Suicides Should Compel Us to End Victim-BlamingApril 25, 2013
Audrie Pott loved art and music. She loved to write and sing and played the piano and the viola. She loved soccer and skiing and riding horses. She was beautiful, smart, and funny, with a family and friends who loved her. Really, she wasn’t that different from other 15-year-old girls. Except that these details, the things that made her the wonderful person she was, are not what most people will remember about her.
What most people will remember is that when she was 15, three of her “friends” allegedly raped her at a party. And that should be the most horrifying part of this story, but in the days following the alleged assault, photos were circulated, one of which showed that someone had written “[Name] was here” on Audrie’s body. Classmates labeled her a “slut,” and she became the target of bullying in school and online. Eight days after the alleged attack, Audrie killed herself.
Audrie’s story is, and should be, shocking, but it isn’t unheard of. Rehtaeh Parsons was allegedly raped by four of her classmates at 15 too. Photos of her alleged assault were also distributed, and she was subsequently harassed so much at school and online that her family was forced to relocate. After a couple years of this constant harassment, Rehtaeh killed herself. And both of these stories are eerily reminiscent of the Steubenville, Ohio, case.
The fact that the immediate reaction to these assaults was one of victim-blaming and harassment is troubling but doesn’t surprise me. That’s probably because, having recently finished a master’s thesis on newspaper framing in the Ben Roethlisberger case, I am well familiar with the insidious and pervasive nature of rape myths and culture. Rape myths often suggest that women ask for rape because of how they dress or behave and contribute to a rape culture that accepts sexual violence and victim-blaming. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Aggression found that people are more likely to blame rape victims if they consumed alcohol or knew their attacker. So no, it’s no surprise that these young girls were blamed or that some media outlets worried about the bright futures of the Steubenville boys after the guilty verdict. But that it is not surprising does not mean you should not be outraged.
We cannot change rape culture and end sexual assault and harassment overnight, but we can each take steps in our lives to make an impact. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and a recent AAUW blog outlined ways to mark it. Don’t be afraid to get involved: If there is a march or other activity addressing sexual assault awareness, join in. Don’t be afraid to talk about sexual assault or harassment with others. When you notice harassment or assault, speak up. We’re in this together, and while our efforts won’t bring Audrie and Rehtaeh back, we can help prevent future tragedies. Victims should never be made to feel like there’s no way out.
This post was written by AAUW Media Relations Intern Kristi Grim.