One central component of rape culture is the tendency to blame victims and sympathize with perpetrators, and one way we do this is by making excuses for sexual assault and harassment. In reality, these actions — like any other crime — are inexcusable. And when we examine the excuses commonly made for them, it becomes abundantly clear that they're motivated not by logical reasoning, but by myths that protect criminals and maintain rape culture. In short: These excuses make absolutely no sense.
Despite their inherent nonsensicalness, though, they not only often come up in court to defend people accused of sex crimes, but are also frequently used by the perpetrators and even the victims themselves. Because our culture has spent so long teaching us that it's hard for men to help themselves (it's not) and some people are asking to be violated (they're not), we end up downplaying crimes committed against us. That's one of several reasons that, according to the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network, most sexual assault victims don't report the incident.
But no matter what the victim has done, who the perpetrator is, or what happened before, during, or after the incident, there are no circumstances that make this type of crime less serious. Here are some excuses commonly made for sexual assault and harassment — and the reasons why these crimes cannot be excused.
1"Men Just Can't Help Themselves"
This excuse is usually made when the perpetrator is a man, due to the stereotype that men's sexual urges are impossible to control. But sexual assault and harassment are not motivated by sexual desire alone. They're motivated by the goal of asserting power over somebody else. Feeling sexual desire and not acting on it is completely possible no matter who you are, and nobody owes anyone any help satisfying their urges.
(And let's not forget that it's also extraordinarily insulting to men to tell them that they obviously have no control over themselves.)
2"It Wasn't A Big Deal"
We have an imaginary hierarchy of crimes that says rape is the most serious one, while groping, verbal harassment, online harassment, and other sex crimes that aren't rape can be shrugged off. Different actions can certainly affect people differently, but it's not always that linear. And no matter how an incident compares to other ones, it's still serious. As long as someone's boundaries have been violated, it's still a crime, and still inexcusable.
3"It Was A Misunderstanding"
People accused of sexual misconduct and their lawyers will sometimes say that the victim sent mixed messages or led them to believe they wanted something they didn't. But "misunderstandings" don't excuse sexual assault, because if you don't understand what someone wants, you don't go ahead and do something to them anyway. And if you don't get a clear "yes" from them, don't just assume you understand. That's one reason it's so important to communicate during any sexual encounter. Do these conversations have the potential to be awkward? Sure. But awkwardness is not an excuse to risk violating someone's boundaries.
4"They're Just Socially Awkward"
Another common excuse for sexual misconduct, particularly verbal harassment, is that the person was too socially inept to know they'd done something wrong. But there's a difference between being socially awkward and being a creep. Once again, sexual harassment and assault are committed with the intention of asserting power over someone. Even if someone genuinely doesn't realize that what they're saying is inappropriate, they should be called out on it so they don't do it in the future, not excused.
5"She Led Him On"
It supposedly mitigates sexual assault if the victim has slept with someone before, kissed them, married them, or invited them to their room. But no past consent amounts to consent for a future activity. Consenting to one thing isn't "leading someone on" unless you believe that thing implies consent for something else, which it doesn't. You need to get consent for everything you do, and nothing excuses not doing that.