As I wrote in my previous article, I was sexually assaulted my sophomore year of college by a stranger at an outdoor, public music festival.
I am now a rising senior and have taken the past two years to reflect on my experience with sexual assault.
One major theme that stuck out to me were the questions I received when I initially started to open up about my sexual assault. “Why did you put yourself in that situation?” was a common question I was asked. One person assumed I was raped and asked if I had gone to the hospital to get a rape kit.
Right away, I was the bad guy.
Consequently, I was more reluctant to share my story with my friends and family. I heavily relied on my two best friends who had gone through similar situations to be my emotional support.
They had first-hand experiences with sexual assault and knew how to talk to me about it without blaming me. Had more people been educated on the proper way to support victims of sexual assault I may have had a bigger support system during this time.
The Different Forms of Victim-Blaming
In my experience, people were mainly concerned with my actions and how they caused my sexual assault. I was asked questions along the lines of, “were you drinking?” and “why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Neither of which were aimed at helping me feel supported and validated.
While I was trying to cope, people went out of their way to make comments to “encourage” me to feel better. My roommate told me “you won’t get any better if you keep feeling sorry for yourself.” I had mentors try to get me access to Title IX resources before I was ready to fully explain my story.
Other people cornered me and blamed me for something that WAS NEVER MY FAULT TO BEGIN WITH. These specific people never stopped or tried to understand my story or my perspective.
It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are
I was a 19-year-old teenager when this happened. But what if I had been a male? What if I was a different race? Would people have blamed me less if I was not a white female?
One study found that regardless of race, victims are blamed more if their rapist was a different race.
Gender stereotypes are commonly used in victim-blaming. Men receive more behavioral blame relating to the stereotype of strength and masculinity.
People assume they should have been “tough enough” to fight back. On the other hand, females are often blamed for their feminine characteristics, such as being careless or too trusting.
At the end of the day, judgments and assumptions only hurt victims.
Victim Blaming 101: The Do’s and Dont’s of Supporting Sexual Assault Victims
Giving support and validating the feelings of sexual assault survivors is not rocket science.
1. Listen Before You Speak
First and foremost, let the survivor speak and share their story before you insert commentary. Give them the chance to control their own story.
This way the listener will be able to hear, fully analyze what has been said, and formulate an empathetic and supportive response to the victim.
“Give them the chance to control their own story.”
When my roommate told me not to feel sorry for myself, I did not leave my bed for days, I took a three-day break from swimming, and did not want to talk to anybody.
I perceived this as her being inconsiderate to my feelings and after that day I never spoke to her about how I was coping.
2. Don’t Bring Up Alcohol
Unless you are the investigator, don’t probe a victim for information. Allow them to tell you details when and if they feel comfortable doing so. Asking someone whether they were drinking or not can easily segway into victim-blaming, whether you intend it to or not.
About 43% of sexual assault incidents involve the victim drinking and 69% involve alcohol use by the perpetrator. In one-third of sexual assaults, the perpetrator is intoxicated.
However, drinking does not make a victim responsible and does not justify their attacker. Questions about alcohol use imply that it does.
After my assault, blame and accusations were automatically put on me since I “put myself in a vulnerable position because of alcohol”. These assumptions that alcohol “caused” my sexual assault belittled me and excused my perpetrator’s behavior.
My therapist told me that I am allowed to drink. I am allowed to go out to a music festival and have fun with my friends. What is not allowed, is a perpetrator taking advantage of my body just because I consumed alcohol.
3. Remember That The Victim Is a Victim
That night, I wanted to enjoy live music and bond with my teammates, while the man who assaulted me had much different intentions.
The people who blamed me first let him get away it. To this day, that man was not held responsible for assaulting me.
No matter what, the perpetrator is the one to blame. They may have been intoxicated, sober, a professional athlete, or a regular person, but there is no reason why ANYBODY should touch another person without their full, legal consent.
I understand how supporting sexual assault victims can be difficult. It is hard to hear a story and not mention ways they could have avoided the situation. But survivors do not tell their story to receive criticism; rather, they are seeking love and support from friends and family.
My best friends were able to do this for me. The first words out of their mouths were “Megan I’m so sorry”. They hugged me, listened to me, and reassured me that it was not my fault.
We formed our own mini sexual assault survivor support group and were wholeheartedly there to support one another.
“…Survivors do not tell their story to receive criticism; rather, they are seeking love and support from friends and family.”
My emotional support group was very small. I didn’t trust how others might react based off of how I had been victim blamed before. I only wish that people would have understood that I did not ask to be assaulted.
It ONLY happened because that man decided to touch me. Not because of anything that I wore, drank, or did. Period.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
Written By: Megan Delgado
Megan is a rising senior at Queens University in Charlotte, where she’s a member of the 5-time NCAA Division 2 Champion Women’s Swim Team.
Originally from Southern California, she’s the biggest Disney nerd ever and dreams of raising a corgi.
Megan is majoring in psychology, minoring in human services, and has wanted to be a writer her entire life!