Quick escape
See Categories

​Maybe he deserved to have his wallet stolen?

July 10 2017 By Mary Barry, Our Watch CEO

When a man’s wallet gets stolen we don’t ask what he was doing out so late, if he was drunk, why he didn’t fight harder or If he was wearing something revealing that ‘showed off his wallet’. And we definitely don’t discourage him from taking action on the grounds that ‘the thief is basically a good guy who made a mistake, and this could really harm his future.’

We don’t ask these questions of a man who had his wallet stolen, because it would be ridiculous –  he is the victim of a crime, and to interrogate him like this would be absurd and unfair. So, why do we do it to victims of sexual assault? 

Too often I see worrying attitudes among the general public, people in positions of power and media commentators. They point the finger at the victim, who is most often female, asking how she got herself in this situation. 

We’ve all heard it before: “What was she doing there?”, “Why was she dressed like that?”, “What did she think was going to happen?” and “Well, boys will be boys…”. 

When we justify and excuse violence against women, and start to shift blame like this, it inevitably discourages victims from coming forward.

According to the NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Linda Howlett, the high prevalence of victim blaming attitudes is why less than half of sexual assault cases secure a conviction in the state.

Each year the NSW Police receive reports of more than 7,000 sexual and indecent assault incidents. Only about one in ten of these incidents result in someone being found guilty in court. Read the report here

What we know about our victim-blaming culture, and the prevalence of violence against women in Australia, is that it begins with pervasive social and cultural gender inequity. 

From a young age, we are exposed to unhealthy stereotypes that paint men as dominant sexual beings that can’t control their urges. And women and girls are portrayed as submissive and weak, and are told to moderate their behaviour to avoid tempting men or giving them ‘the wrong idea’. 

A report commissioned by Our Watch and ANROWS last year, Media Representations of Violence Against Women, revealed that 15 percent of all articles about violence against women contained victim blaming. Things like she was drinking, she went home with the perpetrator, she was out alone, they were arguing, she didn’t report previous incidents/did not leave.

Numerous studies have shown an association between depictions of violence against women in the news media and audience attitudes and perceptions, particularly around who is to blame. 13 percent of young people (between 12-20 years old) believe that if a female is drunk or affected by drugs, she is at least partly responsible for unwanted sex. This is according to research from the Our Watch youth campaign, The Line, which also found that 15 percent of young people believe that if a female wears revealing clothing, she is at least partly responsible for unwanted sex.

What is particularly concerning about young people who believe violence and sexual coercion can be justified, is that they are at greater risk of perpetrating violence against women in the future.

The good news is that these worrying attitudes and behaviours can be disrupted with guidance from people they look up to. Parents, teachers, media personalities, sporting role models, musicians and young people’s peers play an integral role in inspiring them to question disrespectful behaviours. 

While there is no comparison between the violation of being sexually assaulted and having your wallet stolen, the analogy highlights the pervasive problem that exists when our social structures, and the public discourse that place the onus on victims of sexual assault and rape to prove that they are, in fact, victims.  

When a man has his wallet stolen, we don’t ask him what he could have done to provoke or prevent the attack. We ask the wallet thief why they stole. It’s about time we started asking the same of people who choose to assault others.

Media contact:

Hannah Grant, Media Manager, Our Watch: 0448 844 930 or hannah.grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”

Read guides for reporting about violence against women and their children.

About Our Watch

Our Watch’s purpose is to raise awareness and engage policy-makers and the Australian community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.

To do this the organisation works to increase gender equality and respect in all aspects of everyday life, such as through schools; workplaces; media; sporting organisations; social marketing, and developing and influencing public policy.

Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.