always ‘available’ to us, especially in sexual ways. Inherently, all men understand that this entitlement is wrong, which is why we do not wish the things we mete out to women we consider strangers done to our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives.

The entitlement patriarchy gives us is a privilege, one that we have become too comfortable with and are unwilling to give up. This entitlement to women’s bodies frees us of the responsibility for our own urges and desires and places on women the responsibility of regulating our urges for us. This is why we ask women to dress more modestly, to not go out at night, to not interact with men other than their families, to shrink themselves and not provide any excuse for men to act out on their urges.

Women are taught this from childhood, and have become very good at it. But not matter how good they, how much they try to keep themselves safe, they are still sexually assaulted and are still raped. If women regulating our urges for us isn’t working, then they cannot be blamed for our actions.

Here’s an analogy to help you understand as seen on Twitter:

Every Nigerian has had a run-in with the Nigerian police, or knows someone who has had a bad experience with them. They lie, they steal, they harass and extort. They put people in prison without a trial, they sexual assault women. All they need is an excuse, no matter how flimsy as way in, a reason to start harassing you or your loved ones.

Nigerian Policemen and women feel entitled to harass you because they have been given power by the Nigerian constitution, a power that suggests that our lives mean nothing, provided it is a Policeman that is messing with it. No matter how careful you are, eventually you have a run-in with the Nigerian police. So you learn to avoid them, to not argue when they stop you, because fighting only makes thing worse. You live in fear of them abusing their power and their privilege.

But you know that nothing you do will make them not harass you, or try to extort you if you come across them. You also know that not all of them are bad, but that you must treat all of them as bad, because it is safer for you as a potential victim. You know that only a change in their attitude instituted by them or the government will make them change, not you appealing to their greed or entitlement.

If you can understand this, you can understand nothing a woman does will stop a rapist from trying, and it is never the woman’s fault; no amount of carefulness is good enough. The only way is to reeducate the potential rapist, and change his worldview.

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