Culture of victim blaming needs to change, local sexual aggression educators say

In the wake of the abduction and sexual assault outside the Student Activity Center on Jan. 16, local advocates of sexual assault education speak about the culture of victim blaming and coverage in the media.

Steve Thompson, Director of Sexual Aggression Services at CMU, takes a phone call in his office in the Student Activity Center on Jan. 31. (Danielle Duval | GCmag)

On Jan. 16 a Central Michigan University student was kidnapped from the Student Activity Center at gunpoint by a 30-year-old man, who proceeded to rape her before she escaped and took refuge in a nearby house.

This story has been covered by every media outlet in the mid-Michigan area as well as by various national news sources.  Sexual Aggression Services Director Steve Thompson said he gave about 19 different interviews immediately following the incident, and they were all mostly looking for a five-minute “Oprah soundbite” for how to prevent sexual assaults.

Thompson served on the sexual assault task force assembled by the university following this assault, where they discussed ideas for preventing future incidents by doing, among other things, increasing the Safe Rides program that shuttles students around campus after dark.

“I was incredibly impressed and proud of the administration and other people on the (sexual assault) task force,” Thompson said. “It was never ‘What can we do for our image?’ It was ‘What can we do for this student?’ It made me proud to be in that group.”

Thompson said bystander education is one thing that can be done to prevent future incidents, but said people often take the easy way out of problems like this and focus on short-term solutions like teaching self-defense.

“We need to look at prevention; at why young men want to do this,” he said. “I think discouraging violence in our culture, getting to people before they do this (is the long-term goal).”

What makes CMU’s program different?

Vyctoria Sanborn, a member of the local chapter of Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA), agrees with Thompson, and said our culture can learn through prevention-based programs, noting that many other universities do not put as much money and effort into groups like SAPA.

She was first interested in joining the organization after she saw the “No Zebras” program during her freshman orientation, which raises sexual assault awareness for new students while informing them on safety tips.

“It really clicked for me. As a freshman, this is where I belonged,” she said. “I immediately knew I needed to apply.”

Now in her senior year, Sanborn, who has always been passionate about sexual violence education, said SAPA was the reason she decided to stay at CMU.

As a family studies major with minors in political science and women’s studies, Sanborn said her future plans involve either working for the government or military with survivors of sexual assault.

“Everything is so focused on the perpetrator, not the victim, in our culture,” she said. “I wanted to know how she was doing. How has her life changed?”

Culture of victim blaming

“Victim blaming is embedded in our culture,” Sanborn said. “Why are we constantly asking what could have been done different?”

She said fighting back isn’t always an option.

“Our society also likes to develop these products to create this false sense of security, like drink napkins that show (if a drink has been drugged) and pepper spray,” Sanborn said. “These tools aren’t always going to work.”

Illinois senior Samantha Miller, who works with Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX) and Students Advocating Gender Equality said that providing self-defense classes are often a by-product of the victim-blaming mentality, adding that what someone is wearing should not affect the likelihood of them being attacked,

“Even people in my sex and gender class questioned what she wearing,” Miller said about the victim outside the Student Activity Center.  “The biggest way to help change the victim-blaming mentality is to make people realize it’s not just a women’s issue. When a woman is sexually assaulted, it is not her fault.”


1 Comment

Add Yours

Comments are closed.