It's not okay to blame parents of child sexual assault victims

A 14-year-old boy is charged with sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in a public bathroom. Yet her mother was blamed ...

A 14-year-old boy is charged with sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in a public bathroom. Yet her mother was blamed for neglectful parenting.

If you're still in doubt about the existence of rape culture in our supposedly progressive western society, you need only look at some of the responses to a recent incident of sexual assault to be fully apprised of its reality. A 14 year old boy is arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 7 year old girl in a public bathroom, and members of the public fall over themselves to ask why the girl was allowed to go to the toilet by herself. Yes, really.

It's testament to how deeply rape culture is embedded that we can even see it being enacted against children. It seems astonishing that anyone could rush to make excuses for the alleged 14 year old perpetrator of sexaul assault against a 7 year old child, and yet here we are. When 7 News Sydney posted about the arrest to their FB page, over 3000 comments were left with many users debating whether or not the girl's mother was responsible because it was assumed she had let her daughter go to the bathroom by herself. Despicably, some people even suggested that until further information was made available, we couldn't be sure that the 7 year old girl hadn't planned it or 'coached' the boy into the toilet.

This isn't the first time underage girls have been blamed for the sexual violence that happens to them. In 2011, the New York Times ran an article outlining the gang rape of an 11 year old girl in Texas. The piece included quotes from community members opining on how the girl "dressed older" and, similar to the situation in NSW, wondering how her mother could have let something like this happen. In 2008, a UK judge freed a 20 year old man who had groomed an 11 year old girl for sex, asserting that the girl had "welcomed" sex and was "inappropriately aware" of sexual activity. In 2013, a Montana teacher served a sentence of only 30 days after being convicted of raping a 14 year old student in 2007. His victim, Cherice Moralez, died by suicide in 2010. In sentencing Stacey Rambold, Judge Todd Baugh said Moralez was "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation as the defendant."

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And then we have Steubenville and Maryville, the high school football towns each 'rocked' by allegations that some of their star players had participated in group sex assaults. In both situations, the communities blamed the girls involved and rallied around to support the boys whose 'lives had been ruined' by these jezebels. In the case of Maryville's Daisy Coleman (who almost died after her assailants dumped her unconscious on her front lawn in freezing temperatures), her family was run out of town and her house burned down in suspicious circumstances.

For those still unfamiliar with the term, 'rape culture' refers to a system which seeks to normalise male sexual violence by redirecting blame for it onto the behaviour of its victims. The term was coined by radical feminists in the 1970s and has sadly shown itself to be every bit as relevant today. Think about the various excuses you might have heard offered in response to allegations of sexual assault. The victim's clothing and behaviour are invariably brought up, alongside questions such as 'what did she expect, going out like that?' and 'how much was she drinking at the time?' For many people, the idea of a rape culture is difficult to grapple with. At a basic level, they assume it means that culture teaches men to rape and then celebrates it when it happens. This is a pretty incorrect interpretation on the whole, although there is some truth to the notion of 'teaching' violence. It's not so much that people are instructed in how to perpetrate it - it's more that they are presented with caveat after caveat that renders that violence something that occurs outside of their control.

In 2010, former AFL footballer, Peter "Spida" Everitt, responded to allegations that members of the Collingwood Football Club had participated in a sexual assault following their grand final win with a tweet saying, "Girls!! When will you learn! At 3am when you are blind drunk & you decide to go home with a guy IT'S NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO! Allegedly" Everitt's views were later echoed by Kerri-Anne Kennerley, who claimed in a conversation with him on Channel Nine's Mornings With Kerri-Anne that "[Players] put themselves in harm's way by picking up strays." A follow up statement from Channel Nine argued that "The responsibility lies with the girls as well as with the guys when you're talking about alcohol-fuelled situations at three o'clock in the morning."

The notion that women have a responsibility to monitor their behaviour in order to curb that of men is a prevalent one. Typically, this is defended as a 'common sense' approach to the fact there are 'monsters' out there. Feminists are routinely hounded and chastised for apparently tarring all men with the same brush by discussing male violence, yet society seems to have no problem with dictating women's behaviour just in case men can't help themselves. As I have long said, it is not the feminists who advocate for gender equality and an end to gendered violence who assume all men are rapists - rather, it is the people who blithely tell women that failure to properly exercise modesty will lead to the kinds of situations they have no one to blame for but themselves.

A 7 year old victim of sexual violence is in no way, shape or form to blame for a sexual attack that occurred in a public bathroom. But just as disturbing is the impulse to blame her mother for it. Mothers and their failure to be eternally perfect have incited gleeful scorn from the public for some time now, and it's no surprise that some are eager to blame them for all and any harm inflicted on their children. But what does it say about the world we live in that some people are quicker to point fingers at the mother of a rape victim than they are the alleged rapist? Once again, we see the job of protecting women's bodies from sexual violence to fall to women.

This is rape culture in action. Rape culture exists everywhere women are oppressed, which means it exists all over the world. Yes, it exists in Cologne. But so too does it exist in small and big town Australia, college towns in America and posh streets in England. Apparently, it exists in public bathrooms on the NSW coast.

If you are looking to blame a victim or their family member for their violation, what you are really doing is looking for a reason that the rapist wasn't really at fault.

That's rape culture. End it now.