Blaming the victims of sex crimes lets the perpetrators off the hook
‘DEAR VICTIM,” the letter began. “To be honest I’m not bothered or sorry about the fact I burgled your house. Basicly [sic] it was your fault anyways . . . Firstly you didn’t draw your curtains . . . Secondly your [sic] dumb you live in a high risk burglary area and your [sic] thick enough to leave your downstairs kitchen window open.”
This letter, which was written by a teenage offender in Yorkshire as part of his rehabilitation programme, did the rounds on the internet last year, after it was released by police as a warning to homeowners.
The occasional self-righteousness on news and social-media sites in recent weeks, in response to the disappearances of Jill Meagher and April Jones, reminded me a bit of the warped moralising of the teenage burglar. In some ways, his version is more honest: at least he made no bones about blaming the victims for their own misfortune.
If there is one silver lining to awful, distressing events, such as the rape and murder of a young woman, or the abduction of a child, it is that they can bring communities together. And in both cases they did, with huge demonstrations of public support. But away from the physical communities, in the more extreme virtual communities of the internet, something else was happening.
While most people online rightly expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, a surprising number did not. Even on the official Facebook pages set up for Jill Meagher and April Jones, some would-be well-wishers began by expressing sympathy to Jill’s family, or stating their hope that April would be found. Then they’d get to the point.
Why was Jill out drinking without her husband? Why was she wearing those heels? Why didn’t she let a colleague walk her home? Why did she take that obviously dangerous route?
And where were April’s parents? Why did they let her out to play unsupervised at 7.30 in the evening? Why was she outside in the cold at all, if she has medical problems?
On Websleuths (yes, the warning is in the title), someone posited that since Jill Meagher “seemed like a lady who liked a drink – she is Irish”, he could safely conclude she wasn’t sober – as though her abduction, rape and murder were unfortunate by-products of her nationality.
Meanwhile, the Australian DJ Neil Mitchell said he hoped she was “off partying somewhere – judging from her Facebook page she likes a good party”.
Even when it became tragically apparent that Jill had not been off partying, and that April wasn’t coming home, the wave of victim-blaming-masquerading-as-empathy didn’t let up.
And we wonder why more people don’t come forward to report crimes. According to the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, there are two reasons why we indulge in victim-blaming: the first is that we perceive the world as largely just, and therefore cling to the belief that bad things can’t happen to good people. The other reason is that we do it “to maintain a sense of [our] own, or [our] loved ones, invulnerability to rape” or other crimes.