Feminists and activists have long argued that violence against women is never the victim’s fault. We’ve done so against every other powerful influence within society arguing the polar opposite. The media especially can be quick to jump on this, coining catchy headlines which wrongly suggest that the victim got what they deserved, that they were somehow ‘asking for it’.
We’re told that these headlines and stories are just how the media works, it’s meant to be eye-catching, you see. Black inking that does nothing except endorse harmful ideas that a slim majority of Scots already believe and invites others to think the same.
‘What was she wearing’? ‘Had she been drinking’? ‘She provoked him.’ ‘Why doesn’t she just leave’? ‘Why did she take the pictures in the first place’?
These dangerous attitudes don’t just dominate headlines, they seep into court rooms, classrooms, staff rooms and living rooms. They are the norm.
There is no cause without effect, and the impact of these attitudes is far reaching. These attitudes stop women from asking for help for fear that their reaching out will be greeted with blame and shame. These attitudes keep women from reporting sexual violence and domestic abuse. These attitudes make us obsess over the behavior, clothing and alcohol consumption of the victim. The one responsible escapes all scrutiny.
Because that is who is missing from this conversation, isn’t it? The perpetrator: the person who chooses to inflict harm, who chooses to terrorize his victim, the one who hurts her, hits her, controls her, and manipulates her. The person invisible here is the one who breaks the law and shares, or threatens to share, her intimate images.
He has been led to believe that women’s bodies are there for his consumption, for his pleasure and for him to do with as he wishes. Society – including the media – has taught him this.
But now the spotlight is on him.
From July, a new law in Scotland means that anyone who shares or threatens to share someone else’s intimate images or videos without their consent could face up to five years in prison. Those who choose to take a path of abusive behaviour may soon face consequences.
The new law and accompanying Scottish Government awareness raising campaign are indeed progress, we hope, but alone they cannot fix a problem the scale of the one we face.
Intimate images shared between consenting adults is not the problem. The problem is perpetrators who abuse their power, breach her trust and share them without her consent, no matter their motivation. The problem is a society that endorses that behavior by asking what she could and should have done differently.
I know there is still a long way to go; victim blaming runs deep into each crevice and cranny of our communities. But it’s on each and every one of us to challenge it, change it and channel our energies towards a more equal Scotland for all.
Brenna Jessie, Scottish Women’s Aid
Image credit Gilles Lambert via Unsplash