Victim Blaming, “Asking For It” and Baiting Outrage-On the Radio

Feb. 20, 2013 From link-baiting to headline making, there’s no question I’ve written my share of ‘don’t bite the hook,’ articles about using media with mindfulness,especially when there’s an opportunity for ‘baiting outrage.’

Today, we’re hearing from 23-year old youth voice Bailey Shoemaker Richards who sounds off about not one, not two, but THREE separate radio programs baiting the pairing of “young women’s attire and sexual assault” to create heated ‘debate’ (hint, there is none) in what amounts to a rape culture fabrication of ‘controversy.’ (during the very serious consciousness raising of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month no less, as we try to EDUCATE vs. perpetuate ‘excuse making’ for sexual assault, date rape and ‘asking for it’ memes)

With the Violence Against Women Act in the news for passing the Senate and heading to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the “One Billion Rising” global social media event to unify the world in ending violence against women in its many forms, I personally find it trite,  crass and offensive that conversations veer to hem length and cleavage in a blame game bonanza for radio ratings.

I DO “understand” radio’s amped volume and ratcheted decibel level and frequency to glean market share in hopes of engaging viewers…and the whys of adding sensationalized “static” to the airwaves online to self-fuel the shows (especially when “Is radio dying?” seems to cycle through the topics list in a macabre self-cannibalizing feat of frenzied conjecture as wireless networks emerge) but frankly, we owe it to ourselves in this attention economy to strike back hard at this recklessness, calling it out straight up, or using block and bury tactics (by not giving it our attention at all). Some of us will use the pervasiveness of shock schlock as a critical thinking springboard in a larger societal dialog, not just a media one…but it’s WAY past time we ‘start asking the right questions’ as Bailey indicates in her guest post.

Bailey speaks not just for my 17-year old who finds it absurd she’s subjected to public scrutiny as a barista in a tee-shirt with some guy making smarmy comments about focusing on the logo on her chest (snappy comebacks beyond ’17 will get you 20′ are appreciated for next time; and yes, there’s always a next time) she speaks for all women and girls who deserve to look in the mirror without reflecting on a predator/prey primal notion, as poignantly expressed in this stop victim blaming Tumblr site called “This is what I was wearing….”

It’s time we rewrite the questions. Rewind the rambling radio reverb. And demand the glare of the media spotlight hit the right mark. Take it away, Bailey…Youth speaks. Loudly. And wisely.


Start Asking the Right Questions!

Radio Shows and Victim-Blaming

by Bailey Shoemaker Richards

There’s a certain type of radio show that flourishes in the realm of instantaneous reaction – that is, online. These shows thrive on asking “controversial” questions and piecing together responses as content.

From people’s reactions on Twitter and Facebook to actually calling in to the show, they rely on those reactions for their existence.

Inevitably, it seems, that means they stray into actively harmful modes of questioning, and one particular question seems to pop up rather frequently. So frequently, in fact, that I saw it three times between January 25 and February 15, 2013.

It would seem that radio hosts the world over really want to know how much blame to place on women who have been sexually assaulted. Some variation of this query appears with disheartening regularity in the debate format, as though there is a legitimate debate to be had about whether a rapist is really at fault for raping.

And the shows really don’t like it when the question is reframed that way. Reminding people that the criminal is the one guilty of a crime just doesn’t make for good “controversy.”

Responses from radio shows when called out on their victim-blaming take one of a few forms. Deleting the question and acting like it never happened was the route taken by London’s Biggest Conversation 97.3 (@lcb973 on Twitter) before moving right on to ask, “As a nation, are we too sensitive to discrimination?” Yikes.

Another common reaction is doubling down and acting like the radio show is the one being victimized by the angry responses to their question. ITV Daybreak (@Daybreak on Twitter) decided this was the way to handle the outpouring of rage that greeted them.

They blocked people on Twitter and continue to delete critical comments on Facebook, beneath their non-apology for asking, “Controversial question – can women who are drunk or flirty ever be blamed for being attacked? Some viewers said yes in survey – [your] thoughts?”

A third show, BBC Free Speech (@BBCFreeSpeech on Twitter) hosted the creator of the Everyday Sexism website and Twitter of the same name for a debate framed as,

“Are young women putting themselves at risk?”

That one doesn’t sound all that bad – until you read the whole question:

“Are young women in this country putting themselves at risk of being abused by going out clubbing and wearing provocative clothing?”

While I love Everyday Sexism for the community and amplification of voice provided on the site and Twitter, that debate unleashed an absolute torrent of victim blaming. One woman wrote that, “…we as women should take responsibility for what we wear and how we behave! Self respect [costs] nothing!” As if it’s possible to fend off a rapist with your self-respect.

The only encouraging aspect of these situations is that there is a perhaps equal torrent of rage directed at the questioners. People demand that the station acknowledge that their ‘debate’ contributes to rape culture, and offer statistics and information to show how damaging those types of questions truly are.

While deleting the question and pretending like it was never there isn’t a productive response, it at least removes the ‘debate’ from the airwaves.

(Amy’s insertion: On the other hand, case studies of deleting any debates usually backfire, just ask Applebee’s hot mess of a media moment, melting down overnight on Facebook just a few weeks ago, and captured in this photo essay—My advice? Take the existential route and ‘own it’ people.

Address it head on, deconstruct it, apologize, or whatever; you can run, but you cannot hide in 21st century digital doings–ok, now back to Bailey)—>>

I’m so tired of having these conversations.

It’s the same questions in disguise, every single time:

How much blame can we place on women for the actions someone else took against them?

