The Psychology of Victim Blaming and Why I’m Taking Part In My First SlutWalk

Today’s post comes from Nicole Wander, who has taught Psych. at Columbus State Community College and is a self-proclaimed eclectic geek, feminist, animal lover.

Share your thoughts and comments, we want to hear from you! Just keep in mind that this is what is considered a “safe space” and please treat it as such.

The human mind is infinitely complex and capable of amazing feats of cognition. We can create intricate masterpieces of literature and music, engineer scientific marvels and produce seemingly endless invention. We can engage in lengthy discourse and inductive and deductive reasoning. However, as Mr. Spock would tell us, we humans are not always logical beings. In fact, we frequently make predictable errors in logic. Why is that so? One reason is that instead of always thinking rationally and logically, we rely on heuristics in our every day lives.

What is a heuristic you ask? Well, psychologically speaking, a heuristic like is a rule of thumb; a guide which one generally goes by. For example, I was always taught, that here in Ohio, in order to avoid the last of the overnight frost, I should wait until Mother’s Day to plant tomatoes in my garden. For the most part, that rule of thumb has served me pretty well. Maybe some years I could have gotten lucky and put the plants in the ground a couple of weeks earlier, but let’s be real…here in Ohio we could still get a foot of snow in mid-April. So, to be safe, I’ve always chosen to stick with Mother’s Day to put my plants into my garden – it’s a rule of thumb that works for me.

Psychologically, the cognitive use of heuristics is sometimes more serious than some frost-killed tomatoes. As I said, the use of heuristics leads to predictable errors in logic. Cognitive heuristics come in many shapes, flavors and forms. They range from casual to life-shaping. Everyone can fall prey to them; we all do it at one time or another.

The world is chaotic place and, in many instances, we have no control over what happens. Tornadoes rip through towns, leaving some homes destroyed while leaving others untouched. Car accidents happen on highways everyday due to often seemingly random chance killing and injuring innocent people. Disease strikes without warning. Random, horrible, nasty stuff happens all the time and a lot of the time, there’s nothing we can do to stop it, or even see the nasty stuff coming. The problem with that (apart from the getting injured, sick and killed) is that if people think too much about the essentially uncontrollable, unpredictable, dangerous nature of the world around them, things can become overwhelming really quickly. So how do we cope? In pops a handy old heuristic – in this case, one known as The Just World Hypothesis (TJWH). TJWH is pretty simple. It’s simply the belief, however subtle or unconscious, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. And, since at some level, most people feel they are good people, they believe bad things won’t happen to them and they are therefore safe from the chaos of the world around them – however untrue that may be in reality. Now, if that’s all TJWH were, what would be the problem? What’s the matter with some small, self-protective comfort in this big, bad world? But, unfortunately, TJWH has a flip-side and that flip-side is Victim Blaming.

If people believe that good things happen to good people, what does it mean when something bad happens to a person? That’s right, according to TJWH, that person must in some way be a bad person and must have done something the cause his or her misfortune. If a person caused his or her misfortune, then he or she is to blame for it.

This Victim Blaming is especially insidious in cases of sexual assault. When a woman is raped, people begin to wonder, and even ask aloud, what she may have done to bring the assault upon herself. “Did you see the way she was dressed? She must have led him on. What was she doing out so late anyway? I heard she sleeps around a lot. I bet she said yes and then just felt guilty the next morning and changed her tune. She shouldn’t have been drinking so much.” In American society, where women’s sexuality is so often demonized, rape-related Victim Blaming is alarmingly prevalent and the shame involved can be both external and internal. This shame is often used to further victimize women and leads to, among other things, self-blame, secrecy and the under-reporting of sexual crimes.

To me, the SlutWalk movement is a visible, concrete reminder that Victim Blaming is not only wrong, but dangerous. As long as we, as a society, continue to blame victims for crimes committed against them, the cycle of shame and violence will not end. Heuristics, including The Just World Hypothesis and its associated Victim Blaming, can be overcome as long as we’re aware of them. The SlutWalk movement attempts to bring to light and to challenge the underlying assumptions that so many people hold and often hold without realizing. No one deserves sexual assault, no matter what she or he is wearing, no matter what she or he is doing…period, end of story. Our culture needs to change the Victim Blaming, shame-based narrative from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape.” So, I’ll be there on September 15th, proudly joining The Cleveland SlutWalk for the first time, hoping to do just that…to help change the way people view sexual assault and those affected by it. Come join me, I know we can make a difference!


