And today in feminism in action: Brooklyn City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo corrected victim-blaming from a CNN anchor in a way that is nothing short of inspiring — and she did it on live TV, no less! It went down like this: CNN Anchor Pamela Brown and Councilwoman Cumbo were discussing the horrific gang-rape of an 18-year-old girl in Brooklyn, New York, and lo and behold, questions rooted in victim-blaming arose during the conversation. Brown, in an attempt to get Cumbo to talk about the alleged victim's role in the alleged crime, noted that law enforcement sources told CNN, "This alleged victim in this case was drunk, combative, and bit a police officer and that she initially refused treatment. What can you tell us about that?"
But Cumbo refused to engage in this line of questioning, which faults sexual assault victims rather than holding people who commit rape responsible for the crime. "We shouldn't talk about whether she was drunk, whether she was properly dressed, we shouldn't talk about the time of the evening that it happened," Cumbo responded. "That is too typical of the situation of how we discuss rape in this city, the nation, and really the world. We need to focus in this situation on those five individuals that committed this heinous crime, and what were the bad decisions that they made all throughout the day. Have they been drinking? Have they been smoking?"
In redirecting us to the alleged suspects of the crime, Cumbo also directed us to think about the racial and socioeconomic dimensions at play in this case. In the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, the population is 76 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic, according to the latest census data. One third of families live below the poverty line, and the median income was just over $26,800 in 2011. A recent community survey showed that "80 percent of residents identified guns, gangs, drug use, drug selling, and assault as the top community problems." These facts help us to understand why Cumbo argued that the alleged perpetrators of the gang rape believed that they could get away with it. "They're thinking that because they're black, she's black, her father is black, that they're thinking that no one really cares about what we do in this community. There will be no repercussions," she said.
Though survey data shows that a staggering 40 percent of African-American women have experienced coercive sexual contact before the age of 18, only 18.8 percent of African-American women ever report their rape. But under Cumbo's watch, "There will be repercussions," she said. "We're here, we're discussing this matter because we want to let individuals know: whether you are on the Upper East Side or in Brownsville, all women matter, and we're here to make sure that that message is sent loud and clear."
Because she is absolutely right: It doesn't matter what someone is wearing, where they are, who they're with, what time of day it is, or whether they've previously been intimate with someone else — rape is never the fault of the victim. It is the fault of the rapist. It is not on victims not to get raped; it is on rapists not to rape in the first place.