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Victim-Blaming and the Propulsion of Rape Culture

Trigger warning: the following article contains descriptions of sexual assault.

On March 3, 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s place in London. Following a normal set of safety precautions,  she called her boyfriend and routed the walk through well-lit streets. Instead of returning home, however, Everard was found dead in the woods a week later. One suspect has been charged with her kidnapping and murder – Wayne Couzens, an elite officer of the London Metropolitan Police. 

Sarah Everard | Photo Courtesy of CONAN Daily

After Everard’s death, vigils and protests erupted across the UK. The movements aimed to promote conversations about women’s safety, personal experiences of harassment, and the consequences of unwanted male behavior. 

“That does lead to question, even if she was drunk, even if it was later at night, this wasn’t her fault,” Jasmine Klinger, organizer for activist group Reclaim These Streets, said in response to Everard’s death. “It’s not our fault, but constantly the onus is put on us to protect ourselves.”

According to an American CDC survey from 2015, 1 in 5 women face attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. In comparison, 1 in 14 men are victims of completed or attempted rape during their lifetime, which indicates a clear discrepancy in regards to rape between different genders. 

Three weeks after Everard’s murder, the Minnesota Supreme Court added fire to the ongoing flame with a controversial ruling centered on  sexual assault. Francois Monulu Khalil initially faced a felony rape conviction after allegedly assaulting an anonymous woman while she was drunk. However, the court unanimously ruled that Khalil could not be found guilty according to Minnesota law, as mental incapacitation occurs when a victim ingests intoxicating substances without consent. Therefore, since Khalil’s victim voluntarily drank undrugged drinks, state law claims that she was not mentally incapacitated – consequently, his conviction was overturned. According to The Washington Post, a wide multitude of other states also fail to categorize voluntary intoxication as mental incapacitation. 

According to court documents, the victim claims that Khalil met her outside of a bar while she was heavily intoxicated. He invited the woman and her friend to a party, which he offered to drive them to – instead, however, he took them both to a private home. After the woman passed out on a couch, she woke up to feel Khalil assaulting her. She demanded that he stop, but he refused to do so and she proceeded to pass out again. The following day, she underwent a rape kit exam and later reported the incident to Minneapolis police. Police interviewed Khalil, who stated that he had no recollection of the woman and never engaged in sexual activities with her. 

Minnesota Judicial Center | Photo Courtesy of NBC News

Without a doubt, if the victim’s accusation holds true, Minnesota’s treatment of sexual assault issues proves insufficient and unacceptable. Considering that – based on her account of the story – the victim was powerless and unable to provide consent while engaging in sexual activity, she was raped. Instead of delivering justice, however, Minnesota law referred to the age-old practice of victim-blaming. 

As implied by the title, the practice of victim-blaming places responsibility on a victim for being sexually assaulted rather than holding an assailant accountable for committing the crime. Examples of victim-blaming include unjustly indicting behavior, such as accusing an individual of being raped due to their clothing choices.

Rape culture, or the societal act of normalizing sexual assault, relies on victim-blaming as an enormous propellent. Therefore, when a society’s authoritative institutions defer to victim-blaming ideals, they promote rape culture. As seen with the Minnesota ruling, the state’s law blames victims for engaging in drinking rather than the perpetrator for behaving in a violating manner. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, comprehensive surveys and interviews found that nearly 50% of sexual assault victims were drinking when assaulted. Therefore, Minnesota law places a concerning amount of citizens in danger of injustice due to its lack of penalties for assailants. 

When examining abominable instances of rape culture, individuals must understand their own role in reforming society’s outlook. As progressive as the modern world appears, its oppressive and detrimental flaws continue to prevail. From the rape jokes of Reddit incels to the behavioral expectations of gender roles, different elements work to preserve the culture which overturned Khalil’s conviction. The ludicrous idea that oversensitive ‘snowflakes’ are solely affected by certain behaviors – such as, once again, rape jokes – also establishes rape culture in an ignorant manner. When individuals choose to understand the consequences of this disastrous culture, however, society grows in a manner which displays a genuine sense of advancement. 

About Prisha Puntambekar

Sophomore Prisha Puntambekar has enjoyed writing from a young age. Outside of journalism, she's the Vice President of Sundevils for Senior Citizens Club, the Co-President of Mental Wellness Club, and a harsh critic of Twinkies.

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