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Adjusting our attitudes about assault

We can say things have started to change in our society since the “Me Too” movement began with the fall of famous movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. But while women may be encouraged more to come forward with their stories of sexual harassments and assaults, the treatment of these victims still has a lot of room for improvement.

Here’s an example from recent headlines: Michigan State University interim President John Engler resigned on Jan. 16 after a year of making controversial statements about victims of former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar (who was convicted last year of sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls, and is currently spending the rest of his life in prison).

Engler’s less-than-stellar comments included emails suggesting Nassar’s victims received “kickbacks” from lawyers for coming forward. But the last straw, however, came in an interview with the Detroit News where he claimed there are victims “who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”

What an absolutely horrible thing to say! The young ladies who were sexually assaulted by Nassar didn’t come forward in the hopes of receiving awards and accolades. In fact, the only awards they strived for were in their chosen sports—particularly gymnastics—and the abuse they suffered only served to derail many of those aspirations for them.

This isn’t the kind of attitude anyone should have towards these women. There’s no disputing what happened to them, and their abuser has already been sent to prison for his crimes. Why treat them like fame-seekers when that was never anyone’s goal?

Here’s a similar recent example from the other side of the world: Yamaguchi Maho is a singer in a popular Japanese girl group. In December, two male stalkers allegedly assaulted her at her home after learning where she lived from another member of the group. Yamaguchi said they grabbed her face and pinned her down. She thought she was going to be killed.

The police investigated, and the men were ultimately not charged with anything because they claimed they only wanted to talk with her. Yamaguchi spoke out about her experience on social media to spread awareness about the issue, but was quickly silenced by her managers. On Jan. 10, Yamaguchi apologized publicly for “causing trouble.”

Let me say that again: The victim who was attacked in what was supposed to be a safe space—her own home—was the one who offered up words of apology.

But why? She didn’t commit any crimes. Imagine if somebody broke into your home and then you apologized to the neighbors for the mess left behind. Imagine if someone stole your car and you apologized to the person who took it because they had to fill the tank up with gas during their getaway. That’s just as absurd as this. The attitudes of the people surrounding Yamaguchi placed the guilt on her when she didn’t do anything.

These are just two recent examples, but victim-blaming isn’t anything new. For assault victims, it seems like they often have to suffer this kind of treatment on top of what already happened to them. It’s like a lose-lose situation: don’t speak up because no one will believe you or speak up and get treated like the criminal instead.

I’ve said it before in this space, but it bears repeating. Stop blaming the victims for what happened to them. We as a society need to continue to adjust our attitudes on this topic and be more respectful to others. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to focus on teaching people not to commit these crimes? That’s the best way we’ll be able to reduce abuse and assaults. Clearly, the problem is still ongoing with the way we treat it currently.

These women didn’t want to be defined by their terrible experiences but the reality is that they probably will be for the rest of their lives. I’m sure they wanted what anyone else wants, to just be able to live each day normally. So perhaps it would be a better idea to focus on the people who commit these assaults, work towards prevention, and leave the victims in peace.

 

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.