June 13, 2020

Issues with victim-blaming

Content warning: Rape Tone warning: This may come across cold; in reality I have a lot of anger at the injustice victims suffer (the crime, and then the lack of belief/justice); it makes my blood boil. But as with most things, if you care about solving the problem you have to be able to consider things in a dispassionate way that isn’t just based on knee-jerk moral outrage. Also some people don’t seem to have an emotional reaction to rape so if you want to appeal to them you have to use other techniques.

Strategies to reduce rape that focus on changing behavior of potential victims confuse me. There’s the obvious point that it seems unfair to impose costs (via behavior change) on the people who aren’t doing anything inherently wrong rather than to impost costs (via behavior change) on the people doing the thing that we all ostensibly agree is wrong.

(the obvious logical step here is to wonder whether actually people promoting these strategies do believe there is something wrong with e.g. dressing immodestly but that is rarely the justification given for these kind of strategies)

But maybe we think that changing behavior of victims is within our control (since they are good upstanding citizens) whereas changing the behavior or rapists is outside of our control (since they are criminals who do whatever they want). Then the question becomes

  1. does changing victim behavior lead to reduced rapes and
  2. is the cost of this behavior change outweighed by the benefits?

(Analogy to locking your door - presumably this does reduce crime, and we have decided as a society this is worth the cost)

Let’s take the dubious assumption that rapists are more likely to target immodestly dressed women, If you tell someone to dress modestly, is the assumption that the rapist will overlook you and choose someone else? That seems bad… So maybe the idea is that we have to get everyone to follow the advice? Is the assumption that if all women are dressing modestly rapists will throw up their hands and give up? We could test this by checking to see whether countries/cultures that have more modest dress conventions have significantly less rape - as far as I’m aware this is not the case. It seems obvious to me that instead there will be a new baseline of dress and rapists will use some other method to select victims. So we have a world with just as many rapes, but with fewer liberties for women. That seems to be strictly worse.

Analogy to locking your door - why doesn’t this just set a new baseline? Maybe because it’s genuinely, physically harder to break in? Whereas dressing modestly doesn’t actually make it harder to be raped. What about flaunting your wealth, is that the same? We don’t expect people to give up their fancy cars or to make sure their big TV isn’t visible through the windows. In cases where someone is being overly ostentatious with their wealth and they get stolen from, maybe we secretly think they deserve it for two reasons

  1. we are jealous of their wealth
  2. we can tell ourselves we are safe because we would never do such a thing I think the second does happen in the context of rape too.

Updated Jul, 03 2020