In contemporary North America, if one were to ask almost any member of society what were the most heinous crimes a human being could commit, almost assuredly rape would be listed amongst every top five. Maybe it would even be competing for the number one spot. It is highly unlikely, absurd even, to think that any reasonable being would not find rape (or the broader term of sexual assault used in Canada) to be an abhorrent act becoming of no real human being. However, knowing this: that is, that the vast majority of citizens in North American society are in agreement on the nature of such a crime, it is all the more puzzling that many continue to harbour a mindset that gives them the tendency to blame the victim to an extent in such cases – especially in incidents where the perpetrator is male and the victim female.
Blaming the victim of rape is a well-documented phenomenon which may be subtle in its presence, such as when one makes unrealistic statements about what the victim could have done to protect themselves; alternatively, it may take the form of outright displacement of the blame for the entire crime, an example being one saying the victim was asking for it. As a result of this widespread and sometimes subtle presence in the cultural psyche, victim blaming not only finds itself in the minds of random citizens whose beliefs alone have little effect on the lives of others, but in the decisions made by those in the Criminal Justice System who find themselves involved in rape cases. As a result of the ubiquitous and fallacious attitudes towards rape that seep into the Criminal Justice System from larger society, victim blaming creates bias in a system which should be without anything of the sort.
In 2012, two male students in the United States Naval Academy based out of Annapolis sexually assaulted a female student at an off campus social gathering. The woman, who had no memory of the events, only learned about the rapes on social media the day after. Ideally, a case such as this would be rather cut and dry: these two men exploited an intoxicated woman and had sex with her without her consent, which constitutes rape, which is a crime. However, when the case went to trial the next year, the defense attempted to of course spin it in a totally different direction: that she had led the men on and regretted it later, leading to her crying rape – and her being drunk did not excuse this behaviour (Steinhauer II, 2013). In fact, the attorneys were given the freedom to ask intrusive and uncomfortable questions because of the trial being a military court martial rather than a civilian court case. Many of the questions themselves were outright condemning of the victim (Steinhauer I, 2013)
In situations such as that, it’s easy to simply look at the defense attorneys as bad people who are trying to blame the victim in an attempt to exonerate their clients. The latter half of that is, in fact, true: they are attempting to displace...