From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters
Dr. Jessica Taylor had worked with girls and women subjected to male violence and sexual abuse for 11 years in the criminal justice system, domestic violence and rape crisis centers, and the mental health system before writing Women Are Blamed for Everything: Exploring the Victim Blaming of Women Subjected to Violence and Trauma (Lulu.com, April 15, 2020).
A survivor herself, she was horrified at how each victim was always blamed in some way although it was never her fault, even internalizing self-blame. The male perpetrator usually received less blame and a light sentence if he received one at all.
This book, her thesis for her PhD in Psychology, draws upon previous studies to examine the many origins of victim blaming. It also draws upon her study asking female survivors open-ended questions about their reactions to various examples of sexual assault stories. She interviewed some of the participants and allowed them all to continue to review and have input into the study.
HOW MYTHS SPREAD AND BLAME
Taylor debunks myths about rape and sexual abuse, describing how each is used to blame the victim. She explains the origins of these myths in patriarchy and how they are spread through cultures, religions, mass media, pornography, criminal justice and education systems, social care services, and mental health systems. She describes psychological factors playing into the spread of the myths, such as belief in a just world, gender stereotypes, racism, and both individualist and collectivist societies. Victims have difficulty confiding in their family and friends, reporting to the police, and going to therapy because all of them usually apply victim-blaming myths to the victim’s situation.
Delving into the psychological effects of these myths on the victim, Taylor describes how women and girls internalize self-blame. Psychologists theorize victims internalize blame to regain a sense of control over the situation and feel they can prevent future assaults.
Taylor found this defense mechanism made them feel out of control from overthinking, some saying they felt they were “going crazy.” She describes a woman who stopped hugging friends and another who gave up her career as a ballet dancer and dyed her hair black. Their internalized beliefs that they had to change something about themselves or their behavior, damaged their lives and failed to prevent future attacks.
CRITIQUING WAYS TO STOP RAPE AND BLAME
Taylor has important insights into how our current attempts to prevent sexual assault and heal its victims are counterproductive. Educational programs are currently misused in misguided attempts to help women already in abusive situations. She discovered that victims are aware they are being repeatedly raped, even though society does not view it as “real” rape. The education does not help them stop the continuing abuse.
Prevention programs teach self-defense or assertiveness. Women are blamed for not fighting back when, in reality, 70% are unable to speak or move during the rape, possibly as an instinctive response by the body to reduce injury. In the mental health system, normal responses to trauma are viewed and medicated as mental health issues, just as in earlier times they were viewed as demonic possession.
The concept of Child Sexual Exploitation is defined as the sexual abuse of a child “in exchange for something the child needs or wants,” when children are groomed into abuse and do not have the agency to “consent.” Taylor also discovered victims are aware of rape myths and their origins in a misogynist society but still struggled to reject victim-blaming from people in their lives and society along with internalized self-blame.
Taylor describes following in the footsteps of radical feminists who investigated and changed society around these issues. Hopefully, there will be a future investigation into how society grooms men into committing sexual violence. This book is already very influential, and Taylor is creating many new programs for healing survivors and educating the public.