Real Talk: Victim Blaming
I had a stream of consciousness on Twitter that I felt the need to expand upon here. I had a conversation with a friend last night regarding the disappearance of a young woman here in Virginia by the name of Hannah Graham. This friend and I expressed our shock and sadness over another person being added to the list of missing women in our area in recent years.
Shortly after this, however, the conversation took a turn. The topic became Hannah’s choice of clothing on the evening of her disappearance. As if the clothing she wore contributed to her going missing. This friend did not mean any harm in these statements, but it spoke to a larger issue that went far beyond the conversation we were having.
Growing up with my sister, I became aware that although we grew up in the same house under the same circumstances, there were different rules that guided our conduct in the world. Young ladies should dress this way, act this way, be extra careful, etc. because there are dangerous people out there who could hurt you. As a boy, I was not given the same guidelines. As I grew up, however, I learned the would could be dangerous for young black men as well.
A common theme I noticed in the lessons I learned and what I learned from growing up with a sister is that the burden of responsibility relied on us to not become victims. If you dress a certain way or act a certain way, bad things may happen. And if the bad things happen, it’s your fault.
But, why? Why do we teach our girls and young women that they shouldn’t dress a certain way so as to foster unwanted attention and possible victimization? Why do we make it partially (if not entirely) their fault if they are assaulted, violated, or killed? Instead, shouldn’t we be teaching our boys and young men that it is not okay to assault, violate, or kill a girl or young woman?
The fact is, clothing does not matter. Morgan Harrington, Alexis Murphy, Sage Smith, Samantha Clarke, and Hannah Graham came from different backgrounds, were of different ages, were of varying races, and had different outfits on at their time of disappearance. Their clothing had nothing to do with it.
This world can be a scary place. For both young women and young men (especially those of color). Clothing does not solve the issue nor should it be the focus of our conversations around the issue of violence. Rather, we need to have a conversation about the perpetrators of these crimes and the culture that allows them to not only exist but flourish.