In The New York Times’ “The Opinion Pages” the recent hot topic for discussion was “Young Women, Drinking and Rape.” Debaters against women binge drinking made statements such as, “protecting women is not ‘victim blaming’” and “nothing liberating about being wasted.” Counter-arguers that support the notion that excessive drinking is not to blame for female rape said “don’t shift the focus from men” and “blame rape’s enablers, not the victims.” The discourse about rape, being such a contentious topic, has become polarized into a two-sided argument with one side arguing against women drinking excessively and the other side arguing that rape is not caused by drinking. In either situation, analysis of the victim is central to the argument, while addressing the rapist (usually the man) is absent or weak. Thus, we can see how this argument becomes a product of social gender norms and constructs. This cylindrical focus on the woman reinforces the notion of rape as a “women’s issue.” Under this antiquated ideology that sexual assault is a female problematic, she, the victim, becomes the sole evidence for examination. Interestingly, we see this same dynamic in the court system, as the defense attorney often places the rape victim in the same predicament by having her be the central focus of the case, ultimately undermining her and drawing attention away from the male perpetrator.
To understand this relationship, in Freedman and Smith’s “Understanding Lawyers’ Ethics,” defense attorneys are described to “have an obligation to protect their client’s rights whether or not they believe the client to be factually guilty.” This understanding asserts that the defense attorney has an ethical obligation to defend and protect his client. This sounds logical. However, Freedman and Smith complicate this understanding as they place this model of thought in a complex, realistic court situation that asks you to cross-examine a rape victim after your client confesses his guilt to you. In order for the defense attorney to stay true to his “obligation,” he will have to portray the rape victim as being dishonest in court. The defense attorney might bring scrutiny to the rape victim’s sexual history, sexual orientation, manner of dress, and occupation to paint the image to the judge and jury that she was “irresponsible,” “regretful,” “vengeful,” “drunk,” and in the most ignorant cases “asking for it.” Nowhere in this discussion is the rapist or the male being examined to the extent of the victim. The victim is not only shamed by her experience of sexual assault, but she is also objectified in court and left vulnerable just like the manner in which she was exposed and defenseless to her predator.
Take for instance an example that effectively illustrates a rape victim who is in a situation where alcohol is involved and is undermined in court because of it. The following is a news clip about the Steubenville, Ohio high school rape case where a high school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was sexually assaulted by her peers, as her assault was also documented on social media:
The prosecutor claims, “They took advantage of her when they knew she wouldn’t remember. She was the perfect victim.” The voiceover recites the defense attorney’s argument by saying, “The defense argued pictures of the accuser posted after the alleged incident prompted her charges.” Outrageously so, the defense attorney rebuttals the prosecutor’s claim with “Because immature kids submit a picture of her on the internet she’s humiliated. She has a couple choices. ‘Yes that’s me or I can’t remember what happened.’” Although the photo evidence demonstrates the victim in an objectified, vulnerable position, the defense attorney still attempts to maintain that his clients are not guilty of rape and paints the victim as though she is at fault for her situation and embarrassed because she was intoxicated and unconscious.
We can see here a direct correlation between The New York Times debate and this exact court situation. We ought to interpret these two examples as evidence that demonstrates how victim-blaming in court cases and in popular discourse is prevalent, as the female victim continues to be bullied, not only by her assaulter, but by part of the court system and popular culture as well. Here we should realize that the true ethical dilemma asks us, “Where is she, the rape victim, to go for protection and justice, if the defendant’s client is to be protected at the expense of her own dignity and self-worth?”
Statistics on who rape victims are and the percentage of women affected: