Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Raising girls in an unjust world

  • 15 September 2017


As the mum of a 13 year old daughter, I'm trying to prepare her for adulthood in a world that will, at times, judge her for being female. She's at the beginning of her adolescent journey, when the future seems to hold so much promise but also new dangers.

The one that gives me pause, in the odd moment when I allow myself to think about it, is what I can tell her about protecting herself from bad men who might want to harm her, without scaring her into believing all men are potential rapists.

If nothing else I want her to understand that rape is a crime of power, violence and hate, and never the fault of anyone but the rapist. But I'm a pragmatic woman. I'll tell her not to leave her drink unattended, to avoid dark alleyways at night, and to ditch any fella that doesn't treat her as his equal.

It's a difficult course to navigate. There's something perverse about the culture of victim-blaming in our society when it comes to sexual assault.

No-one would suggest a fella who regularly lends a few bucks to his mates and is often seen shouting a round at the pub would deserve to have his wallet stolen. Yet, that is the logic behind women failing the 'good-girl' rape test, according to which unless she is a virginal damsel violently attacked by a monstrous stranger while picking daisies in her cloistered garden, she kind of had it coming.

Ideas of sexual promiscuity, provocative clothing, lack of respectability, and men's inability to control themselves when sexually tempted are all produced as 'evidence' of culpability leading to victim-blaming — the idea that a person shares responsibility for what happened to them. It is part of the reason why sexual harrassment and assault reporting is so low in comparison to other crimes, and plays a part in the lack of successful convictions in Australia and elsewhere.

We know from research conducted over the last few decades that one of the reasons many people engage in victim-blaming is because they hold what's called the Just World Belief (JWB). That is, what happens to people is what they deserve. Good people have good things happen to them and bad people have bad things happen to them.

While the JWB can be useful in helping people feel safe and secure in their lives, it also leads to the simplistic judgement that if a