Sexual assault: ask the right questions or you’re part of the problem

6 Nov



There was a brief spat on Twitter this morning with a couple of men who thought the question to ask about the fourteen-year-old girl raped in a Geelong Park at 4 a.m. was, what we her parents thinking, letting her out at that time in the morning?

The attitude persists that girls and women must restrict our lives to protect ourselves from sexual assault, rather than the obvious solution, which is that men must not rape us.

The one good thing to emerge so far from this awful event are the words of Detective Senior Sergeant Jason Walsh, from Victoria Police’s Sexual Crime Squad, who expressed regret and amazement that people feel free to question a sexual assault victim’s actions, when what ought to be under scrutiny are the actions of perpetrators.

I find it amazing, he said, without getting into politics, that we question girls and we question their behaviour when we don’t even ask, ‘what’s four blokes out doing, allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl?’
“You know, that’s my take on that sort of question, and I’ve been in this sexual assault field for many years, and I find it amazing that people straight away question females for their actions, and they’re not questioning the males. I mean, what are four males doing allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl? That’s a question I’d ask.”

The self-serving myth that women “ask for it” one way or another is still pervasive, an estimated 70% of sexual assaults are not reported, of those that are reported only a minuscule number actually make it to court and even less result in convictions. The court process can be so horrendous for the victim that it’s frequently described as “being raped again,” and I recently read this paper written by Kylie Weston-Scheuber, Supervising Lawyer, Sexual Offences Unit, Office of the DPP (ACT) in which she states that should she find herself a victim of sexual assault, there are days she has doubts about whether she’d subject herself to the trauma of court proceedings.

Ms Weston-Scheuber also comments on the popular notion that women make this stuff up, by pointing out that the court process is so gruelling, in itself it ought to be evidence that the woman has suffered sexual assault because nobody would subject themselves to the trauma without extremely good reason:

…the trauma and indignity of giving evidence in a sexual assault trial is the strongest disincentive imaginable to continuing with a fabricated sexual assault allegation. However, the law precludes the prosecution from even raising the spectre of this feature of a witness’s evidence, which might be thought to be strongly corroborative.

Of course, the reality that many complaints don’t go to court doesn’t mean a victim wasn’t sexually assaulted, and it doesn’t mean the alleged perpetrator is innocent. While the victim doesn’t have her chance at justice, however traumatising that chance can be, neither does the alleged perpetrator have the chance to clear his name. He remains, for the rest of his life, an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. Insufficient evidence, or the victim withdrawing out of fear of ongoing traumatisation, does not equate to exoneration of guilt.

There is something terribly awry with a system that causes sexual assault victims to be further traumatised in their fight for justice. However, it is within such a system that questioning the victim’s responsibility for the suffering inflicted on her by the perpetrator is still regarded by some as legitimate. So if you do ask why she was in the park, drunk, wearing a short dress or whatever victim-blaming inquiry you come up with, perhaps you need to ask yourself, why am I blaming her?









21 Responses to “Sexual assault: ask the right questions or you’re part of the problem”

  1. Geoff Andrews November 6, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    While it may be, or may be not, appropriate to ask questions of the parents of the alleged victim, I wonder if the eight parents of the alleged perpetrators should not also be exposed to questions asking what lessons in morality they attempted to instil into their sons; keeping in mind of course that all are innocent until guilt has been established.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson November 6, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      I believe the alleged perpetrators are of age, but apart from that, I see your point.


  2. hudsongodfrey November 6, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    I agree the first question should always be what were four blokes looking for in the park at 4am not what she was doing there. The fact that they don’t even have to ask or be asked about their presence there speaks volumes.

    If what is being referred to here as her risk taking behaviour were to be compared with road safety then I’d be the first to point out the differences between controlling the physical forces of nature from behind the wheel and a would be rapist’s responsibility to control themselves.

    I wouldn’t however go so far to say that an expression of regret when someone might’ve been able to avoid the risk of sexual assault is always a fruitless exercise in victim blaming. It is frequently well intended and seldom better coming from a man than a woman. As long as we acknowledge that its a coping mechanism for a less than ideal situation I think our intentions aren’t misplaced.

