Why does the stigma of rape lie with the victim and not the perpetrator? Why do we associate disgrace with the person whose vulnerability has been exploited and not the person willing to exploit that vulnerability? Why do we look at a victim’s behaviour and circumstances to explain a crime’s occurrence and not the choices made by the attacker? Why do we insist on silence, why do we knowingly turn away, when we witness a situation of abuse instead of calling out the abuser for their shameful behaviour? Why do we see the victim as being tarnished or damaged by an event over which they had no control and not the person who had control and used it to commit that abuse, that crime?
The stigma of rape is baffling. How have we arrived at a culture that so willingly, so knowingly colludes with perpetrators? How have we agreed to blame victims for their own victimisation, as if they somehow had some role to play in such horror happening to their own selves? How have we consented to tamely to play along with the perpetrators, letting them escape responsibility for their own actions and decisions, when we know, as well as they do, what they are doing?
Why do we persist with asking all the wrong questions? Why are victims required to get up in court and justify their person, account for their actions and yet the perpetrator shelters behind the legal protections of innocent until proven guilty? Why aren’t victims assumed innocent, unless proven beyond reasonable doubt, to have had some hand to play in the crime committed against them? Why is a perpetrator’s background, including past crimes, not legally relevant but a victim’s every thought, movement, action and relationship potential for blame and recrimination?
How have we allowed this situation to continue for so long? Why are we not outraged and distressed, out howling in the streets, that a culture like this continues to shape our response to the most widespread human rights abuse in the world today? What are we doing, each and every one of us, to dismantle the stigma that surrounds sexual violence?
There is so much we can do. We can support victims. We can hear them when they need to speak and sit with them quietly in solidarity when they cannot find the words to express their trauma. We can hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. We can require them to account for their decisions and their actions. We can refuse to let them escape responsibility behind inappropriate legal protections and age-old misogynist customs. We can speak out when somebody dismisses a rape claim or makes light of an instance of sexual abuse or excuses the actions of a known perpetrator of sexual violence. We can practice respectful and consensual relationships. We can treat others with dignity and consideration, honouring their right to choose for themselves what they desire and what they do not. We can learn to ask first and to accept no as an answer.
Perhaps these actions don’t seem like much but if each and everyone of us committed to live by these principles then sexual violence would not be an issue. So, you see, we really can end sexual violence now. Will you?