Victim blaming acts as outdated solution to bullying problem

by Caitlin Donovan – Staff Writer – cadonova@unca.edu

The advice of victim blaming, a common response to sexual harassment, often puts the responsibility on the victim to change things rather than to try to correct the behavior of the harassers.

The current society often encourages victim blaming in girls being bullied by telling them to change themselves rather than telling men to change their behavior towards women.

Tammie Jackson contacted her daughter’s middle school to complain about her daughter Gabrielle Jackson being bullied, as reported by Fox News. Allegedly, a school official at Central Middle School in Moline Acres, Mo., said Gabrielle would be bullied unless she transferred schools and had breast reduction surgery.

The harassment Gabrielle faces is not an outlying incident. According to a national study on sexual harassment by the American Association of University Women titled “Crossing the Line,” 50 percent of seventh to 12th graders experience sexual harassment.

Girls are more likely to be harassed than boys, with 56 percent of girls reporting sexual harassment compared to 40 percent of boys. The issue has serious consequences for these students physically as well as mentally – 87 percent of the students reported both missing school and getting physically sick in response to the harassment.

This is undoubtedly a problem, but students are continually faced with responses like the one Tammie Jackson got from the authorities capable of making a difference.

Evidence authorities are unwilling to make necessary changes can also be found in AAUW’s survey. Only 9 percent of students who admitted to being sexually harassed reported their harassment to school authorities.

Students said they doubted reporting their harassment would have any impact on their situation and feared reaction to their report. At a very young age, students are aware their school authorities are unlikely to help them with their situation.

It is not just middle schools who let sexual harassers off easily. This sort of response from the authorities continues into high school and college.  In fact, reports demonstrate authorities on college campuses are tolerant of men committing sexual assault.

Jen Roesch reported on Socialistworker.org that most college campuses have extremely lenient policies on sexual assault.

Roesh wrote about how a man found to have committed sexual assault is expelled from college in less than 15 percent of cases. It is much more common the offender’s punishment involves alcohol awareness training or writing a letter of apology to the victim of their assault.

Another common punishment involves the offender taking a women’s studies course.

Statistics and situations like the incident with Gabrielle demonstrate the change needed on how our schools deal with sexual harassment and assault. Rather than telling a 13-year-old girl to change herself with surgery because she will always be harassed, authorities need to make an effort to stop boys from thinking it is acceptable to harass girls.

In social justice circles, the culture encouraging victim blaming is often referred to as rape culture.  The first step to ending this sort of culture is to focus on teaching students not to harass and rape, rather than teaching girls how to change themselves in order to prevent rape and protect themselves.

A Twitter user who goes by the handle @itsmotherswork tweeted, “If you’re promoting changes to women’s behaviour to prevent rape, what that person is really saying is make sure he rapes the other girl instead of you.” This captures the wrongness of the society’s current attitude toward sexual assault.

The “Men Can Stop Rape” campaign produces articles listing ways men can take a stand against rape. A recent campaign by the Edmonton, Canada, Police Department created advertisements saying things like, “It’s not sex if she’s wasted.”

These campaigns are good steps toward really encouraging harassers to change their behavior rather than blaming the victim.

It would be nice if other organizations took a hint from these campaigns and worked to teach young children the very idea of harassing a little girl for her big breasts and then blaming her for inciting the harassment should never be considered or tolerated.

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