FundRazr – Anonymous Donor TODAY ONLY!

Donations are coming along, but we have a long way to go! Today, an anonymous donor has offered to match donations up to $50 – we have until midnight tonight to take advantage of this. DONATE HERE. Please share widely, every single dollar helps! Once event costs are covered, the rest of the fund goes directly to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Remember to follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and RSVP on the event page.

Slutwalk and The Third Wave: Let’s Get It Right

The planning for Cleveland Slutwalk #2 has officially kicked off this May! While our 2012 team is half the size it was last year, I think I speak for all of us when I say we feel twice as passionate and productive. We’re not only better prepared, we’ve given ourselves much more time to prepare. We’ve begun to reach out to other organizations, and hold very high hopes for September 15th.

But these hopes don’t have a chance in hell of being realized if we don’t tackle head on the inherent issues that arose not only in Cleveland’s event, but in Slutwalks all around the globe. These issues range from the superficial to the controversial. From simple preparation issues – providing a small list of chants we plan to lead the crowd with is imperative for any rally!; to problems with intersectionality – while the crowd included some ethnic and cultural diversity, white women were overwhelmingly the majority of attendees and the lack of Spanish signs and literature was a glaring oversight on our part.

Sexual assault and slut-shaming touches everyone, after all. Feminism is, in theory, for everyone. Over the past year, numerous critiques and criticisms about the Slutwalk movement have been shared by many in the social justice blogosphere, from feminists to humanists and everyone in between; many, from women of color. These concerns should not go unanswered, they must be addressed and owned, otherwise we are merely paying lip service to the idea of egalitarianism. This generation of feminist activism is generally referred to by participants and ‘enemies’ alike as “The Third Wave“. But have we really come so far from the “First” and “Second” Waves? Sometimes, maybe. But not always.

Our goals, for the next few months of preparation: This blog will not only address the flaws of this modern Feminist movement (that often claims to be ‘intersectional’) and how mainstream participants sometimes leave whole groups behind in their rabid enthusiasm to challenge the patriarchy; we will publicly attempt a dialogue with other members of the Greater-Cleveland community – whether they plan to participate in this year’s event or not – leading to a greater understanding of each other as activists with the same general social justice goals in mind.

We want to hear from you. If you attended last year’s event, we want to know your experience, whether positive, negative or in-between. We want to know if you’re interested in attending this year or not, and why. We want to know what we as organizers can do to make the speak-out after the walk more welcoming for those who may be hesitant to share their stories. We want to know how we can make this event a powerful experience for everyone, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity, orientation, religion or class status. We want this blog to serve more as a conversational platform, rather than only a soapbox. While we will engage in the comments, you’re also welcome to send in a short post/question/whatever to be addressed in it’s own blog post, and anonymity is of course respected.

We’ve also started a Facebook Page to encourage more casual dialogue.

Next post will attempt to examine the failings of the Suffragist movement as well as The Second Wave, and how/whether this Third Wave movement is rectifying those failures.

(From L.)

Donate to help Cleveland Slutwalk happen!

The Cleveland Slut Walk Planning Committee needs your help covering a few event-related expenses.

In order to obtain a parade permit for the Slut Walk, we need to hire and pay 2 Cleveland Police Officers and pay them $30 per hour.  We also need help purchasing supplies to make signs and possibly 2 banners for the Slut Walk. Any donations in any amount would be greatly appreciated.

The Cleveland Slut Walk Planning Committee has set up a Paypal Account where donations can be made. Any leftover funds will be donated to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. Please help us make this event as great as possible. Every little bit helps!

Thanks in advance!

The donation link is here:

Please give whatever you are able to give!

