We Need to Stop Blaming the Victim

Violence Against Women

© Mars Bars

Women’s bodies and sexuality should not have to be altered because a man is unable to control himself. 

On September 3, an Egyptian lawmaker, Elhamy Agina, made an outrageous argument for the continuation of female genital mutilation (FGM), or female genital cutting. He claimed that women should “reduce their sexual desires” because Egyptian men are “sexually weak.”

I wasn’t shocked by this statement, but I was reminded once again of how too often when it comes to sexuality and violence that women are the ones held responsible.

Remember when Todd Akin made this claim on a local news interview in August 2012, discussing the possibility of abortion during instances of rape: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Not to go too off on a tangent, but a study found that over 32,100 pregnancies resulted from rape each year, and some studies have found that rape survivors are more likely to become pregnant than women who have consensual sex. So how bogus was that claim?

Let’s also ignore that “legitimate rape” wordage for now, but the idea that a woman’s body shuts down the possibility of a pregnancy when she is raped puts the onus on the woman to defend herself and protect society against unwanted pregnancies.

Akin’s claim takes away any responsibility that the offender in this situation might have toward the woman who he chose to violate by raping her.

The Egyptian lawmaker, Elhamy Agina, does the same with his claim that men are too weak to control their sexual appetite and, therefore, women should undergo FGM because it helps “reduce a woman’s sexual appetite,” and by undergoing this potentially painful and life-threatening procedure, women will show they are standing by their man.

I’m tired of hearing the onus continually fall on women when it comes to anything relating to sex or violence. Women’s bodies and sexuality should not have to be altered because a man is unable to control himself.

Hearing this kind of rhetoric makes it sound like women are the saviors to men’s sexuality, but they are also the devil, the root of the problem. They must fix the problem. It also dismisses the fact that there are many loving and decent men around the world who are faithful to their partners, do not abuse, nor ask their wives to remove a part of their genitalia so they can have less sex.

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I’m reminded of all those years that I worked with survivors of domestic violence, and how time and time again—whether in person, on the phone, through the media, from a friend, from a relative, from a stranger on the plane—people would continually ask, “Why doesn’t the survivor leave the abusive relationship?”

It maddens me that, once again, the person who was the victim—the one who was facing the emotional, sexual, financial or physical violence—was the one that was being judged with the question.

Stop Blaming the Victim

When I lived in San Francisco, domestic violence charges were brought up against the sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, who was accused of physically injuring his wife on New Year’s. The media had a field day with the story, particularly because his wife didn’t leave him. Negative judgments were made against her character, and little attention was given to the reality that survivors of domestic violence often cannot leave an abusive relationship for a number of reasons—ranging from fear of losing custody of children, to fear of being hurt even more, to, even as unbelievable as it can be for some to understand, love.

The narrative has to change. We need to stop blaming the victim. All of us must be held accountable for our actions in perpetuating the kind of thinking that leads to different forms of gender violence being justified. In the case of FGM, it cannot be said that a harmful traditional practice needs to continue because it helps men, particularly when it comes at the costs of hurting women.

Women have a right to their bodies, to their sexuality, to their health. Men do too. All genders do. And we all have the responsibility to ensure that everyone is treated with respect, consideration and care. No more blaming the victim.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Mars Bars

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