Why Do We Still Blame The Victims Of Rape?



rexusa_786856ePhoto: Ben Cawthra/REX USA.
It's 2013, right? We all know that women aren't raped because of how they look or the fact that they were walking alone or that they were "asking for it," right? Right?

Although this seems like such common sense, it appears that the court system here in the U.S. didn't get the memo that victim-blaming is totally unacceptable. In two recent court cases — cases that showcase how little the judicial system has progressed in the last 30 years — prosecutors have used the "she's a slut" tactic in attempts to discredit the victims of sexual assault. In a recent Naval court proceeding — what's called an Article 32 hearing, defense attorneys grilled the victim for over 30 hours over a period of days to determine whether there was enough evidence to go to trial .

The young woman is accusing three other Naval officers of sexually assaulting her at a party last year. Because this hearing took place outside of the civilian court system, lawyers were not held to the same standards as in traditional sexual assault cases — many deeply personal and biased questions not typically allowed, are allowed here. For example, lawyers asked the female midshipman (a junior rank in the U.S. Navy) questions about her sexual habits, whether she wore a bra, and whether “felt like a ho” afterward the act was committed.

This comes on the heels of another incredibly disheartening verdict in a sexual assault case. Last month in Montana, a teacher convicted of raping Cherice Moralez, his then-14-year-old student, was sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail — the presiding judge determined that he had "suffered enough" after losing his career and marriage.

In this case, too, the victim's volition and sexuality were presented as mitigating factors, factors that somehow invited the sexual assault. Moralez was accused of being older than her chronological age and of being "in control of the situation." As if a 14-year-old girl could truly be in control of having sex with a 48-year-old man in a position of authority over her. Sadly, Cherice took her own life before justice could be served — an act her mother believes was connected to her sexual assault and its aftermath.

Unfortunately, these two cases are representative of a larger problem with how our culture and legal system views sexual assault. When a woman is mugged on the street, no one asks her if she was wearing a bra or why she wasn't holding on to her purse more tightly. She's typically regarded as blameless — no one cross-examines her on the witness stand about why she had the poor sense to be robbed. Yes, sexual assault is far more complex than burglary, but it's still time for our judges and courts to reexamine how they sentence and prosecute sexual assault cases.