11 Sexist Responses To Sexual Assault

by Cate Carrejo

Unfortunately, it is far too easy to find examples of wildly sexist responses to sexual assault and rape. One particularly inflammatory comment from 2014 that recently made its way into the headlines, due to the judge's hearing for disbarment: The victim, who was allegedly raped in a bathroom at a party, was offered only a baffling and blaming question by the judge. "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" Seriously. That's what Canadian judge Robin Camp asked a 19-year-old survivor two years ago. He also advised the alleged rapist to be more careful the next time he assaulted someone: "I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women," said Camp. "They have to be far more patient. And they have to be very careful. To protect themselves, they have to be very careful."

Camp later apologized to the victim for his comments, calling them "rude and insulting," and blamed his acquittal of the rapist on his "non-existent" knowledge of Canadian law (which is obviously disturbing in and of itself). But even if he really did eventually see the error of his ways, Camp's comments still highlights a troubling pattern that's been around for far too long. Many people, including many in the criminal justice system, don't know how to talk about sexual assault respectfully, without blaming the victim or denying justice.

Due to the systemic lack of awareness about sexual assault, these infuriating comments continue to this day — and, unfortunately, we probably haven't heard the last of them.

"Prison Will Hurt Him"

There's nothing more basely sexist than prioritizing the life of a man over the life of a woman just because of gender, as in the now infamous case of Brock Turner. The victim is going to be dealing with the fallout from the assault for the rest of her life, not to mention the enraging injustice of seeing her attacker only serve three months in jail. But Turner was privileged to have such a short sentence because it would impact his life.

"Had You Hooked Up Before?"

Just like alcohol, previous sexual activity is totally irrelevant to victimization. Consent is an ongoing process, and can be retracted at any time. Even if the victim and assailant had hooked up before, it doesn't make an assault not an assault.

"She's Lying"

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Kesha's allegations of sexual abuse by her former mentor Dr. Luke were met with support from fellow celebrities and denial from her alleged attacker. "The only thing Kesha is not free to do is to continue to lie about Dr. Luke," said one of the music producer's spokespeople in a statement to Rolling Stone. Accusing women of lying about rape is one of the most sexist responses possible because it not only undermines their account of the incident, but their character as well. Plenty of people were on Kesha's side, but the social tendency not to believe women when they claim they've been raped was still prevalent.

"Did You Close Your Legs?"

"Did you close your legs and all your female organs?" Spanish judge Maria del Carmen Molina Mansilla asked a rape victim earlier this year. Her comment proves that women aren't born with an inherent understanding of how to navigate assault (or the female body), and need to be taught just as much as men about why victim blaming is both wrong and damaging.

"Guys Can't Get Raped"

Speaking of which, let's destroy the myth that only women are the victims of assault. Assault can happen to anyone, like this powerful photo series that Ithaca College student Yana Mazurkevich made after Brock Turner's release.

"What Was She Wearing?"

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A 1977 rape case in Madison, Wisconsin, was an early example of a justification for assault that's still all too common today. Three young men were accused of raping a high school girl, but the judge in the case chose to blame their actions on the "sexually permissive community" rather than the men themselves. "Should we punish a 15‐or 16‐year‐old boy who reacts to it normally? It used to cost money in Chicago to see women wearing clothing now seen in public," the judge said, according to The New York Times.

"She's Just Doing It For Attention"

This one gets used in a lot of different contexts, including rape. Victims who speak out about their assault are susceptible to any number of horrific injustices after their attack, like a judgmental community or mistreatment by police — reporting your rape isn't exactly a walk in the park. Less than 10 percent of rape reports are provably false, so there's a high, high probability that a survivor is being honest.

"She Looked Older"

An 11-year-old Texas girl was gang-raped by no less than 21 men in 2011, but some members of her community suggested that she brought the assault upon herself because she looked older and wore makeup. One defendant's attorney, Steve Taylor, also made the victim sound like the seducer, with a sickening reference to the fable The Spider and The Fly. "Like the spider and the fly. Wasn't she saying, 'Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?'" Taylor asked in a statement.

"[He's] Not Your Typical Offender"

Sir Young of Dallas was sentenced to just 45 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl, even after he admitted to police that he had sex with her over her vocalized objections. "What we have here is an 18-year-old high school student who was very talented, very gifted," Young's attorney, Scottie Allen, told CNN's New Day. "We don't think that he qualifies as your typical sex offender. This is not somebody who has preyed on some young kids or unsuspecting people," Allen continued. The judge in the case, Jeanine Howard, also told The Dallas Morning News that she gave Young a lighter sentence partially because of the victim's previous sexual history. In reality, there's no such thing as a "typical offender" because just like victims, they come from all demographics.

"What Were You Drinking?"

It totally doesn't matter what state the victim is in. Being raped or assaulted is never anybody's fault and doesn't make it any less horrific, period, full stop.

"He Was Drunk, He Couldn't Control Himself"

Once again, the flip side of that alcohol myth works in favor of men. If you're drinking and driving, you're no less liable for causing an accident than if you were sober. The same goes for assault.

Rape culture is a powerful force in American society, but identifying problematic comments like these can help combat it. Understanding why these responses aren't OK is vital to reducing sexual assault and creating a safer world for everyone.