    That’s something which I agree is quite different to where your twitter conversation was going. And I’d add that in this case the difference between being part of the problem and part of the solution isn’t contained within nuanced ways of saying the same things. The coping mechanism that I mentioned should only be a stopgap.

    If you want to start thinking about actual solutions then there’s no better place for me to say what I should be doing rather than laying it off onto others simply because I don’t happen to want to be thought of or think of myself as a rapist. I set standards for myself, maintain some very basic principles of social and ethical behavior no more complex than the golden rule and if anything its just my responsibility to behave in a civilized manner by doing so.

    I certainly don’t have to think about is as victims do, and I think women in general being both statistically and notionally always the victims have a harder time of it because there is no responsibility or action that they’re ethically bound to undertake in order to avoid being targeted or indeed even to free themselves from any degree of trepidation about the risk of being assaulted.

    While thinking about this I was looking at what pass for national statistics on the crime of rape such that if you take out most of Africa where it is clearly under reported and Sweden where definitions vary we’re still just too darned high on the list and should perhaps be looking to countries elsewhere for the possibility that women don’t have to deal with what they clearly shouldn’t be subject to. For those of us who blanch at negative terms like “rape culture” it certainly makes for sobering reading that we’re above many other comparable nations on a per capita basis.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson November 7, 2015 at 9:03 am #

      I don’t use the term rape culture, I think of it more as entitlement culture, of which access to women’s bodies regardless of consent is one of the perceived entitlements.

      Liked by 3 people

      • hudsongodfrey November 7, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

        I agree with that too. I think the term “rape culture” as used may be yet another way of putting a problem onto others, and a problematic one at that. Getting perpetrators to own their transgression much less the consequences thereof can be nigh on impossible, so I suspect it usually misses its mark.

        Of course when you use the word entitlement I agree with the analysis of what’s behind the abusive behaviour patterns among rapists, but the impact of the terminology may be dissipated by other usages. The notion of entitlement gets confused either with rights we view positively on the one hand or other rorting and class distinction we view negatively on the other.

        So I wanted to add the notion of rape to refer to something beyond sexual violation. As in the rape on Nanking, a murderous territorial and economic violation that I’m sure was accompanied by a few sexual rapes as well.

        If that helps us quarantine the negative sense in which we might say somebody assuming entitlement to something that wasn’t theirs to take commits a violation tantamount to rape by any other name then I’m on board. I have a very real sense that societies that tend to emphasise success at almost any cost enlist both men and women into a rapine mindset.

        It is little wonder in that case that Greer and others of her generation identify both as feminists and Marxists when you think about the difference between “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and the capitalist mantra of “Risk for reward”.

        I don’t know if others will make the same connections, but I’d be interested to hear if you do.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson November 8, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

          You know, HG, I once in my clinical days ran groups for sexual assault survivors. An ex-nun attended one such group, and told us she’d been raped by Jesus. I understood exactly what she meant, but in the context of women who were surviving physical rape, it wasn’t easy to make a space for her.
          I just remembered that, reading your post.


          • doug quixote November 8, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

            Food for thought here:



          • hudsongodfrey November 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

            I expect your ex-nun meant she’d been psychologically violated, and that might be every bit a valid claim even if the self diagnosis was somewhat lacking in rigor. Obviously in a clinical sense you did the only thing that you could do which I fully understand.

            I hope what I was referring to is a little further from conflating two different things than it is from tossing up the synergies between contributing factors to social ills. I wouldn’t for example be in the least averse to conceding certain priorities in the sense that infanticide ranks higher than bullying in our quest to rid our society of violence. Its just that when bullying is what you’re dealing with then that becomes your immediate priority as we all know.

            If I take an interest in the social factors when I look at the statistics then it is because clearly I don’t know what else to prioritise in our efforts to foster the right conditions for reducing the incidence of rape. In reality I know only that it seems unfair to say past victims, or members of the group or gender who would be victims, ought to own this problem more than members of the group who need to accept a modicum of responsibility for not violating them.

