There needs to be a serious discussion about male privilege, says Waikato University professor.
It’s 2017 and people are still blaming women when they’re sexually assaulted.
A recent survey out of the UK shows that 41 percent of men aged 18-24 believe a woman who is drunk and wearing a short skirt is “totally or partly to blame” for being sexually assaulted.
The survey also found that 30 percent of women aged 18-24 totally or partially blamed a drunk woman wearing a short skirt for being sexually assaulted.
Dr Neville Robertson, senior lecturer in psychology at Waikato University, has worked in domestic violence for 30 years and says he expects that if the survey had been done in New Zealand, the results would have been “broadly similar”.
“It’s still a widespread view. You certainly see that on social media, you see it conversations that come up in ‘stopping violence’ groups, you see it in just casual conversations I’ve had with people across a wide range of situations.”
Dr Robertson spoke out about the during the Roast Busters scandal, saying the events were symptomatic of widespread issues of how young men in New Zealand are encouraged to view women. It’s a view that still exists, he says.
“We live in a misogynist society. There is a long, long history in the West of blaming women. You could go back to accounts of Genesis where Eve is blamed for the downfall of “man”, through the witchcraft trials, right up to the current day.”
He says there is a need for a serious discussion about male privilege, which hasn’t happened in New Zealand yet.
“Quite a lot of men will sound quite reasonable and maybe even in support of women’s interests but only up to point. That point is reached when their assumed rights and privileges are being challenged. Those privileges range from things like not having to do the dishes, not having to take time off work to take care of an ill child, being the assumed breadwinner, not having to clean the toilet, right through to sexual entitlement …”
Without questioning power and privilege, people are able to legitimise and justify assaults against women, says Dr Robertson.
“I think we really need to challenge this notion of male privilege because that’s, I think, at the heart of the problem; if men believe that they are entitled to certain privileges, we’re not going to stop this violence because, at some point, men will use violence to protect or exercise those privileges.”
Conor Twyford, general manager at Sexual Abuse Help Foundation, says sexual assault survivors often internalise blame, making recovery even harder.
“There is still a very widely held mindset that women are at risk and need to keep themselves safe ... If women dress freely and walk around at night then they are still seen as 'asking for it', as 'putting themselves in danger'. Yet, most people think it's totally OK for men to do these things.”
“The worst danger inherent in this point of view is that it excuses the community from holding perpetrators to account, that is, laying the blame where it belongs.”
Education is key to preventing sexual assaults and the beliefs that spur them, yet only a tiny proportion of the total government spend goes towards prevention, says Twyford.
“We could be doing so much more, especially in primary and secondary schools, to teach young people about what they should rightfully expect in a healthy relationship, and how they should expect to be treated in a sexual relationship,” she says.
“We'd like to think the response [to the UK survey] would be different in New Zealand but we think the 'partly to blame' response would still come up quite a lot, if not the 'fully to blame'. It would be interesting to find out.”
BY THE NUMBERS:
The survey asked: “if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, is she totally or partly to blame?”
38 percent of all men and 34 percent of all women said that she is totally or partly to blame.
41 percent of men aged 18-24 and 30 percent of women the same age agree.
14 percent of men aged 18-34 say she is “totally to blame”.
Women aged over 65 were more likely to blame her, with 55 percent saying she is totally (5 percent) or partly (50 percent) to blame compared to 48 percent of men the same age.
Data was gathered from a 2016 survey of 8,165 adults in the UK conducted by Survation for the Fawcett Society.
For help and support with any of the issues raised in this story, or for more information about sexual and domestic violence, here are some of the services available: