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Commentary: All sexual assault victims deserve support, not just the "good" ones

(Trigger warning: discussions of rape and victim-blaming in cases of rape and sexual assault are present in this post, within both the text and the links present.) Buffalo's local newspaper printed an article last week in which people closer to Patrick Kane's accuser absolve her of any kind of "bad behavior" -- but why do we need qualifiers in order to care about or support a rape victim?

Anton Bielousov/wikipedia.com

When a famous male athlete is accused of rape, several things happen. It hits the news, obviously. It also creates a stir amongst a community -- fans, media, the organization he plays for, all have to grapple with what this means now. And as we wait for filed charges and a trial -- both of which are far from guaranteed -- we also decide to put someone else on trial.

The victim.

We start speculating as to what she seeks to gain from this, greatly exaggerating the rate at which false accusations occur. We wonder what she was doing at the bar, or at his house, or anywhere in his vicinity. We speculate wildly about her sexual habits and assume she simply had a bad time and decided to get something good out of it.

And then, as the Patrick Kane investigation has recently illustrated, we find out through people close to her that she’s a Good Girl™, a hard worker, and that she was just trying to help out a friend because she didn’t want her to go to his house alone. And suddenly it all makes sense to support her, because why would a Good Girl™ have any reason to lie to police about a rape?

This is how a rape investigation should be -- with the victim getting as much support as possible. But this particular brand of support comes with a list of terms and conditions which, unlike the ones that are skimmed over and ignored everyday, everyone has read the fine print and knows by heart.

If, and only if, she doesn’t sleep around and does her work and keeps her head down and speaks when spoken to and doesn’t chase after hockey players do people decide to get on the train. And even then, you’ll have stragglers suggesting, "Well, it’s Patrick Kane, he doesn’t have to rape anyone."

This is my problem with the Buffalo News article about his accuser going to his house to keep an eye on her friend. It may paint a more complete picture of the woman people have been unleashing a torrent of uninformed accusations at since she came forward. It also reinforces the idea that only a woman with a squeaky-clean reputation deserves any kind of defense in a sexual assault case. In the process, it acts as if you can tell a false accuser from a real one just by looking at her (seriously, read some of those quotes).

That’s not true.

It doesn’t matter what kind of situation she found herself in when she ended up at Kane’s house. It doesn’t matter whether she never wanted to set foot in the door or not. It doesn’t matter what her character is, or how many people she’s slept with, or what kind of worker she is, or whether she "seems" to people who only ever see one side of her at a time (e.g., her bosses) like she could lie about something as big as rape.

It does not matter what kind of woman she is, because no woman deserves to be raped.

Again. No woman deserves to be raped. Ever.

What you tell women when you suggest things like this is that they can never slip up. They can’t go anywhere within 200 feet of a high-profile man without risking every facet of their personality -- their relationships, their actions, their sex life -- should something happen to them within that boundary. In order to be blameless, their record can’t be blemished. And even if it isn’t, we yell at them for being so naive.

I’m sure when the authors reported that story for the Buffalo News, they didn’t intend to send this message. But they did regardless, and in doing so played into a facet of our society that goes hand-in-hand with rape culture.

This is not a new thing. The "virgin/whore" dichotomy wrongly dominates the media and public’s discussion of sexual assault. It’s tired, it’s reductive, and it robs everyone involved of being full human beings. The minute you start putting people into boxes, you begin to dehumanize them. Dehumanization is just the first step in oppression, and it’s a big step -- once you cease to see someone as a person and just see them as a title or a thing, it’s easy to disregard their capability for thought and emotion. It's just as easy, then, to violate their boundaries and their bodies.

To clarify, I'm not saying this woman doesn't deserve support -- she absolutely does. Every woman, every victim deserves care, respect and dignity throughout an ordeal like this. We need to give the sober girl and the one who got blackout drunk the same dignity, because intoxication is not an invitation to invade someone's body. We need to give the girl who has never had sex and the one who "hooks up" regularly the same respect, because having consensual sex is not a character flaw. We need to put aside our hang-ups about what's "seemly" and "good" when discussing sexual assault accusations so that we can, without condition or judgement, offer the same support that we extend to victims of any other violent crime.

So why don't we?