Stop telling sexual assault victims how they should have prevented it

This is CNN reporter Don Lemon, asking a woman who has accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault if she could have avoided performing forced oral sex.


Recently, the American Enterprise think tank suggested that women contribute to their own sexual assault by getting “seriously intoxicated.” A Slate writer suggested a similar “solution” to the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses.

And earlier this year, a company invented a nail polish that changes colors if the wearer has been exposed to a common date rape drug.

All of these strategies put the onus on victims to prevent sexual assaults.

Risk reduction does have a role in reducing the number of rapes, assaults and abuses committed.

But it is not the solution. Worse, this line of conversation distracts from the real problem: the perpetrators.

To suggest that victims should have prevented their own assaults—as Don Lemon did in that interview—is to suggest that rapists only rape because the victim gave them the opportunity.

The onus of prevention is not on the victim.

This is the same as blaming a homeowner for a home invasion because they didn’t have bars on the windows, or saying they deserved it for living in the wrong part of town. Instead of focusing our energy on trying to determine what the victim could have done differently, we need to focus on the perpetrators.

We need to focus on how to prevent rape and sexual assaults, and ensure these crimes are prosecuted when they do happen.

Telling survivors that they should have prevented the crime doesn’t help anyone.