When You Are Blamed For Your Own Assault

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, abuse, and harassment

Right now, the name on everybody’s lips is ‘Harvey Weinstein.’ He has sexually assaulted and harassed many, many actresses over the course of his career as a movie producer and co-founder of the production company Miramax. He gained access to an endless stream of victims as he produced one blockbuster hit after another. Finally, after all these years, some of his victims have felt safe enough to come forward.

This news is horrible and disturbing, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, jokes have been made about auditions from the “director’s couch,” or other such distasteful things. We all knew it was there, just no one did anything about it. Which, in itself, is a small example of a greater problem in our culture.

See, I’ve heard a lot of people dismissing this as a Hollywood tragedy. “Yeah, that’s bad,” they shrug, “but it’s Hollywood.” The truth is, it isn’t just Hollywood. It’s everywhere. An article from Huffington Post estimates that 1 in 3 American women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. That’s just in the workplace. Remember, most women endure fairly constant harassment on the streets, on public transportation, at events, or when driving in their own car. It’s pretty clear that sexual assault and harassment are not just Hollywood problems. They are everywhere problems.

Of course, as these reports come out, so do people wondering, “why did they wait so long to report?” People like Lindsay Lohan who use the defense of: “well, I worked with him and he never did that to me, so it must not be true.” Or those who echo this statement made by designer Donna Karan that maybe they were “asking for it” with how they were dressing. All of which, places the blame on the victims.

These are fairly common statements made in the media, while hanging out with friends, and even at your own dinner table. Whenever a woman is harassed, assaulted, or abused, society comes in to question what exactly it was that she did to deserve it. As a survivor of multiple cases of harassment, assault, and abuse, I can tell you that not only is seeking justice an uphill, often impossible, battle, but facing blame for your own attack is a psychological weight that no one should ever have to carry.

The first time I was harassed and assaulted, I was only 15. I worked as a hostess in a barbecue restaurant. I had a co-worker, let’s call him Grossman, who was in his mid-20’s and would regularly let me know how he felt about me. I don’t mean he would bring me flowers or write me notes. I mean, he would corner me behind the hostess stand and press his body against mine. He would come up behind me, grabbing me, touching me, and whispering that he wanted to steal my innocence. I would tell him ‘no’ often, but it didn’t matter, his behavior persisted.

Eventually, I had a friend come in and pretend to be my boyfriend, as Grossman respected me as another man’s property more than he respected my rejections. My family came in, as well, and made a snide underhanded comments to Grossman, just to let him know they knew, and that’s when the touching stopped and the hostility began. He would scream at me and berate me in front of fellow employees and customers. He became so angry and volatile that I feared for my safety. That’s when I finally went to my boss.

My boss, let’s call him Mr. D-bag, sat me down and told me that I was misunderstanding Grossman’s behavior. That working in a restaurant was different than other places, and that Grossman was just being friendly. He told me that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it because I was too sensitive. Mr. D-bag laughed and shook his head as he told me that I just didn’t understand. For a moment, I believed him.

Yet, I persisted. Once I regained my resolve, I decided to call the Department of Labor. I told them my story, my age, Grossman’s age, and Mr. D-bag’s words. I was told that I didn’t have a case because maybe Grossman was sorry. I was told that there was nothing that I could do except quit my job.

That was the first time that I learned what most women know, which is: when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, the system is against you. This was by no means the only time I was assaulted and harassed. Nor was it the only time that someone grew hostile with me once I refused their advances. Yet, I only attempted to report one other person. I was, again, met with the same excuses and blame.

If you are someone who wonders why more women don’t report assault, that is why. It’s because rarely does it ever work out in our favor. It’s because we end up putting a target on our backs to receive hostility and blame. It’s because we are so programmed to believe that it is our fault that we are the very first person that we blame.

I once had a therapist tell me that I was a magnet for assault and harassment because I smiled too much and was too friendly. She went on to say, “just look at how you’re sitting now and what you’re wearing, if I was a man I’d have a hard on.” By the way, I was wearing a knee-length skirt and form fitting off the shoulder shirt. Still, her words struck me to the core. Was it really my fault that I’d been through so much pain? I wanted to throw up, sob, and pass out, all at the same time. Before that session, I never knew that smiling could be considered risky behavior.

I was in a 12-step program and, for those no familiar with it, one of the steps is taking an inventory of your life and admitting any wrong doing. I remember trembling as my sponsor ‘helped’ me find where I was at fault for my assault. Her intentions were good, but for someone with PTSD who has already had society tell me over and over again that all of it was my fault, it was the last thing I needed to hear. I didn’t want people telling me to smile less, wear loose clothing, stay in groups of friends, don’t stay out late, watch your beverages, don’t flirt, or any of the other various things people tell us women to do in order to prevent being assaulted. What I needed to hear was that it wasn’t my fault. Because it wasn’t.

