Stop blaming victims for sexual assaults

Updated: 2016-06-14 07:51

By Liu Minghui(China Daily)

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Stop blaming victims for sexual assaults

Sexual harassment cases have been on the rise, with most victims being women. But it's not unusual to hear comments that women should dress properly and behave themselves to avoid sexual harassment.

In the recent past, Henan provincial police even posted a message on its micro blog, a twitter-like service, that women who dress inappropriately, or like dating, drinking or smoking are easy targets, sparking a heated public debate. The storm of criticism the micro blog raised forced the police to withdraw it.

Such comments and wrong assumptions-blaming the victims instead of the perpetrators-show that we have to change our way of thinking on sexual harassment. They wrongly suggest offenders' actions are pardonable because the victims have done something wrong.

Also, such opinions and assumptions indulge wrongdoers to some extent. They could encourage offenders to cause more serious damage to their later victims by tacitly implying that the victims' behaviors induced the sexual assaults. Worse, such a social mindset could force the victims to not report sexual assault cases to the public security bureau in order to avoid further harassment.

It is also wrong to suppose the best way to avoid sexual harassment is self-respect, self-esteem, self-improvement and self-reliance. When somebody claims that "potential woman victims should realize what will happen when they get drunk in a bar", he/she only adds credence to offenders' actions. Why should a victim take the blame for not being aware of an insecure situation?

To reduce the risk of sexual harassment, we have to improve the social order and supportive network under the framework of the rule of law, and cultivate a healthy gender culture in which men and women respect each other. We cannot build a harmonious society by ordering potential victims to "behave themselves".

Such anti-women views reflect the patriarchy-oriented traditional concept and gender bias, which promote male domination in society and tend to defend men even if they break the law by blaming their actions on women's behavior, attitude or clothes.

But the rule of law says no one should be sexually harassed no matter how they dress or behave. So the authorities should encourage people to report sexual harassment cases to police immediately after coming to know about them. And victims should seek police help and medical attention as soon as possible; they should also try to preserve evidence.

The media, on their part, should promote a healthy gender culture to help reduce sexual harassment cases.

The author is a professor of law at China Women's University.