On Victim-Blaming And ‘Five Seconds Of Fame’

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people would think that anyone would want attention for being a victim of sex crimes.

Most of us know by now about the recent news stories regarding men in positions of power abusing their jobs, money, and connections to sexually harass and assault women. If you don’t, well I’m not sure where you’ve been, but here’s a link.

The number of men being accused can come as a shock to many people. People like filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., and journalist Matt Lauer are well-liked, familiar faces to the American public — men the public identified with. I guess everyone reacts differently when their trust is broken, but the quickness with which some people are willing to rush to these men’s defense is sickening.

It’s a goal for celebrities on television to make viewers feel like they know the people they watch on some kind of personal level. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so immediate for some fans to take their side before even hearing what the accusers have to say. Accusers or victims often get the label that they were asking for it or looking for attention. In the big scheme of things, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

No One Wants That Kind of Attention

Since many of the recent sexual assault allegations did not involve full penetrative rape or are years and years old, there is an absence of the possibility of a trial or monetary compensation for many of these victims. As a result, the only thing naysayers can use is this kind of crap:

“They’re probably just doing it for attention.”

“She’s just looking for her five seconds of fame.”

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people would think that anyone would want attention for being a victim of sex crimes. Some of these women are big names already; some are not. It doesn’t really matter. Most of them have come forward solely to contribute their story to an important discussion, not for any personal gain. And some people still have the audacity to suggest that these victims have an ulterior motive.

As someone who suffered through an abusive relationship for years, I think it is wholly disgusting that anyone could think that this many women are so starved for attention that they would want to be labeled as victims. It took me months to even talk about my abusive experiences with friends and family, and years to truly come to terms with and call it what it was — abuse. I still have a hard time accepting it and talking about it.

I do not like the idea of being a victim.

It says a lot about society’s perception of women that so many people think that any woman is actually that desperate for “five seconds of fame” that she would want to label herself as a victim to the entire world. That that’s the token identity she’s settled on as her “in.” Her “thing.”

Kristin Chenoweth has her super high, cutesy voice. Jennifer Lawrence has her “badass woman who doesn’t care about calories” rep. And Leigh Corfman has her title of 14-year old victim of sexual harassment by a little-known politician from Alabama. Great! Everyone wins.

See how utterly ridiculous that sounds?

I know there are cases where women have taken back rape claims later in life and admitted that they were out for money or some other kind of personal gain, but these are seriously few and far between. They are the exception, not the rule, and it’s time we start talking about it that way.

Fiction Gets Confused With Fact

Additionally, if a woman thought she’d get positive attention by claiming to be a rape victim, she’d have to be able to assume that law enforcement and a judge would be on her side. Studies show time after time that it’s quite the opposite. When women come forward with a rape complaint, they have to battle to gain credibility with investigative officers. Women have to prove their claims are even worth looking into. I think it’s fair to say that almost anyone looking to make a claim like this solely for attention would probably just get frustrated and quit.

Back in 2016, Brock Turner, a Stanford student, was accused of sexually assaulting a female behind a dumpster at a party. The media immediately jumped to name him only as a Stanford swimmer, while his victim brandished the title of “unconscious intoxicated woman.”

The evidence was all there and the court did find him guilty of the crime. However, even in a fairly air-tight case with eye witnesses, he was only sentenced to a mere six months in jail, and didn’t even end up serving the whole sentence. While the length of time he served was scrutinized, men like Turner’s own father thought that the punishment was too severe for only “20 minutes of action.”

Sometimes the media doesn’t even have to get the public involved to twist a story. In cases where powerful men are accused, they can have a whole network of people ready to help them. It was recently exposed that Harvey Weinstein had a network of journalists and CEOs willing to help him dig up dirt and threaten his victims into silence, or else he would air their dirty laundry — whether it was fake or not — before they could air his.

Women who come forward to accuse their harassers or rapists do so knowing that it will be an up-hill battle. They know they’ll be blamed and scrutinized, because the powerful people who control the conversation are all grouped together with the 34% of America that believes indecent dressing causes rape.

Why Is It So Easy to Dismiss Women?

Many are quick to jump to the assumption that rape accusations are false, but if they researched, they’d find that only 2-10% of rape accusations are false. So why are people so quick to dismiss women who come forward?

It comes back to a few things. First, society (read: the patriarchy) pushes a fundamentally screwed up image of women. The media sells a sex-centric image of women so that when the time comes, they can use her sexuality against her. Men are taught that women use their sexuality to manipulate people. We’re taught not to trust women on a subconscious level, which comes into play when victims come forward.

Secondly, I think that on some level, many find it hard, maybe even impossible, to accept that these atrocities are reality. It is painful to take a hard look at our society and say that, yes, this is us. We are like this. That’s jarring, and not something that everyone is willing to accept right away at face value.

But how did we get here? Certainly not by listening. When we close our eyes and ears to the truth, we make it easier for that truth to destroy us. It’s an easy emotional fix for the short-term, but it’s like putting a Band-Aid meant for a razor nick on a giant gaping wound and wondering why the wound keeps bleeding.

As a society, we are wounded. If we don’t start listening and changing, we only delay the healing.

Kate Harveston enjoys writing about social justice and policy change. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking the mountains of Pennsylvania to find inspiration. If you like her work, feel free to visit her at onlyslightlybiased.com.

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