Why Do We Blame Women? A Testimony

A. Stanley 27 April 2014

This testimony includes a description of a violent sexual assault that readers may find distressing.


Last summer, I came close to being raped. I wasn’t, and for that I am eternally grateful. But what happened revealed to me, not in the inky statistics which I knew, but in the stench of fear that I did not, the disquieting truth about the way women really feel about rape.

It was the first night of an inter-railing trip. My best friend and I were staying with her family friend, Eddie*. Emerging into electric Barcelona at midnight, we were picked up by his son. Adam* was drunk and driving recklessly. Yet, when he invited us to go clubbing, I was excited. The sense of danger added extra thrill to our first night out.

Soon, Adam tried to kiss me. I made it clear that I wasn't interested, but he grabbed at me, groping and even biting me. I tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t give up. He kept asking me why I was so old-fashioned: didn’t I want to have a bit of fun with him? He got angry: I should stop making a fuss, he had got us into the club. I suddenly became very aware that all the glamorous clientele were watching us. I started to think yes, maybe I am being frigid. I’m meant to be on holiday. So I let him kiss me a bit, hoping this would be enough to placate him.

Arriving back at the apartment, things happened very quickly. Adam pushed me onto a sofa. He was on top of me, pulling off my clothes. I was stunned. Disconnected phrases were coming out of my mouth. Stop it. I have a boyfriend. I’m on my period. This caught his attention. He stopped and said “you’re just saying that”, and looking me in the eyes, undid his flies and pulled down my knickers. I wanted him to stop but I was paralysed. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why not. I didn’t call for my friend. Again, I don’t know why not. And then, before I knew it, Adam jumped up and ran into the bathroom. I heard the sound of vomiting. I ran, and locked myself in a bedroom. I was shaken and also horribly aware that if he hadn’t been sick, I would have lain there and ‘let’ it happen.

So, that’s the story. But what I really want to talk about is the way we all reacted. When I told my friend what had happened, she was unwilling to condemn Adam, because I’d flirted, because I hadn’t hit him and because I hadn’t said ‘no’ strongly enough. We were staying at his house; I was being ungrateful to make a fuss. She had spent family holidays with Adam. Eddie and her dad were old friends. She pointed out that his parents had undergone a painful divorce. Her contextualisation implicitly mitigated his actions. I already felt uneasy about the way I had acted: I should have struggled more, I should have screamed. It occurred to me, that maybe up until the moment I thought he was going to rape me, I was enjoying the attention. I was filled with self-disgust.

A few weeks ago, an old child-minder, who I have remained close with, confessed to me she had been repeatedly raped at university. More than a decade later, she still hasn’t told her family. She introduced me to feminism but, even now, blames herself for the attacks. First, for being drunk and later, by believing that beneath his brutality, her rapist cared for her. Hearing her speak about it was horrible. It gave me a sense of terrible replay: her feelings of shame seemed like hugely amplified versions of those I had felt in the summer.

Everyone’s experience of and reaction to sexual assault is different. And yet, I think from these three people, something bigger can be drawn. Society teaches women to doubt their right to their own bodies. A Haven survey carried out in 2010, shows that women are more likely to blame rape victims than men. The majority of women believe some rape victims should take responsibility for what happened. Of these, 71% thought a person should accept responsibility when getting into bed with someone, compared with 57% of men. One-third blamed those who had dressed provocatively or gone back to the attacker's house for a drink.

These statistics are shocking. But, scarier still, is that even when intellectually aware of these damaging social mores, when under emotional strain, we retrogress, revealing complicity with the attitudes we thought we had rejected. I identify as a feminist. So does my friend. My child-minder is active in the movement. And yet, this has not been enough. The feelings of guilt have often been impossible to overcome; shame is too deeply embedded in female identity.



*In the interests of anonymity, the names in this article have been changed.

There are many support services available if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article:

Linkline – 01223 744444

Samaritans – 08457 909090, 4 Emmanuel Road

Black Women's Support Group – 01223 369753

University Counselling Service – 01223 332865

Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre – 01223 245888

London Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999