Sago Boulevard

Friday, June 24, 2005

Blaming the Victim, Revisited

Last week, I jumped into a blogosphere debate about rape prevention:
While it's true that a victim of rape does nothing to deserve what happend, there may be something she does that makes a tragedy more likely. This seems to be quite a simple distinction and it surprises me how many fail to see it.

In reading comments posted in a handful of feminist blogs (too many to list), it became clear to me that the distinction that I considered "simple" is in fact a bit more complicated. Let's say that Joe gets in a car accident and Sally, his passanger, is killed. If I were to say to Joe, "If it wasn't for you, Sally would still be alive," my statement, in one sense, would be entirely correct. As a simple matter of fact, if Joe were not to get in the car that morning, then he would not have gotten into the accident that killed Sally. Yet, Joe would almost certainly not take it that way. It sounds like I would be blaming him.

In my previous post I, in effect, assumed that Joe would be misunderstanding my statement as blame when in fact it was a mere statement of fact. But this ignores the emotionally-charged connotations of statements like "If it wasn't for you..." To say that a victim of rape could have taken steps to prevent her assault does in effect amount to blame, even if the logical meaning of the words does not.