WIESBADEN, Germany -- A radio report noted that a rape victim had been wearing a miniskirt, had been drinking and was walking alone at night. The judge in the case went so far as to question not only the woman's judgement but her sanity, implying that her poor choices were to blame for her fate that night.
Soldiers and civilians discussed this scenario during "Beat the Blame Game," part of Wiesbaden SHARP's Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month training, April 10 at the Tony Bass Auditorium. Presenter Courtney Abbott, with Catharsis Productions, helped those in attendance understand how and why people tend to blame victims of certain crimes or circumstances.
After audience members weighed in, Abbott revealed there was more to the story. Turns out, the woman who was raped that night was alone because her friend was taken to the hospital. She had phoned her parents and tried to get a ride. She'd told them she didn't feel safe and that someone was following her. But these details were left out of the news report.
Victim blaming is not just for evil people, Abbott reminded the audience. "Why do you think so many good folks blame the victim?"
The answer, it turns out, is complicated. People tend to see past events as more foreseeable than they actually were, she said, contributing to the "I knew it all along" phenomenon. Some people believe everything happens for a reason and so they look for a way to justify it. "We look for reasons this person deserved what they got," she said.
One way people do this is with personal attacks, she said: questioning the person's character or past behavior, suggesting that a victim's story is made up, or that an accusation is used to cover up adultery or seek revenge. In reality, Abbott said, rates of false reports of rape are low and are similar to false reports of other crimes.
But regardless of the reasons, people need to know that blaming victims excuses perpetrators and makes it easier for them to get away with committing violent crimes in the future, she said, explaining that bystanders have the ability to stop a situation before it escalates into a crime.
She encouraged audience members to live the "upstander" concept, meaning don't just stand by when someone needs help, but stand up for the people around you and actively protect our American way of life.
"Your gut is smarter than you think," Abbott said. "If you see something wrong, stand up and say something about it."