We're still playing the blame game


THAT'S MEN:Surely if you are attacked, 100 per cent of the blame should lie with the attacker? Apparently, not so when it comes to rape, writes Padraig O'Morain

A WRITER on a UK feminist blog, "The F Word",suggests that women who want to have sex should get out there and express their sexual desires.

"Wear what you like," writes Victoria Dutchman-Smith. "Sleep with someone if you both want it, say no if you don't. Let someone down if you change your mind, just as he may do the same to you."

Her article is about rape and it illustrates just how complex the subject can be.

I'll get back to The F-Word later. First, though, I think it's important to realise that attitudes to rape are very complicated indeed.

On the one hand, we are all against rape. On the other hand, our attitudes to rape are ambivalent as some recent surveys have shown.

There used to be much condemnation of the ways in which defence lawyers sought to make rape victims responsible for what had happened to them.

Yet an Amnesty survey among students at the University of Ulster has found that 44 per cent believed drunkenness makes a woman wholly or partially responsible if she is raped. A woman who has been flirting has to carry some or all of the blame for rape, according to 46 per cent.

This appears to mean that those defence lawyers who make their money out of trying to discredit rape victims have more of the public on their side than old liberals like myself might have thought.

This month 30 years ago, thousands of women marched through the streets of Dublin city centre to protest at rape. I remember watching the parade pass by - it seemed to go on forever.

It also seemed to mark a defining moment in our attitudes to rape. One outcome of the march was the establishment of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre the following year.

A few years later, I was disgusted when a friend who had been collecting money in pubs for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre told me that her request for "help for the Rape Crisis Centre" had brought responses such as "yeah, I'll rape a woman". Hadn't these people realised that they were a disappearing and soon-to-be-despised minority?

Little could I have thought that on the 30th anniversary of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre we could have a situation in which almost half of respondents in a survey found it possible to put some or all of the blame on flirty or drunk women for being raped.

And this doesn't come up in just one survey. Earlier this year, an Irish Examiner/Red C poll produced similar findings to the Amnesty survey. It found that 38 per cent of respondents would partially blame a woman for being raped if she walked through a deserted area.

Almost one-third (30 per cent) would blame a woman partially if she had flirted with the man who raped her.

Of course you can argue about this. You could say that people need to have a bit of cop-on about their own safety. It's reckless to walk through a deserted area late at night - maybe even during the day. But surely if you are attacked, 100 per cent of the blame should lie with the attacker?

If you were beaten up or murdered while taking a short cut across a deserted area, it might be thought you had taken a foolish risk, but all would agree that the entire blame lay with the attacker.

Yet when it comes to rape, we seem to feel differently.

This brings me back to the F-Word, which I mentioned at the start of this article. Dutchman-Smith's argument is that females have been cast, sexually, as people who disappoint or do not disappoint men.

I think she is saying that some men feel they can rape a woman because she has disappointed them in their expectations that they can have consensual sex with her.

I think she is also saying that if women who were looking for sex were as explicit about it as men are, then women who don't want sex with this man at this time would be left alone.

Hmmmm. Sounds to me like she's blaming women again . . .


Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor. His book That's Men - the best of the That's Mencolumn in The Irish Timesis published by Veritas