Let us be absolutely clear on a point: Blaming the survivors of sexual harassment, molestation, assault and rape – fully, in-part or even just a little bit — is always wrong. If you believe that survivors bear any culpability in the harmful acts perpetrated upon them, you are part of the problem.

It doesn’t matter if survivors are children or adults, women or men, intoxicated or sober, or whether they chose to trust the wrong person, the crime has been committed by the abusers, and 100% of the blame is on those people. Make no mistake, saying survivors are in any way to blame allows guilty parties to get off the hook and gives future potential abusers a green light to commit crimes that ruin lives.

Attempting to put blame on survivors also discourages reporting of crimes. On the University of Wyoming campus, a 2018 survey found only 13% of those who experienced sexual assault reported it to a UW faculty or staff member, and just less than 10% indicated that they had made a complaint or filed a report with the Dean of Students Office or through formal UW reporting mechanisms, according to a UW news release. More than one in four UW students experienced sexual assault during their time at the university, with 34% of women, 12.8% of men and 50% of gender non-conforming respondents reported surviving sexual assault. That’s stunning. That’s unacceptable.

The previously mentioned statistics aren’t meant to single out UW; it’s a matter of recent data being available for a significant portion of our community in Laramie. And it should be understood that these findings are about the same at comparable universities around the nation. It speaks to a larger problem in that there’s a perception among some in society at-large that the mostly male abusers aren’t fully responsible for their crimes. In order to understand how and why sexual violence happens and how to prevent it, we must wholly reject such attitudes. If you want there to be fewer victims – that could include our own loved ones and friends – we must understand that survivors are free of blame. There’s just no such thing as behavior risky enough to say survivors deserved to have crimes committed upon them.

We’re not going to pretend we’re smart enough to get to the bottom of why that attitude exists. It’s been a part of cultures across the world for far too long, and it’s time to advance our thinking. The experience of sexual assault is harmful enough in itself to survivors, with the social consequences that can follow an exacerbation of the hurt caused by the incidents. So-called “slut-shaming” is a product of people who want to see perpetrators walk away from crimes scot free, or at least with their lives unscathed by punitive consequences for absolutely heinous crimes.

Making substantive progress in this area won’t come from advising women to check their drinks for drugs, wear conservative clothing or whatever other nonsense some people have come up with. Potential victims shouldn’t have to actively take measures to prevent crimes from taking place. It must come from changing the thinking and educating those who have the capacity to commit crimes. All of the responsibility for reducing sexual violence lies with those potential perpetrators, not victims.

Changing attitudes has to start at base levels. Don’t think of “locker room talk” as some harmless jest for boys being boys. Softening the role of consent in sexual conduct at any level leads to harm eventually. It’s crucial everyone in society understands that sexual contact must be agreed to explicitly and enthusiastically by all involved. There’s nothing to argue about there, so any mindset that deviates is unequivocally wrong. Whether people think they are taking things they say seriously or not, pretending that men’s preference overrides the consent of others is a failure to understand the very serious problem.

Bullying survivors is also something we’ve seen in our community recently. This should not be tolerated by any of us. If you witness someone bullying another, call it out. State publically and loudly that such conduct is unacceptable. Only when those who bully face great public stigma around their behavior will they have any reason to cease their attacks.

If these positions make you angry, you have some serious thinking to do. We must create a new era where sexual misconduct is no longer tolerated. You should get on board. If not, you’re enabling criminals, and that position is indefensible. Wake up.

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