The Problem With Victim Blaming In Cases Of Sexual Assault And Rape

by Jessa Barron

Alcohol and other substances are sometimes a factor in sexual assault and rape cases. More often than not, unfortunately, the fact that victims are under the influence during incidents of assault brings about questions of their credibility.

To explore this further, researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom conducted a study on alcohol, memory and the ability to accurately recall a hypothetical sexual assault.

The findings from this study were recently published, and found that though the women who drank before the study remembered less, what they did remember was just as accurate as what the sober participants remembered -- both 24 hours after the experiment and four months later.

However, the argument for impaired recall isn't the only thing used against rape and sexual assault survivors. More likely than not, this study won't hold much weight in a courtroom because there's more that needs to be addressed when it comes to victim blaming and the rape crisis.

When New York Magazine launched its powerful cover and story, "The Empty Chair" in July, it was not prepared for the response it got on social media. The magazine cover shows the 35 women who have come forward against Bill Cosby as sexual assault survivors (not including the three more just recently) and one empty chair, to signify the 11 other women who weren't photographed for the story.

The empty chair resonated with so many other women who are unable to speak about their own accounts of rape and sexual assault.

Elon James White, journalist and founder of "This Week in Blackness," is credited as being the first to use the #TheEmptyChair hashtag on Twitter, which prompted many women to share their stories using the same hashtag.

Many, however, were still too afraid or too ashamed to publicly share their stories. To help counteract the shame, White opened up his email inbox and Twitter DMs to allow women to anonymously share their stories. He then tweeted screenshots of the messages on his own Twitter account, to protect the survivors' identity.

The reasons the women gave for choosing to remain anonymous included things like the following: They didn't think anyone would believe them; they thought it was their fault; the perpetrator was a prominent figure in the community (both political figures and religious figures); the perpetrator was a significant other (boyfriend, partner, husband, etc.); the perpetrator was a family member; the women were under the influence of a substance and they were too drunk to remember everything that had happened.

Using alcohol and being "too drunk to remember" to excuse a perpetrator's illegal actions is one of the reasons so many don't come forward, but it isn't the only reason.

We need to address the rape crisis in its entirety. We need everyone to fully understand the word "consent," and that consent is always required. We need to publicize that men, women and transgender people can all experience sexual assault.

We need to end the stigma of being a "victim." These people are living with this trauma the best way they can.

They are not victims. They are survivors.

White posted hundreds of #TheEmptyChair stories, and while the majority of them were really difficult to read, I wasn't surprised by them. I personally know more women who are survivors of rape or sexual assault than I know women who have never been victims.

Many of them have only recently opened up about what's happened to them, and many of them will never report it; either because there's such thing as a statute of limitations in rape cases, or because their mothers blamed them for "provoking" a relative, or because their boyfriends got mad at them for putting themselves in a "bad situation."

And that's really not okay.

It's not your fault. I believe you.