Victim blaming is still alive and well in 2016, and it needs to stop

February 04, 2016
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Earlier this year, world champion boxer, Kyron ‘The Hitman’ Dryden from Newcastle, was charged after grabbing his ex-girlfriend, Tori-Lee Hillery, by the throat and pushing her head into a mirror, as well as slamming her on the floor when he discovered her at another man’s house. He filmed parts of the ordeal and put it on his Snapchat story for public display.

It seemed that ‘The Hitman’ lived up to his name in every aspect. He was found guilty of occasioning actual bodily harm, despite denying ever touching Hillery when he stormed into the house. He later pleaded guilty to contravening an apprehended violence order after contacting his ex-girlfriend a few times in the months following the assault.

This seems like a pretty straightforward assault case, right?  Well, would you believe that since the news has gone public, tragedy has done everything but left Hillery alone. Being from Newcastle myself, which is the equivalent of living in a fishbowl, all I’ve seen across my Facebook feed is various people, who know Dryden, Hillery or both, putting in their two cents.

Unfortunately, a lot of what I’ve seen is shocking to say the least. Everyone’s been watching too much Making a Murderer and trying to refute the court’s decision, coming out with claims like, “judges have been wrong before”, “there’s not enough evidence to prove it” (besides a medical report, an eye-witness account, and a Snapchat video), or, perhaps the most worrying of all, “karma’s a bitch” and “shouldn’t have cheated".

According to the latest available statistics, almost 40 per cent of Aussies have admitted to cheating on their significant other. Although knowledge of Hillery actually cheating is largely speculation, it’s important to remember that committing adultery does not justify physical violence. Not now, not ever.

The system, as well as the dimwits I’ve been seeing on the internet, make it seem like these victims almost don’t have the right to report these crimes because no one’s going to believe them.

This completely disillusioned and idiotic “what goes around comes around” mentality is a huge issue. A survey done in the UK found that young people especially were less likely to be sympathetic towards an assault or rape victim if they’d been drinking or were being flirty. While Dryden wasn’t accused of rape and the case shouldn’t be confused as such, these sentiments are troubling.

The belief that the victim may in some way be responsible could, in turn, lead to less and less people coming forward about the heinous crimes committed against them. Sixty-four per cent of women who experienced physical assault and 81 per cent – you read that right – of women who experienced sexual assault didn’t report it to police. While there are many reasons why a victim wouldn’t report rape or sexual assault, it’s possible that part of the reason why is because of the potential shame. The narrative that’s been continually perpetuated is that the victim is at fault, and the system, as well as the dimwits I’ve been seeing on the internet, make it seem like these victims almost don’t have the right to report these crimes because no one’s going to believe them.

And the media and pop culture don’t really help. We’re often presented with confusing representations of sexuality between men and women, with the latter often being paraded as sexual objects for men. Even the language used in media reports on sexual assault and rape have a role to play in how we respond to a particular case. Did you ever realise that using the passive voice (“a woman was sexually assaulted”) instead of the active voice (“a man was convicted after he assaulted…”) can totally change how the reader perceives the victim? The former may encourage readers to lay more blame on the victim, while the latter puts the perpetrator front and centre.

It’s 2016, and it’s time that we properly establish that this is not on. Frankly, as a self-proclaimed “evolved” society, it seems pretty ridiculous that we’re clinging to these practically medieval views of men, women, assault and rape. Here’s the bottom line: when someone is assaulted or raped, it’s not that person’s fault. And we as the public need to take a step back from being armchair sleuths and create a more supportive narrative for victims.

If you're seeking support for a sexual assault or rape incident, or need some more information, click here to find the right support in your state.

Jackson Langford

Jackson is studying a Bachelor of Communication degree at the University of Newcastle and is the rightful heir to the throne.

Image: Richard Potts, Flickr Creative Commons license