How long can we deny that roughly 70% of rapists target drunk women, and 90% target primarily women they know (75% target only women they know) – and how long can we deny that questions about who’s responsible only serve to legitimize the actions of rapists and remove the focus from their crimes?

How far can we go towards acting like rape is a deserved consequence of certain behaviors, thus perpetuating the myth that women who never, ever drink or wear short skirts or flirt are safe from rape?

How long can we ignore that the only person who can be blamed for a crime is the person who committed it?

Questions like these are not harmless.

The attitude that a woman’s behavior makes her more or less “deserving” of rape is not confined to attention-seeking DJs looking for more listeners. The “she was asking for it” defense stretches to the New York Times, where the rape of a 12-year-old girl was questioned because she ‘dressed older than her age.’

In the same paper, Walter Madison – lawyer for one of the Steubenville football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl last summer – was quoted as saying that the victim “had posted provocative comments and photographs on her Twitter page over time.” He added that those online posts “demonstrated that she was sexually active,” because as we all know, consenting to sex at one time automatically gives consent to any person looking penetrate that woman’s body at any time, even if she’s blacked out. Oh no, wait, it doesn’t.

And there was that word again: Provocative.

Women, so the story goes, “provoke” men by being drunk or flirty or attractive or asleep or in public or in our homes or wearing a miniskirt or wearing baggy clothes or smiling at them or existing in any significant way at all. And it’s up to the world to remind us, over and over again, that when men attack and rape us, it’s our fault. We provoked it.

I can’t for the life of me understand why more men don’t get ticked off by the assertion that they’re nothing more than criminals who can’t control themselves, especially when research shows that only about 6% of men are, in fact, rapists. And please think for a moment about the staggering implications of that: Between 1 out of 3 and 1 out of 5 women will be sexually assaulted, and those assaults will be carried out by a very small percentage of men.

Those men, however, are very good at escaping our collective attention. It’s much easier to manufacture “controversy” over skirt length than it is to question the fact that a small number of men are raping huge numbers of women and avoiding arrest, prosecution and jail time.

It’s much easier to wonder why women “put themselves at risk” of rape than it is to ask why so few women are willing to come forward after we’ve been attacked. It’s so much easier to say that women must have done something to get ourselves raped than it is to thoughtfully examine the structural inequities that make it so easy for men to rape.

It’s much easier to tell women when and how we can be blamed for being raped than it is to say, “Who the hell are these men? And how do we stop them?”

Those are the questions worth asking.

Bailey Shoemaker Richards, 23, is a writer, feminist activist and market research analyst. She holds a BA in creative writing from Ohio University, and spends her free time reading, writing and playing video games.

She is passionate about grassroots activism, media critique and giving young women a voice. You can follow Bailey on Twitter.

For more of Bailey’s contributions on Shaping Youth, check out:

Monster High’s Mixed Messages About Bullying (with 3 key media literacy talking points) Miss Travel is a Misstep: A Look Through the Myopic Lens of Power (about an ‘attractive people fly free’ pitch for young ingenues) and Sexism Moving to the Forefront of Gaming Culture Convos (Anita Sarkeesian’s trolling story with a happy ending on ‘upstanding’ citizens!)

We hope to hear much more from Bailey when Shaping Youth (finally) relaunches with an expanded format in 2013.

Related Reading on Boundaries/Abuse/TDVAM

by Amy Jussel, on Shaping Youth

Love is Respect: Teen Texting Tools to Get Dialed In To Dating Abuse

The Bro Code: Media, Masculinity & Misogynistic Misfires

Public Health and the Grammys: Rihanna/Chris Brown DV Messaging

Media Messaging, Binge Drinking and Teens

Depravity Gone Viral: A Thin Line For Humanity

Man Down? Girl Up, Rihanna. Own Your Influence.

What Does A 13-Year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence? Plenty.

Backdraft: DV=Differing Views on Dating/Domestic Violence

Attention KMart Shoppers, Dating Violence on Aisle 3

Predatory Practices As Sport? Boys to Men & Swaggerfests

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Talk to Me: Because Media Matters for Youth Outreach

Uplifting, Positive Picks for Youth Outreach:  Resource Roundup

Dear Media, Please Change Your Channel of Influence

Teaching Moments: Get Boys to Participate in “GirlCaught” to Dial Down Disrespect

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

A Few Related Resources

Related Media Literacy Documentaries from our friends at Media Education Foundation:

Where is Your Line (The Line film and clips at MEF here) and Asking For It, including a simple teaching analogy/video clip on ‘affirmative consent’ to teach “don’t rape vs. don’t get raped.” The professor uses the core principle of the “right of way” in driver’s ed, explaining:

“The right of way is not something you have, it’s something the other driver gives you, and if the other driver doesn’t give it to you, you don’t have it— no matter what you think the rules of the road are supposed to be, or what you think you’re entitled to.”

Basically…a red light/green light teachable moment. Simple, memorable.

Communities Against Violence Network: (CAVnet)

True Child: Masculinity, Bullying & Aggression

True Child: Fast Facts: Stats on Masculinity, Bullying & Violence

GuyLand: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

Byron Hurt’s site for his film: Hip-Hop, Beyond Beats & Rhymes

Jackson Katz.com: The Macho Paradox, Tough Guise-Violence, Media & the Crisis of Masculinity & media literacy galore!

U.S.: Mens Anti-Violence Resources/Organizations (Men Can Stop Rape List: Including Athletes for Sexual Responsibility, MVP)

Marketing Media Violence: CCFC Fact Sheet/pdf 

Photo Credits: Lead photo: We Heart It.com meme; Screenshots-Bailey; B&W signage: Women Under Siege Project, Color signage: London ‘SlutWalk’ protesting sexual assault against women

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