Cori Bush Highlights Problem of 'Victim-Blaming' in Sexual Assault Cases

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File

Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who has been an outspoken advocate against sexual assault, brought a poster to Congress to highlight the issue of victim-blaming those who have been raped or otherwise abused. While her arguments against victim-blaming are apt, she seems to be missing the other side of the equation.

While addressing Congress, she said:

We’re tired of being told that if we had just done this or done that, it wouldn’t have happened to us. We’re tired of being told to feel guilty about what we wore or what we said.

While standing next to a poster which was titled: “Tips to not commit sexual assault from a survivor,” the lawmaker made a tongue-in-cheek argument that it is the responsibility of the perpetrators to prevent themselves from committing sexual assault. She said:

If you’re thinking about putting drugs in someone’s drink, don’t. If you can’t keep yourself from committing sexual assault, always have a trusted friend by your side to stop you from committing sexual assault. If you encounter someone who is drunk, unconscious or asleep, do not commit sexual assault against that person.

In previous interviews, Bush has recounted her experience being raped as a teenager at a church camp. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she said:

I didn’t see that as rape. I felt like I did something — I did something wrong. I didn’t fight him back. I didn’t even know what was going on, but I didn’t fight him back, I didn’t tell him stop, I didn’t say no. I just laid there and let him do whatever he wanted to do. Now I do know that consent is enthusiasm. If there’s enthusiasm then there is consent, and on my part, there was absolutely no enthusiasm. It was fear.

Several weeks after the encounter, Bush learned that she was pregnant. She later got an abortion, which she described as “the hardest decision I had ever made” during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. “But at 18-years-old, I knew it was the right decision for me.”

Bush’s point about victim-blaming is not wrong – however, it does not take into account the fact that while sexual predators are not going to take measures to stop themselves from assaulting women, there are things that people can do to protect themselves. Sometimes people misconstrue discussion on these matters as victim-blaming when they are actually trying to help prevent these situations from occurring.

I’m not referring to not wearing short skirts. This is not an excuse to rape women nor should they be shamed for their choice of clothing. But most women understand that they have to take certain measures to lessen the likelihood of experiencing this type of situation.

There is nothing wrong with cautioning young women against going certain places alone or not being careful around particular types of men. Two things can be true at once: Women should take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves and victims who did not take these precautions should not be blamed for the actions of the monster who assaulted them.

This principle can be applied to other situations as well.

If I’m out and about, I have a general sense of which places in my city are more dangerous, and I avoid traveling there. I also realize that even though I take precautions, I can’t control what other people do, but I can control myself. If someone wishes to assault me, I can’t control his mindset. However, I can make the decision to carry a firearm that I can use to get him to think twice or, God forbid, stop him if he decides to attack me anyway.

Should women like Bush and others have to take these precautions just because they want to be able to have a good time with friends? Of course not. Should I even have to carry a firearm to make sure I can protect myself? Of course not.

But we don’t live in a world that does what it “should” do. We live in reality – which means other people are not going to behave in the way they ought to. Unfortunately, there are sexual predators out there that will rape a woman if they see an opportunity. In light of this, women must be careful and protect themselves in any way they can. It’s not the way it should be, but it is the way it is.

While we should criticize those who blame victims, we should also realize that advising women to take appropriate steps to protect themselves is not the same as victim-blaming. The smart move is to recognize the reality of the world in which we live while also working to change it.