Changing the Way We Treat Victims of Sexual Assault

It doesn’t matter what she was wearing, how much she was drinking, or if she was walking alone at night. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Too often are victims of rape met with people questioning the validity of their statement. Asking what the victim was wearing or how much she’d had to drink implies that the sexual assault she experienced was somehow her fault or that she invited it, putting responsibility on the victim instead of the offender.

It’s that kind of thinking that makes victims afraid to report when they’ve been assaulted, especially on college campuses. Currently, victims who choose to make a report when they’ve been attacked do so knowing that they are opening themselves up to criticism that not all people are willing to face. Many underage college students refuse to make a report at all out of fear that they will get into trouble for “getting themselves into that situation.” A study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service estimates that among college women, only about 12 percent of rapes are reported to the police. The number of all rapes in the United States that get reported is an only slightly higher 16 percent. According to the same study, college women are generally more concerned about their family and other people knowing about their assault and about being blamed for it than they are about contracting STDs or getting pregnant as a result of it. Women are afraid to report when they’ve been attacked because they’re afraid of what other people will think of them, and that fear is not entirely irrational. The narrative now is that people should work to prevent themselves from being raped, not that people shouldn’t rape.

Even when arguing that the burden of proof lies on the victim, it doesn’t really make sense to reference what she was wearing. It’s not up to the victim to prove that she’s been raped but to prove that the person she’s accusing is the one who did it. What a victim was wearing or doing when attacked is unrelated to the fact that she was attacked. As a whole, our justice system needs to stop treating sexual assault as an unfortunate occurrence that the victim should have prevented and start treating it as a violent crime committed by a dangerous person.

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