Last week, I read that a young woman from Albury, NSW, was alleged to have been attacked and sexually assaulted at knife point by three men. Shortly after that, I read that the mayor of Albury, Cr Kevin Mack, had some remarks to make about this situation.

The phrase that stood out most to me and to many others was this:

“I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you”

I think we can all agree that appearing in public alone is in no way an invitation to anyone to do anything. Leaving the house is not another way of saying “Here I am, for the taking.” Victim blaming is a cornerstone of rape culture; something that negatively effects us all.


So I wrote to Cr Mack. I sent him an email saying the following:

“I was horrified to learn that a young Albury woman was recently attacked and raped at knife-point by three unknown men. 
I read the article and I was horrified to see this quote from you:
“I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you”
I would like to point out to you that this is a terrible example of victim-blaming. This young woman is in no way responsible for her attack. Walking alone is NEVER an invitation to be “taken advantage of” or, more accurately, gang raped at knife point in this case.
Statements like this contribute to an overall culture where victims of violent crimes and sexual assaults, most often women, are thought to have played some role in their own attack. Not only is this untrue, it removes part of the responsibility from the attacker. There are many examples of this culture and it needs to stop and the blame be placed solely on the perpetrators where it belongs.
Victim blaming is listed as a common reason for under-reporting of such heinous crimes- people are afraid to speak up if they fear being blamed for their own attack which is what you have done here, however inadvertently. I’m sure this was not your intention. 
The following publication I will link to is a paper by a leading criminologist on the subject of rape myths which may help you gain a better insight into the issue of victim blaming:
I received a reply pretty quickly, apologising for the choice of words and with a promise to rectify the situation. It wasn’t so much a choice of words, I felt, but the displaying of a well outdated attitude. Even so, I count it as a win because the next day, Cr Mack issued an unreserved, public apology.
I am not naive enough to think that my email (along with the deluge of others I am sure he received) instantly changed what is obviously an ingrained and well-entrenched belief. What I hope is that the response to his words planted a seed of thought. Not only in Cr Mack’s mind but in some that read along in the news.
I know for a fact that that is how it can work. How do I know? Because that’s how my own mindset changed.
I grew up with the same set of ideas many women have done and still are doing. The mindset that accepts that sometimes, women are behaving in such a way that they’re asking for trouble. This is how I was raised; this is how young women were taught when I went to school. We weren’t necessarily sat down and told this, verbatim,  by teachers and parents- but it was very well conveyed in the attitudes we were exposed to both at school and at home. There is no question that this was the predominant attitude I was exposed to. Over time, I realised that women should be able to wear whatever they liked without anyone taking it as an invitation to anything. Men could go to bars and drink, women should be able to do the same without fear. Walking at night means you have somewhere to be at night time, not that you are inviting assault. Accepting those things was the beginning, for me.
I remember feeling skeptical about a sexual assault claim because the woman had not said no. Along with many other discussions and lots of reading, this was a light bulb moment for me. I’d placed emphasis, in my mind, on her actively refusing. Why had I not thought about her active consent? Why was ‘yes’ the default position in matters like this, when it is not the default position in literally any other situation that allows someone access to your body? It’s not, of course. But the society we live in, the culture of victim blaming, rape culture– these things tell us otherwise.
By calling out things like rape culture and, by extension, victim blaming, and other forms of sexism when we see them, we contribute to changing them. It’s a slow process, but the efforts of women have brought about significant changes to society. For example, we can vote, we can work, we can own property, we are no longer considered property and we can go to a public bar without a man.
We still have quite a way to go so I think we must keep planting these seeds. Get people thinking about their beliefs and why they hold them. In my experience, that’s the key. If we keep talking about it, more and more people will hear our words and perhaps begin to look to their own thoughts on matters like this. It’s one way we can take action. We can call it where we see it, write about it, talk about it, teach our kids about it, we can share information, sign petitions and refuse to contribute to a culture that seeks to exonerate violent attackers by assigning blame to their victims. Planting those seeds is the beginning of widespread change.
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