            There is a conflation I refer to but its only the erroneous one by those who make the leap from “risk for reward” to a broader endorsement of taking without giving anything in return.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. LSWCHP November 6, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    There’s a horrible dilemma here. I agree with everything you wrote. Women should never have to adjust their behaviour for fear of sexual assault. Women should never, ever, ever be blamed for being the victim of sexual assault.

    But still…there are sexual predators out there. Should we advise women…young women in particular…. to base their lives on how the world should be, or how it is? I think that to do the former would be doing them a grave disservice.

    In the meantime, there seems to be little effort directed at moving our society from where we are now in this regard to where we should be. There are ads on TV attempting to persuade young men not to drive like dickheads, or take ice, or drink themselvelves into oblivion, or have unprotected sex with each other….etc etc…. I don’t recall any sort of public campaign to stop men sexually assaulting women. And that is a damn shame.

    Liked by 2 people

    • sam jandwich November 6, 2015 at 11:12 pm #

      I sort of agree with you L… . While I think the most pointed questions need to be aimed squarely at the perpetrators – why would they do this? I also think there needs to be some consideration given to the possibility that there are some people out there who are so determined to do harm to others that they will take any opportunity to do so, and that no amount of criticism or sanctioning is going to discourage them… at least until they’re caught.

      In some sense this is what the whole discipline/endeavour of child abuse prevention through “situational crime prevention” is founded on: that you need to eliminate the opportunity for it to occur, on the assumption that there will always be people who will seek out those opportunities.

      So I must say I don’t think it’s helpful to describe perceptions of “what was she doing out there at 4am” as victim-blaming. Rather I would argue that these things are said to a dismayed comprehension that there will always be risks out there, especially when no-one is watching.

      For me though, yes the most vexing question is, why would anyone think that women make this stuff up?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson November 7, 2015 at 9:00 am #

        Sam, The shift needs to be that the first question isn’t, what was she doing out there, but why were they raping her? If that shift occurred, the paradigm would change.


    • Jennifer Wilson November 7, 2015 at 8:57 am #

      You’re right, LSWCHP in identifying a dilemma, because the world is very unsafe for women, that’s the reality, and we have to take care of ourselves.
      The emphasis, though, has to be shifted to making the world change, rather than making us adapt to its dysfunction. To this end, campaigns aimed at changing male behaviour towards women are more necessary than warning women not to go out in the world when and how we want.
      All my life I’ve known I have to be careful in certain situations, and I shouldn’t have to live like that, but I’m still careful. We need a paradigm shift.

      Liked by 2 people

      • LSWCHP November 7, 2015 at 12:37 pm #


        2015 has been an appalling year. I sat down with a mug of tea this morning and turned on the ABC news, to be informed thst the body of a 12 year old girl had just been identified. Another in an ongoing list of horrors…

        I wonder what it wil take to focus the attention of government and society on this proble.

        Liked by 1 person

      • freya November 7, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

        I agree Jennifer. And there is another corollary to the victim blaming, which is that men are somehow powerless to resist a vulnerable female because of some innate male quality. Whether it be an uncontrollable sexual appetite, a natural dominance etc. I suspect, these unexamined beliefs still operate, serving to absolve the rapist of any real responsibility, and even portray him as helpless. A sort of indulgent infantilising of men (lack of self control, needing moral guidance of a “good” woman, boys will be boys etc). Resulting in, as you say: entitlement.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson November 8, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

          Yes, Freya, I’ve encountered that one. The woman is “irresistible” and he can’t control his desire…Said as flattery, intended to absolve him from responsibility for his desires…


          • freya November 8, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

            Which is pretty unflattering to men when you think about it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • hudsongodfrey November 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

              It could be less flattering than women who think of themselves as irresistible are used to also 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

            • Jennifer Wilson November 8, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

              LOL yes, Freya

              Liked by 1 person

      • LSWCHP November 8, 2015 at 11:04 am #

        There is an ABC series on domestic violence hosted by Sarah Ferguson starting on Tuesday night.

        A step in the right direction.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Jennifer Wilson November 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

          Thanks for the heads up L, I didn’t know about that.


          • LSWCHP November 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

            Whoops…rong Tuesday. “Hitting Home” airs on Tue 24 Nov and Wed 25 Nov. My apologies.


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