More victim-blaming bullshit

7 07 2009

On June 23, 2009 the UK Telegraph published an article by Science Correspondent Richard Alleyne titled Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claimed scientists. The heading: The way women dress, how flirtatious they are and their levels of drunkenness really do have an effect on the likelihood of them being raped, claim scientists.

For starters, the article presents rape and sexual violence in a heteronormative way. Women are not the only ones who can be victims of sexual violence – men can be victims as well. And men are not the only ones who are perpetrators – although most perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators.

But generally, WTF?! This is victim-blaming blasphemy that maintains and bolsters rape culture. These nonsense claims – that women who dress more provocatively, who are more flirtatious and consume more alcohol and therefore are more drunk, are more likely to be raped than women who dress more modestly, are less flirtatious and less drunk – take the attention and accountability off the perpetrator and instead focus on the female victim and her actions.

Rape is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, how drunk they are, or how flirtatious they are. Nothing a person does makes him/her more deserving or likely of being raped. Rapists should be held accountable for their mis-actions, but we live in a rape culture (Exhibit A: the Telegraph article) that completely eliminates the perpetrator and focuses all the attention on the victim and what s/he did wrong to get him/herself raped.

But of course if the scientists say so, then it must be so, right? Nope. Ben Goldacre at Bad Science contacted University of Leicester’s MSc student Sophia Shaw, who is cited in the article as one of the expert scientists alleging that women who dress more provocatively are more likely to be raped, and reports back:

I rang Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester. She was surprised to have been presented as an expert scientist on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, as Sophia is an MSc student, and this is her dissertation project. It’s also not finished. “We are intending on getting it published, but my findings are very preliminary.” She was discussing her dissertation at an academic conference, when the British Psychological Society’s PR team picked it up, and put out a press release. We will discuss that later.

But first, the science. Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with various situations around being with a woman, and asking them when they would call it a night, in order to explore men’s attitudes towards coercing women into sex. “I’m very aware that there are limitations to my study. It’s self report data about sensitive issues, so that’s got its flaws, participants were answering when sober, and so on.”

But more than that, she told me, every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph is a flat, unambiguous, factually incorrect misrepresentation of her findings.

That sentence is worth repeating – “every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph is a flat, unambiguous, factually incorrect misrepresentation of her findings“. Just so we’re all on the same page, what were the Telegraph’s first four statements?

Psychologists found that all three factors had a bearing on how far men were likely to go to take advantage of the opposite sex.

They found that the skimpier the dress and the more flirtatious the woman, the less likely a suitor was to take no for an answer.

But, contrary to popular opinion, alcohol consumption did dampen their ardour with many men claiming that they were put off by a woman who was drunk.

Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester said that men showed a “surprising” propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous.

All that? Complete and total bullshit. And that’s coming from the source – the scientist. So the Telegraph is misrepresenting and misreporting preliminary scientific findings, and furthering victim-blaming rape myths. Goldacre continues:

Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “We found no evidence that that women who are more outgoing are more likely to be raped, this is completely inaccurate, we found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”

And what about the Telegraph’s next claim, or rather, the Telegraph’s reassuringly distant and objective assertion that it is scientists who are now claiming that women who dress provocatively are more likely to be raped?

“We have found at the minute that people will go slightly further with women who are provocatively dressed, but this result is not statistically significant. Basically you can’t say that’s an effect, it could easily be the play of chance. I told the journalist it isn’t one of our main findings, you can’t say that. It’s not significant, which is why we’re not reporting it in our main analysis.”

Wow. Way to fail Telegraph. Misreporting facts to write a misogynist story. Shaw said:

“When I saw the article my heart completely sank, and it made me really angry, given how sensitive this subject is. To be making claims like the Telegraph did, in my name, places all the blame on women, which is not what we were doing at all. I just felt really angry about how wrong they’d got this study.”

These kinds of bullshit articles make me feel ill. Contact the Telegraph and tell them that this article was not only factually incorrect but also misogynist and completely unacceptable.


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3 responses

7 07 2009
Some Facts/What This Means for You

Telegraph Fail…

The notion of trigger warnings rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons I shan’t go into here, so I’m simply not going to post a link to the article in the Telegraph Vanessa at Feministing discusses here, the one saying that if women d…

8 07 2009
phil

All this is well-said.

What I have troubles with, though, is the widely shared assumption that, if what the Telegraph printed were true, women would be to blame.

All that scientists could possibly show is that women’s dress contributes to cause rapes. This is hardly synonymous with “Women are responsible when raped”!

I can’t see how something could be less wrong because the victim did not take all possible precautionary measures to avoid it. The question is: who should be burdened with taking additional steps to make sure rapes do not happen? And I don’t see any argument that this burden should fall on the victim rather than on the perpetrators. I am pretty sure that women who go out in the streets instead of remaining cloistered home are more at risk. Would anyone conclude that women are responsible for being raped if they go out? No! I think the same is true of clothing. Women are free to dress as they please (within certain limits, of course), and, if this raises the probability that someone else will act badly, then it is up to the latter person to make sure this does not happen.

On the one side we have women engaging in legitimate activities. On the other we have people who have troubles controlling themselves. That there is a debate about who should be burdened in order to avoid bad outcomes is just maddening!!!

I agree that people at the Telegraph probably think that their story excuses rapists, but they are terribly wrong on that count too.

9 07 2009
Mato

I agree with phil, it could be that statistically girls in high heels and miniskirts are more likely to get raped. This doesn’t in any way mean they should be ashamed of their clothing or that they are not the victim.

It’s just like saying a man with long hair is more likely to get beat up than a man with short hair. If a study concluded this, it doesn’t mean the study is discriminating against men with long hair, it also doesn’t mean men with long hair should be ashamed of their style or that they should blame themselves for getting beat up.

Although it tells men that they are less likely to get beat up if they cut their hair, the real problem is in the people discriminating against them.

Just because girls could possibly avoid getting raped by dressing conservatively, they shouldn’t be blamed and rapists shouldn’t be blamed any less.

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