Rape. It brings to mind images of force, an obvious lack of consent, maybe even a weapon. In the stereotypical scenario, the victim is clearly saying no, and the perpetrator either threatens them or forces them to do something against their will.

The truth is that rape rarely ever looks like that. Two of every three rapes are committed by someone the victim knows (see Types of Sexual Violence). Most of the time, instead of weapons or force, perpetrators use tactics like coercion to pressure someone into doing something that they don’t want to do.

According to RAINN, every 98 seconds, someone in the US experiences sexual assault. That’s about 880 people every day, and 321,500 people each year who have suffered from sexual violence.

So, if this crime is so pervasive, why is it also so common to blame the victims and survivors? Victim blaming can be very straightforward; does the phrase “they were asking for it” sound familiar? It can also be a lot harder to identify, like if someone shrugs and says, “well, that person was really drunk” of a victim that was sexually assaulted at a party. Any time someone responds to a victim by questioning what they could have done differently, they are participating in victim blaming.

The definition of victim blaming is holding the victim accountable for a crime that was committed against them. We live in a society where people, mostly women, are told to avoid rape or counseled on how to deal with what happens if they are raped. Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to teach people, mostly men, how to avoid committing the crime of rape in the first place? MESA recognizes that not all victims are women and not all perpetrators are men, but that is the trend that the current data shows.

The answer to why victim blaming is so common is a complicated one. When any type of crime is committed against you, it’s human nature to wonder what you could have done differently. While this can sometimes be useful to prevent future events of a similar nature, it is important to differentiate those sorts of thoughts from blaming yourself or blaming any victim. Any crime, especially sexual assault, would never occur if there were not a perpetrator. The most important thing to remember is that, no matter what the victim did or did not do, they would not be a victim if it weren’t for the person who committed the crime against them. All people should feel safe going about their normal lives without constantly preparing themselves for the worst possible scenario.

There are many aspects of our culture that feed into victim blaming, and it takes an open mind and open conversation to unlearn a lot of them. Here’s a good place to start: when someone is sexually assaulted, it was never their fault. The rest is just details.

Here is some more information on victim blaming: