Victim blaming hinders sexual assault prevention

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Allison Farres
  • 81st Traning Wing Protocol Office
A little more than a year ago, I became a volunteer victim advocate. This was a way for me to help people, do my part in raising awareness of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program and help in the fight against sexual assault--an issue that I feel very strongly about.

During my time as a victim advocate, I have seen firsthand how devastating sexual assault or sexual harassment can be to an individual. When someone violates personal boundaries, it can create a fear that strikes to the very core of a person.

Unfortunately, what I have also experienced in my short career is a rampant culture of victim blaming in our Air Force. While blaming the victim is an issue we also face in the civilian world, I think we have a responsibility as leaders and wingmen to hold ourselves to a higher standard. In my opinion, victim blaming is the single greatest roadblock we face in the fight against sexual assault.

Blaming the victim has two main detrimental effects.

First, when we blame a victim for their assault, we fail to hold the perpetrator accountable and allow him or her to repeat their offense. This is a classic example of an "easy wrong" and a "hard right." It is much easier to blame someone for drinking too much, dressing too provocatively or getting themselves into a dangerous situation and doing so fails to address the root of the problem. Sexual assault is committed by the offender, not the victim. There are some reports of people doing everything right and still getting assaulted. This is because offenders seek to have control and are typically skilled in preying on those with weakened defenses or grooming those individuals who may already trust them.

The second detrimental effect of victim blaming is that it discourages reporting of sexual assaults and leaves countless victims to deal with the issue on their own. Despite the fact that our leadership, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to base leadership, have expressed that they will not tolerate sexual assault, we still have victims who are afraid to make reports. It has also been my experience as a victim advocate that even if reports are being made, most people are still terrified of anyone outside the SAPR office finding out.

Not only is this a very personal matter, but these victims worry that they will be judged. Does that seem strange? These victims are afraid that they will be judged despite the fact they were not the ones who committed the crime.

As I facilitate or attend annual SAPR training, I am surprised how open people are with their victim blaming attitudes. There seems to be no reluctance in holding victims accountable for their behavior, while completely ignoring that an offender has committed a crime. Additionally, there appears to be a misconception that false reporting is a major issue. This is simply not true. False reports only occur between three to eight percent of the time... and this statistic does not include the 54 percent of sexual assaults that are never reported.

While I understand that I cannot change deeply ingrained opinions, I hope that each of you will pause for a moment and take a look at the way you think about sexual assault. I would like to challenge you further. I ask that in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, you take time to think about how your behavior or opinions may impact those around you. How would your Airmen, your friend or your child feel about coming to you if they were sexually assaulted?

For more information on how to help prevent sexual assault, call 228-377-7278