What Would You Do?

What would you do if you saw a woman being battered?  Would you do something – maybe call the police? Or would you just ignore it and think that it wasn’t any of your business? You may think that you would try to intervene.  But are you sure?

This question came up in a recent article that refers to a story reported by ABC News in a “What Would You Do” hidden camera report.  In the hidden camera video, people’s reactions were recorded when they saw women being physically and verbally abused by their boyfriends in a crowded restaurant.  The scenarios involved two different couples, a Caucasian couple and an African-American couple.  The couples were actors posing as a man and woman in an abusive relationship.  Please be warned, that the video from the news story can be disturbing to watch. 

In each hidden camera scenario, the woman has been made up to look bruised and battered and acts visibly distressed.  The “boyfriend” is loud, verbally abusive, and is being physically rough with his “girlfriend.”  This scenario is played out four different times using both couples.  However, in the second time for both the Caucasian couple and the African-American couple, the “girlfriends” are provocatively dressed. 

The reaction from the onlookers is both hopeful and discouraging.  In the scenarios where both the Caucasian “girlfriend” and the African-American “girlfriend” are dress conservatively, other diners appear concerned for the abused woman and offer to help her right away, ultimately confronting the abusive “boyfriend.” But, in the other two scenarios, both the Caucasian and African-American “girlfriends” who are dressed provocatively, do not get any assistance from the other diners in the restaurant.  In the video it is clear that the diners are bothered by what they are seeing, but their concern, surprisingly, is not for the safety of the “girlfriend,” but for the dignity of the couple.  Some diners even mention to the couple that they are embarrassing themselves. 

It is hopeful, that in today’s society, where everyone seems to be so self-absorbed and isolated, that there are some people out there who recognize right from wrong and are still willing to intervene, especially in cases of abuse.  But it is discouraging that the misconceptions are still out there about abuse and that some women based on the way they dress or who they are “deserve” to be abused.  It is not okay to think that anyone, no matter what, deserves to be treated badly, battered, or abused.  Abuse is the fault of the abuser – period.  But as the video clearly showed, some people are still misinformed.   

Obviously, ABC News’ report was non-scientific and had their test been done a few more times or at different restaurants and in different cities, the results could have been different; and then perhaps, at least one person would have come to the aid of the provocatively dressed “girlfriend.”  But as it stands, I’m afraid the results were pretty accurate about people’s attitudes and understanding of abuse.  We as a society need to realign our thinking and stop blaming the victim so that the focus can be on the abusers and making sure that they, not the victims, are held accountable.

Stop Blaming the Victim

I recently read an article that talked about how victim-blaming attitudes are still so prevalent. The article began by talking about the rape case in Australia where the man was acquitted based on the fact that the girl was wearing skinny jeans. The defense’s argument was that the perpetrator could not have removed the jeans without the girl’s help. That is the argument that got him acquitted.

This is not the first time that a rapist was acquitted based on a court adhering to victim-blaming mentalities like what clothes the woman was wearing or if the woman was drinking alcohol. In April we celebrated Denim Day, which began because an Italian court ruled that a man accused of raping an 18 year old girl couldn’t have done it because her jeans were too tight to take off without consent.  

Unfortunately, the “skinny jean” defense is not the only case of victim-blaming and rape-apology that is happening. In March, a student columnist at American University published a column talking about date-rape. In his article, the student, among other things, makes an argument that since feminists want you to get consent before engaging in sexual activities that they are trying to “abolish its passion.”  What he’s arguing is that the whole idea of sex is all about passion and not stopping to make sure it consensual, because that would ruin the mood. This diatribe leads him into talking about how date-rape is an “incoherent concept”:

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to a (fraternity) party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next    morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry.

What’s worse than courts acquitting men of rape because of a woman wearing jeans or some people believing that if a woman drinks and follows a man to his bedroom then that should be considered consent? What’s worse is that not just men hold victim blaming views, it’s women too. According to an article published in the NY Daily News, new studies are showing that many women believe that rape victims are partly to blame for the crime. One third of the participants in the study believe that women who dress provocatively or go back to the man’s house for a drink should shoulder some of the blame for the crime. A staggering 71 percent of the women surveyed believed that the victim needs to take partial responsibility for the rape if she went to bed with the man.

All of these attitudes fall under the victim-blaming category. Instead of addressing the actual problem of the perpetrator taking advantage of a woman or ignoring her non-consent or a man who drugs a woman’s drink, some people still look at what a woman is doing and blaming her for ‘getting herself into that situation’. This is unacceptable. A woman or a man for that matter has every right to withdraw consent at any time. Whether the crime occurs before anything happens or after, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, skimpy clothes or not, and if a woman wants to drink she shouldn’t have to be afraid that someone is going to take advantage of her. And yes it’s still rape if you are dating that person or have already had sex with them, anytime you say ‘no’ or are unable to say ‘no’ and someone forces intercourse on you then it is rape.

People need to stop blaming the victim. There is never an instance when someone deserves to be violated because of something they did, something they wore, or because they chose to go to a party and drink.

Opening Your Eyes to Dating Violence

Sometimes it seems like dating violence is more upsetting to me than any other form of domestic violence.  This is because I’ve seen what dating violence has done to a very close friend I’ll call Erica.

Last semester The Women’s Center sponsored an event called “Dating Violence 101” and it really opened my eyes to the reality of dating violence, especially, when I related it to what my friend Erica was going through.  I realized that the way her boyfriend was treating her was actually considered violent behavior. He was extremely jealous, controlling, verbally abusive, and possessive. Erica knew that he was jealous and possessive, but thought that she had control over it. From my point of view, I knew she didn’t. I’ve seen her go through a similar situation, and when that relationship was over, the guy stalked her. I’m noticing a pattern in Erica, and I’m afraid that if, and when, this relationship ends, Erica will end up getting hurt.

According to the Safespace.org website, it can be scary if you or a friend is in an abusive relationship, but learning how to stay safe is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself or a loved one from harm. On this website you can get tips on how to protect yourself or what you can do to help someone else.  They provide tips on calling the police, creating a safety plan, how to leave an abusive relationship, and understanding your rights.  As a friend of someone going through the abuse, the website also provides advice on being supportive and listening to a friend who wants to talk about their abuse.  There is also an article that explains why some people, like my friend Erica, stay in abusive relationships.  Some of those reasons include believing the abuse is normal, embarrassment, low self-esteem, and even peer pressure. 

For UMKC students the Violence Prevention and Response Project is a great resource for information and advice concerning dating violence.  It is located in 108 Haag Hall and offers a safe space for victims and friends of victims.  Their staff is committed to strengthening the University’s and the community’s response to gender-based and sexual violence and offers victim support services, advocacy, training, education, and outreach to the campus and community.