Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Victim Blaming is Alive and Well

By now, everyone has probably heard of Laura Logan, whether you were previously aware of her career as a journalist or not. Unfortunately, if you've heard her name recently, it was probably connected to the fact that she was sexually assaulted while covering the revolution in Egypt. You would expect those mentions to be offers of support or condolences for the violence that she experienced. However, way too many people have used this tragedy as a platform to victim-blame.

Journalist Nir Rosen used this as an occasion to complain that Logan will somehow be basking in the attention – as if there's a human alive who wants to be remembered for crime that is basically about humiliating, if not destroying, the victim. (Following an outcry about his remarks, Rosen has resigned his post as a fellow at the New York University centre for law and security.) But another blogger, theblogprof, objectified Logan in an attempt to blame CBS for allowing pretty female journalists to take the important assignments. The Gateway Pundit went the same route, suggesting that the response to sexual assault should be to institute formal discrimination against female journalists, keeping them at home and restricting their possibilities for raises and promotion.

In other words, men use sexual violence to put women in their place, and then a chorus of voices rises to blame women who get attacked for not knowing their place. Sadly, it wasn't just rightwing channels that used this as an opportunity to call for more limits on women's freedoms and opportunity. Simone Wilson of LA Weekly pounced to cast aspersions on Logan's professionalism and to imply she asked for it by taking tough assignments.

As feminists have forever said, sexual violence is a crime of power, committed to control and intimidate women. When people react to sexual assault and rape by suggesting women brought it on themselves, they finish the job the attacker started. It's sad to say that the assault on Lara Logan didn't end when she was rescued in Egypt, and to note that it's now being expanded as an assault on all women who have ambitions, or who are willing to be out in public while looking attractive.
One site is running an opinion poll that asks the question outright: Is Laura Logan to blame for her sexual assault? Over 500 people like it on Facebook.

Even if they are not victim blaming, many others are using this assault to attack Muslims or Egyptians, as if sexual assault isn't perpetrated by those professing to be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or of another faith in the US.

In her otherwise good response to this tragedy, the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri does regrettably also give the "us v them" narrative some juice, arguing that in the United States, unlike Egypt, women can walk the streets "unmolested". But the very website she uses correctly to identify the problem of street harassment in Egypt also has studies that show up to 100% of American women suffer street harassment, as well. It's not uncommon in the US for groups of men to take jubilatory occasions and crowds as permission to sexually assault and rape women, either. Such attacks occur at college parties, high school dances and rock concerts, usually with a crowd of onlookers who don't intervene, as happened with Logan until the army and a group of women saved her.
What we should be doing, besides supporting Laura Logan and perhaps making a contribution in her name to a group that fights violence against women, is blaming those who perpetrate sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence and the cultures that spawn them. Those people, and cultures, can be found right here in our own neighborhoods.

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