Organizer of the Day: Leah

Leah is one of our core group of organizers, here’s what she has to say:

I’ve been following the Slutwalk movement since the first one in Toronto, and I am VERY excited to have been invited to help out with Clevelands!
Slutwalk is important to me because when I was being assaulted, I honestly didn’t know what to call it. Like most kids, I grew up with the understanding that sexual assault is a horrific violation of the mind, body and soul – and that the way it happens is when a woman wears a short skirt outside after dark and a stranger jumps out from the alley and brutally beats her to within in an inch of her life because he glimpsed her upper thigh. Even the (very little) discussion around me concerning so-called ‘Date Rape’ centered on what a woman or girl did to ‘provoke’ the attacker, with lines like “She shouldn’t haven’t been kissing him like that if she didn’t want to get him excited.” and “You can’t touch someone like that and then expect them to stop just because you changed your mind, so girls, remember that!” The take-away was: “If you like to make out, you better be ready for sex, whether you want it or not.” and “If you dress a certain way, you’re just saying that you’re Open for Business, so you deserve what you get.”
“You’re asking for it.”
This is Rape-Culture. Sexual assault not only goes unchallenged when these statements are repeated, it is actively encouraged. It gives the offenders a free pass to reoffend, and keeps the survivors in the dark. Most of all, it gives people a false sense of security: that if we dress the “right” way, walk the “right” way, carry our keys the “right” way, and so on… then we are safe! But no. The reality is that 73% of sexual assaults in this country were perpetrated by a non-stranger; 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance; 28% are an intimate partner; 7% are a relative.
Intimate-Partner Violence was never discussed much beyond the narrative of “If your partner is giving you black eyes, that’s probably bad”. So it isn’t a surprise that my first sexual relationship was an abusive one. With our culture’s “You deserve what you get” mantra playing in my head, it took me three years to pull myself out of that fog and get out. It took me even longer to define my experience, what was done to me, as a legitimate assault. There was no alley, no unmarked van, no stranger in a ski mask. There was no miniskirt. Just myself, and someone who promised to love me.
I want Slutwalk to speak to the survivors out there. Men, women and children that have internalized the victim-blaming, the apologism, and may still think they don’t deserve help: You do. I did. After years of thinking that I must be doing something wrong… after years of wallowing in internal self-destruction, I finally stopped trying to forgive myself and accepted that I wasn’t the one that needed forgiveness. I hadn’t done anything wrong. And it wasn’t just my partner that had failed me – the adults in my life failed me. Our society as a whole failed me.
What I want most from Slutwalk, what i want it to really accomplish: is to challenge the notion that the responsibility for ending sexual assault belongs on the survivors shoulders. The reality is that NOTHING a person does constitutes ‘inviting’ an assault. Nothing. Every human being on this planet has the right to own their body; it is the person initiating sexual contact that must obtain explicit permission for said contact. If permission is not given, it’s assault. Period.
This isn’t about being sexually attractive or revealing. It just isn’t. This is about violence, hatred, oppression and control, a societal sense of entitlement to others bodies.
The most recent statistical average of unreported assaults is 60%. Approximately 15 out of 16 sexual assault perpetrators will walk free. And while male-identified individuals make up about 10% of assault survivors, they are the LEAST likely to report. The only societal narrative for male-identified survivors falls into the category of “Don’t Drop The Soap” jokes, as if being sexually violated is somehow a reasonable consequence of breaking the law in a ‘civilized’ society. Another victim-blaming favorite – and yet another reason to stand up taller, shout louder, and make the world listen. To US. Survivors, and their allies in the fight against oppresion.
Every gender identity, sexual orientation, age and race is affected by sexual assault. Issues such as class status, systemic racism, homophobia, and other prevalent injustices leave some groups statistically more vulnerable to an assault, and more likely to be left behind in mainstream social justice movements combating oppression. We must not divide each other and fight only our own personal battles. We must not leave anyone behind. We must all come together, stand together, and walk together. We can change this.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1.800.656.HOPE to be connected to a local rape crisis center in your area, or visit the Online Hotline.

For a run-down of the ways in which sexual assaults are experienced, please see Types of Sexual Violence; For a closer look at the most commonly repeated forms of victim-blaming, please see This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me a, wonderful campaign based in the U.K.