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Victim-blaming in sexual assault cases

In 2016 Teen Vogue produced a series of articles and interviews with survivors of sexual assault and their relatives. The series, aptly titled “Not Your Fault”, delves into the heat of the debate: whose fault is it?

Some people try to say that assault is the victim’s fault. Whether by how they’re dressed or how they were behaving, victims are often given at least partial blame for the situation. But assault is never asked for, or brought on by anything victims have done. Sexual assault is a broad term often including physical or verbal harassment, unwanted physical contact such as touching or groping, and rape. Some cases do not involve physical force, and some do. The only criteria is a lack of consent in the interaction between two or more people.

Women are the most common victims of sexual assault. One in five of women in college will be sexually assaulted to some degree by the time they graduate. One in 16 men in college will experience assault by graduation. Marginalized groups such as non-white and LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by sexual assault on campus.

This September the Department of Education formally revoked the guidelines for sexual assault on campus made by the Obama administration. The guidelines provided information for colleges regarding sexual assault and how to handle situations and reports. Many activists and politicians criticized Betsy DeVos for sympathizing with perpetrators of sexual assault. These accusations were only strengthened by DeVos’s meetings with men’s rights groups and accused rapists back in June, where she gave equal time to rapists and survivors.

Recently, the news has been full of survivors calling out their assaulters. Famous celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and George Takei were all accused by a list of men and women in a flurry of newsprint over the past month or so. Harvey Weinstein alone has dozens of cases against him, including more famous accusers like Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie and Lupita Nyong’o. More recently, seven women accused Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama of sexual assault. One of Moore’s accusers was 14 years old at the time of the assault.

Many people defend those accused of sexual assault. The GOP of Alabama stands behind Roy Moore, as well as Kayla Moore, his wife, and a group of other Alabama Republican women. According to CNN, Mrs. Moore “blamed the Washington establishment for attacking her husband” and claimed he always acted like “an officer and a gentleman.”

It can be tempting to write off sexual assault as only a problem for women. However, sexual assault affects men, the trans community and non-binary individuals, without getting a lot of coverage. It’s a problem for all of us, but some people attempt to blame victims instead of identifying the cultural and social origins of the problem. So many people are doing harm to others, and many others are too scared to report violent behaviors and press charges.

The outcry against sexual assault is not a new thing nor is it a fad, nor a scheme to slander famous and powerful figures. It’s a result of rape culture, in which you question the testimony of victims and defend the perpetrators. Whose fault is it? Society’s, because we’ve failed to notice and failed to care enough.

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