Being blamed for your assault, or told that it’s up to you to prevent future assaults, is like being told that your body is not your own. Because, if your body was truly your own then people would automatically understand that it’s not ok for someone else to touch it without your permission, no matter what you’re wearing or how you’re acting. Carrying the weight of that blame means you are constantly on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations, because it is up to you and you alone to protect yourself from attacks. It means not accepting help from a supposedly well-meaning stranger when I was pulled over on the side of the road by myself. It means avoiding eye contact with men I don’t know when I’m out in public by myself. It means that I constantly have to analyze everything I say, do, and wear in fear that I could unknowingly be sending out signals that say: “hey, I’m open! Assault me, please. No matter what I say.”

I am a friendly person. I’ve always been a friendly person. But, that doesn’t mean I was asking for it. I’ve been a little top heavy since I was 12, so even loose t-shirts can look form fitting on me. That doesn’t make my ‘no’ any less valid. I have a fairly good sense of humor and love to laugh. That doesn’t mean I have to pretend unwanted advances are jokes. I always had guy friends growing up. That doesn’t mean I owe them sex. And I am a strong, outspoken, independent woman. But, that doesn’t mean that I, alone, am responsible for preventing my own assault.

We need to change the way we talk about assault and harassment. We need to demand that men be held accountable for their own actions. Even if I was walking down the street naked, that doesn’t mean I am asking for someone to assault me, nor does it make it ok for someone to assault me. Men have the power to resist the urge, I assure you they do, in spite of what our culture tells us.

Assault, abuse, rape, and harassment are NEVER the victim’s fault. Never.

 

© 2017 spooniewarrior.com

SaideeWynn

I am a mother, partner, teacher, daughter, writer, and blogger. I'm working on turning my private hobby into a public one, whether the public asked for it or not. I have a BA in theatre and a Master's in Education (with a Montessori integration), making me a highly overqualified internet ranter.

4 thoughts on “When You Are Blamed For Your Own Assault

  • October 12, 2017 at 8:57 pm
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    Admittedly, this is why I have negative views towards men. I have had a lot of bad experience, (not necessarily sexual, though sometimes), with men. Men’s attitudes towards women really irk me. And they’re terrible listeners towards women.

    I want society to change.

    People should respect women. We talk about respect all the time, and yet men really don’t seem to get it. I hate to say it, but sometimes even women don’t. They go along with the whole victim blame sometimes. But it’s mainly the men.

    And I hate how the, “they’re just boys” excuse gets perpetuated.

    The worst thing? There is no recourse for when people have that kind of attitude. And that can keep people from reporting sexual harassment.

    What we need is accountability when bosses or other people start with the “well, what were you wearing” or, “they’re just boys” or other kinds of attitudes. Until there is legal repercussions that people can take for that, people are just going to keep victim blaming. And then the sexual harassment won’t stop.

    You’re right, the system really is against us.

    The worst things? When sexual harassment happens online (which is what happened to me), they make it hard to block the person AND report them. That’s ridiculous that you have to unblock the person just to report them! And Facebook wouldn’t even do anything in the end.

    This is why I hate social media. It’s great when things are right, but when things go wrong, there’s no recourse.

    And this is why I believe women should be in charge. Women are more compassionate and more willing to take action when something like this happens. Not always, but usually. With some things, women are more eager to listen than men.

    You’re very brave for talking about these things. Thank you for standing up for women and addressing this issue.

    Reply
    • October 12, 2017 at 9:04 pm
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      Thank you. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s all men, as I know many great guys like my partner. I think it has a lot to do with the gender norm of toxic masculinity that pushes men to be violent, domineering, and always in charge. On top of that, any bad behavior is excused as “boys will be boys.” It’s incredibly harmful to all of us and creates a toxic culture. I hope that as more people speak out about it, we’ll be able to start seeing change.

      Reply
      • October 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm
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        I agree that toxic masculinity is a big problem.

        Another thing that occurred to me as I was reading your comment was how they stereotype women. That can lead to big issues.

        Back in the day, they had a “women were weak and must be protected” mentality that was protected by Hollywood. And to an extent, that still exists today.

        I’m not saying people shouldn’t be protected. But, the reality is is that we all have times that we need protection and are weak. But there also times when we’re strong. No one, and no gender is one of those things all the time, and that’s very damaging to portray something as constant, or that women can only be strong in a certain way. For one, it creates dominant men instead of a man who is willing to listen because he “must protect her”. But it also implies that women are incapable of standing up for themselves, or they can only stand up for themselves in certain things (like through being a stereotypical woman).

        Other issues are how women are sexualized, like that’s all we’re worth. Women can be strong without being sexual.

        But it’s also sexist to men. It’s like saying they always must be strong and can’t express their emotions. It’s bad for them as well. I hate how they tend to stereotype men who are emotional as weak. But that’s what you need! You need sensitive men in society! A lot of these problems are because men can’t connect emotionally like women can, so they just brush things off!

        But, ultimately, it makes it so that we’re grouped as “women” or rather how women are stereo-typically seen, instead of being individual.

        When people, both men and women, are seen as individuals, and for who that individual is, I think that’s when men and women will finally start having equality.

        Reply

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