Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Victim blaming in Arizona, and elsewhere

A judge in Arizona made outlandish comments to the woman who was sexually groped at a bar during the groper's sexual assault sentencing hearing. The judge told her that if "if you hadn't been there that night, none of this would have happened to you." This comes on the heels of a prominent priest's comment that boys who are sexually assaulted by priests are sometimes the seducers.

We can't expect people to be sympathetic to victims of wrongful accusations if we are not allied with victims of sexual abuse. The judge's comments were outlandish and wrong. It's perfectly acceptable to suggest that everyone should be vigilant about risky behavior, but sorry, judge, going to a bar doesn't cut it as risky behavior. And even if the woman had engaged in risky behavior (which she didn't), chiding the victim at a sexual assault sentencing hearing that she should have made better choices is never appropriate. Those sorts of comments only detract from the condemnation due the criminal.

Victim blaming often stems from a moral condemnation about the victim's sexual behavior. The widely accepted view is that this is something only women experience because, after all, men are "supposed" to be sexually promiscuous. In fact, a new study shows that promiscuous young men are viewed as negatively as promiscuous young women by many college students. http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/relationships-and-special-occasions/parenting/aisha-sultan/ditching-the-double-standard-men-and-women-lose-respect-from/article_643e5d9c-e824-11e1-a9ff-001a4bcf6878.html

A good example of that is found in this You Tube video. It contains portions of an episode of the Steve Wilkos show where the guests were three of the falsely accused men from the Hofstra false rape case. The video was put together by a men's rights activist who also comments on it. We reference the video here not to endorse the men's rights activist's view of the Hofstra case -- we've written extensively about that case here, and our post expresses our views on that case -- but because the video contains actual footage from the Wilkos show, which is chilling.

At around the 3:00 minute mark in the video, the men come out, and are booed by some members of the audience.  At about the 4:50 minute mark, Wilkos asked why audience members booed the young men. An angry young women came to a microphone and exclaimed that she had been sexually assaulted, and that "it's not cool. And if you guys are lying about it, that's not right. I know what it's like. It's not cool."  Her comments were greeted with applause. 
Wilkos is unsympathetic to the men. "Does that sound like a wholesome college experience?" Wilkos asks them, to applause. Later, one of the young men volunteered that they never should have gone to the party, to more applause. A male audience member stands up and says that he's gone to parties, and they don't have to end up having sex with a girl. The audience applauds again.

Wilkos says he's "not trying to be a prude," but the story of their encounter was "creepy." And "maybe if you held yourself to a higher level of conduct . . . ."  And "doesn't that sound a little sleezy?" Wilkos then takes offense that one of the men was videotaping the encounter (the videotape, incidentally, is what led to their freedom), and asks one of the young men if he'd like it if someone did that to him. The audience applauds again.  Another audience member stood up and expressed doubt about their innocence.

Finally, a young man stood up and said that he thought it was despicable that the men were booed, and that their personal lives were their business. 

The Wilkos video is difficult to watch. Part of the audience's reaction seems to stem from the fact that Wilkos apparently didn't explain, in the clearest terms possible, that the Hofstra accuser not only recanted under oath but the circumstances of that recantation. It seems many in the audience weren't completely sure if the young men were truly innocent (they were), which likely accounted for some of the applause at their expense.  But it seems equally clear that at least part of the audience's disdain for the men stemmed from the their views on the men's sexual conduct.

In contrast, when false rape victim Brian Banks recently appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Brian related his false accuser's famous "let bygones be bygones" comment, and the audience audibly groaned. Mr. Leno treated Brian as a survivor and did not chide him as a moral miscreant for his sexual rendezvous with his false accuser in a high school stairwell. The audience's reaction mirrored Mr. Leno's respect for Brian. See here.

It is one thing to urge people not to engage in risky behavior. It's quite another to chide a victim at her assaulter's sentencing hearing for making bad choices when she didn't, or to insist that men falsely accused of rape should have treated their false accuser better.