If I'm walking around in my underwear and I'm drunk? Who else's fault can it be? – Er, the guy who attacks you? Oh, come on! That's just silly. If I'm walking around and I'm very modestly dressed and I'm keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I'd say that's his fault. But if I'm being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who's already unhinged – don't do that.
“Lairy,” by the way, is Brit vocab for “provocatively.” And Hynde is the lead singer for The Pretenders, the band behind “My City Was Gone” (the song that starts Rush Limbaugh’s radio show).
As expected, she’s being excoriated for her comments, which also criticized “Women who sell what their product is by using sex – that's prostitution. … I’m not making a value judgment on prostitutes, but just say what you are.” (That’s another topic for another day.)
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Hynde doesn’t exempt herself from this standard: she accepts the blame for a sexual assault she suffered in the 1970s. Given the way she was dressed and the fact that she was intoxicated, she believes that she brought it on herself.
But is it ever right to say that the victim of rape “brought it on themselves”? Isn’t the culpable party in any rape first and always the rapist?
I think there’s some confusion about this rhetoric of “you brought it on yourself” and “blaming the victim” which is worth untangling. Perhaps the best way to do that is to think about theft. Suppose I leave my front door or my car unlocked. If someone winds up stealing something from my house, from my car, or stealing the car itself, whose fault is it?
Well, who could have stopped the theft? One answer is the thief. They could have chosen not to steal, but they did steal. And that’s why it’s appropriate to blame them. But, I could have also taken simple steps to prevent them from stealing – like locking up – but I didn’t. So, in another sense, I’m at fault.
These judgments aren’t contradictory, but they’re also not on par with one another. My actions were careless; the thief’s were malicious. Maybe I should have been more careful with my property, but nothing I did amounted to giving people permission to take it. Whether the door is locked or unlocked, the thief is still doing something wrong. An open front door might make burglary predictable, but it doesn’t justify it.
Hynde’s point is that – knowing that there are people out there who don’t respect other people’s rights – we have a responsibility to take steps to thwart their misbehavior: lock your doors, don’t be intoxicated when you’re alone in public or around people you don’t know.
Notice that this “you brought it on yourself” rhetoric is also invoked with other issues, like terrorism. Soon after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Jeremiah Wright explained that “America's chickens are coming home to roost,” and Andy Rooney pointed out that America’s foreign policy had made “many people in the world want to kill us.”
I think it’s fair to say that, when the U.S. supports this or that regime or bombs this or that target, it’s going to have the effect of making certain people hate us. But although that hatred is predictable (and something to factor in when we calculate what our foreign policy should be), that’s not the same as saying that it justifies terrorism against the U.S.
And, if it did, wouldn’t it be fair to turn it around and say that the behavior of some groups around the world – say, supporting the oppression of women – means those groups “brought it on themselves” when the U.S. military comes after them?
There’s a point to Hynde’s distinction between a criminal hurting someone and a victim failing to protect themselves. But she should have insisted that the carelessness of the victim doesn’t absolve or replace the guilt of the aggressor.
In the rape that Hynde suffered, like in the case of Islamic State and every other rape, the rapist is always to blame.
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