My house is full of conversations to the tune of, "Hey Miley, please stop mishandling the bodies of other women," or, "Hey Justin, do you care at all about what Take Back the Night really means?" Then there are the conversations that reflect on these conversations, like, "Let's avoid making Miley the scapegoat for the massive social machinery that commodifies women," and "Very few artists consider the negative portrayal of women and sex on which their success capitalizes."
As my 8-year-old daughter integrates images of naked women swinging on wrecking balls and the suggestive mouthing of sledgehammers, I want her to understand that "object" is not the ultimate expression of female sexuality. I want her to know that what she wears, where she walks, and how she flirts are not the causes of sexual violence. But I also explain to her the dangers of the dark, the dangers of isolated places, and will one day explain the dangers of male friends who in reality are her most likely assailants. So, I nurture in her a terrible mixed message: one, that she has full sexual self-ownership, and two, that the specter of violence ultimately robs her of sexual self-ownership.
Nowadays, we strive for a level of consciousness that embraces rather than disgraces survivors. Of course, women are still character-assassinated during the defense of their rapists, and the "How drunk was she?" or "What was she wearing?" gold-standards of victim-blaming have a robust influence on almost every conversation about sexual violence I hear. I question, though, the way I see us frame the narrative of "the survivor," as we honor recoveries and applaud journeys of courage. Yes, I'm glad we hear these stories. I encourage them. But they also make me a bit nauseous as I consider whether or not we make a distinction between "good" and "bad" survivors. Between those who deserve credit because they inspire with their resilience, and those who receive contempt because they cannot overcome. We are caught up in an onslaught of victim-blaming that seems to derive from an enlightened thought process around sexual violence, but in fact facilitates the moral dismissal of large numbers of survivors whose lives have been seriously damaged.
How do these ever more subtle levels of victim-blaming serve us? For one, they distance us from the pain of having to acknowledge our complicity in perpetuating sexual violence. The ever-evolving, fine art of making the victim responsible allows us to congratulate ourselves for upholding moral standards that condemn sexual violence at the same time we distance ourselves from the moral obligation to help survivors heal. Hey, we can't help it if the victim just doesn't have what it takes to move on and thrive, can we?
So, I want to know, why do we have such collective motivation to maintain the anxiety about sexual violence, but make it the survivor's individual responsibility to heal? Why do we not invite the process of healing into our everyday lives in the same way we instill the fear?
*Kiranjit is employed at Cornell University as an Assistant Dean of Students. Her statements in this piece are hers alone and are not made on behalf of Cornell University.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.