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Serena Williams not alone in 'victim-blaming' views on rape

Serena Williams
Serena Williams has sparked outrage for making critical comments about a 16-year-old rape victim saying she "shouldn't have put herself in that position", but the head of Australia's rape crisis authority says unfortunately "victim-blaming" views are shared by a large section of the population.
Speaking with Rolling Stone magazine, 31-year-old tennis star Serena questioned the sentencing of two football players who raped a teenager in Steubenville, Ohio, in August last year.
"Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you — don't take drinks from other people," she said.
Williams went on to comment on the girls' behaviour — she had been drinking before the repeated assault took place.
"She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse.
"She's lucky. Obviously I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."
NSW Rape Crisis Centre CEO Karen Willis says unfortunately Ms Williams' comments reflect the attitudes of a reasonable section of society, and that similar views held among women in particular are "more common than we think".
"We will often hear women make comments that are victim-blaming because by saying you've got a short skirt and you're drunk late at night then this can happen to you, part of that thinking is 'I don't do that, so I'm safe'," she says.
Unfortunately, with 70 per cent of sexual assaults perpetrated by a family member, family friend, or someone the victims goes to school or work with, that perception is ill-founded, with less than one per cent of cases involving "stranger danger".
"If someone's drunk, if they're talking to someone they don't know, if they're in a bar late at night, there is no circumstance in which they deserve to be punished by being sexually assaulted," Ms Willis says.
"No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted or deserves it."
Australia has a less than 15 per cent reporting rate of rape and sexual assault, and Ms Willis says the attitude that victims are somehow responsible for their own attacks only makes this worse.
"People who experience sexual assault will accept those sorts of attitudes and that stops them from reporting (the assault)," she says.
"It gives excuses to offenders. What we need to say when sexual assault happens is the offenders have done the wrong thing."
If you have experienced or are at risk of sexual assault:
Call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) — the national sexual assault and domestic violence counselling service for information and support 24/7.
If somebody tells you they have experienced or are at risk of sexual assault:
+ Listen
+Support and care
+And remember always under all circumstances in every situation, hold the offender 100 per cent responsible. There is no excuse.

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