News & Events

Why do we Continue to Blame Victims of Sexual Assault?



Source: excerpt from article by Jacqueline Foord, CEO, YWCA Edmonton, published March 23, 2016, graphic:  YWCA Canada

Sexual assault trials happen in courtrooms across our country every day. A 2012 study revealed that there are about 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. * 

• 15,000 will be reported to the police
• 13,000 will be recorded as a crime
• 5,500 cases will result in charges being laid
• 2,800 cases will be prosecuted
• 1,400 will result in convictions.

Read that again. For every 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada, there will be 1,400 convictions.

Those numbers are as problematic as they are horrific. Sexual assaults are exceptionally under reported crimes. But why? I spoke with sexual assault survivors and the picture became clearer.

These survivors had vastly different experiences, but they shared a common response to their circumstances. They didn’t want to go to the police and they didn’t want to talk to anyone about the assault. Their reasons were the same. They thought no one would believe them; they were embarrassed and ashamed, and they were scared that people would treat them differently once they found out what happened.

We have turned victim blaming and shaming into an art form.

One of our psychologists at YWCA (Edmonton) has a theory that people find it easier to blame the victim rather than come to terms with the fact that evil truly exists in our world. If we accept the presence of evil, then we have to accept that it could happen to us and that is a completely intolerable notion. In a way blaming, the victim might even give us the illusion of control. We convince ourselves that if we just don’t do what she did then it won’t happen to us.

We pay an incredibly high price for victim blaming. Those who have been assaulted live in shame, guilt, and fear and the perpetrators face few or no consequences for their actions. It’s a perverse cycle.

*  Johnson, “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and Court Processing of Sexual Assault in Sheehy, Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, 2012

Read the full article by Jacqueline Foord here: