09/20/2012 03:05 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

Asking the Real Questions About Sexual Assault


Last week, I found myself -- yet again -- explaining why it is wrong to blame women for being sexually assaulted.

Several TV and radio stations had called to get my reaction to Krista Ford's tweeted advice to women for avoiding sexual assault: "don't dress like a whore."

On live television, I was asked by a well-meaning female journalist whether dressing "provocatively" isn't somehow akin to walking down the street with an expensive purse. In other words, isn't that just "asking for it?"

I've worked in the violence prevention field for many years, and at the Canadian Women's Foundation we are no longer surprised by questions like these. I've been asked why did she put herself in that situation? Why didn't she fight back harder or say no louder? Why did she drink so much? Why didn't she just leave?

For years, women have tried just about everything to counter this kind of victim-blaming. We've published myths and facts about sexual assault, created analogies about not blaming men for having their wallets stolen, shared heart-wrenching real life stories, and marched together on the streets. We've even tried reclaiming the word "slut." Yet Eve Ensler says that when it comes to rape, we've been "too understanding."

There is an invisible assumption that lies beneath the current discourse about sexual assault: Some women are "good" (worthy of being believed and protected) and some women are "bad" (open season). Since a woman can be deemed "bad" for anything from wearing a short skirt, to not covering her hair, to having an opinion of her own, the game is clearly rigged. So I don't play. I don't care what a woman wears, says, or does: she does not deserve to be sexually assaulted. Period.

When that female journalist asked me about the expensive purse, I didn't answer her question. Instead, I said: "The real question is 'Why do men rape women?'" She was taken aback, because nice women don't ask this question. Let's stop being nice about sexual assault.

The next time someone says to you: "She was asking for it" or "What was she wearing?" or "How could she be so stupid?" don't answer. Instead, ask a different question. Ask "Why do some men rape women?" or "What was he thinking?" or "Why didn't he care that she was screaming (or terrified or kicking or crying or bleeding or tied up or unconscious or trapped in silent, rigid shock?)"

This isn't about attacking all men. It's about blaming the rapists for rape. This is about us posing important questions and expecting honest answers. Asking these questions is the only way to truly understand the problem of sexual assault, because men are the only ones who can answer them.

Asking these questions helps women to feel less crazy. Less blamed. Let's stop playing defence in the victim shaming game. Let's ask the real questions.

Sandra Diaz is Vice-President, Marketing and Communications for the Canadian Women's Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @cdnwomenfdn