Victim blaming at LHU

Meghan Maustellar
Staff Writer
Photo via

On Saturday, Feb. 6, a timely warning was delivered to Lock Haven University students and faculty regarding a sexual assault as required under the “Timely Notice” provisions of the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998.

However, underneath the incident summary, there is a section of “Precautionary Steps,” which states, “Students should always keep in mind that consuming alcoholic beverages or other drugs could impair their abilities to make good decisions. If you choose to consume alcoholic beverages, do it responsibly.”

According to the Department of Justice website, sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

Under the most recent definitions of consent, a person is unable to give consent if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Not only does the precautionary statement supplied by the university seemingly place the responsibility of the act on the victim rather than the perpetrator, it also clearly disregards the increasingly popular concept of “yes means yes,” which requires affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent; a concept LHU has still not adopted into their policies.

As a university that strives to ensure that the it maintains a safe and healthy environment on campus for students, LHU needs to be aware of the way their statements affect their student population.  Statistically, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, with over 90% of sexual assaults remaining unreported. By promoting statements and policies that encourage victim-blaming, the university is effectively discouraging students from reporting cases of sexual assault at even higher rates than are currently occurring.

Not only does LHU have students who are survivors of sexual assault, but in the future there will undoubtedly be more sexual assault cases that occur involving students.

The university’s statements about sexual assault prevention are offensive, discouraging and insensitive to sexual assault survivors. In the case of sexual assault, the victim is never to blame.

Rather than warning students about the effect alcohol has on decision-making, the university should remind students that sexual assault is a crime and sexual assault offenders should be treated in accordance with their actions.


13 thoughts on “Victim blaming at LHU

  1. Hi, Meghan!

    First off, I want to say that you wrote a great article! I totally agree with you that the message should be “don’t rape,” instead of “don’t get raped.” The thought that victims should be at all responsible for being sexually assaulted is unhelpful to this problem

    I agree as well with the definition of consent, and it should be continually repeated by both the administration and students until it becomes embedded in the culture of the university.

    All that being said–understanding that we are ultimately on the same side–I want to present an analogy that has helped me think about this in a way that I do not hear many others discuss.

    Here it goes:

    Imagine there is a runner. This runner lives in an area with a poorly established infrastructure that doesn’t have sidewalks or trails, and to do any longer runs this runner has to run along busier roads. The runner wants trails to run on, and actively advocates for these to be created, but the town is slow moving, and there are not a lot of other runners in the area, so momentum is slow to develop. Imagine this runner’s favorite time to run is early in the morning when it is still dark. The runner’s favorite athletic wear is the color black, so the runner is difficult to see. One morning, our runner is on one of the busier roads and a distracted driver is texting, drifts onto the shoulder and hits the runner. The runner is paralyzed from the waist down and will be in a wheelchair permanently.

    Our runner is, of course, not at fault. The blame falls squarely at the feet of the driver. That being said, there are definite steps that the runner could have taken to be safer and more visible. No matter the fault, the runner is still permanently in a wheelchair. The runner can control certain things. Wearing bright clothing, or buying a headlamp would have decreased the chances of being hit by a car. The runner could have started a small running group or could have run after sunrise. Should the runner have to do these things to be able to run safely? No, of course not. The runner should be perfectly safe on the roads. The runner should be given trails or sidewalks and an environment that is safe.

    I think, this is analogous to your article. People should have the safety and right to dress and act however they please and be perfectly safe doing so. Some environments would be safe for this–our runner’s sidewalks and running trails. There are also some environments where one should act and dress in a way that keeps that person safe.

    What is our ultimate goal? Is it indeed decreasing instances of sexual assault and rape? Are we willing to temper our ideology with pragmatism if that goal is achieved? As much as I want people to be able to dress and act however they want to, I want them not to be a victim of sexual assault more. The victim bears the brunt of the emotional and physical pain, and just like it wasn’t our runner’s fault, he or she is still in a wheelchair.

    In conclusion, yes, I agree that more can be done to decrease those who seek to hurt others, but I also agree that there are steps to be taken to minimize risk. Feel free to push back against this. I am more than willing to adjust my beliefs if they are inconsistent, or if there is something that I am overlooking.

    Thanks again for sharing!


    1. Hi Jason,

      I see what you are saying with your comparison, but the biggest problem is that we are still stating the things the runner could have done differently instead of the driver. When it comes down to it, the driver is at fault. The runner could have been wearing neon yellow clothing, but the driver was still the one who was distracted on their phone and killed another person.

      Moreover, I’m not quite sure if the comparison exactly fits the real-life situation. While it is still the driver’s fault for hitting someone and they should be charged accordingly, they had no intention of harming another person. A rapist’s actions are directly used to exert power and control over someone else. Regardless of whether the victim is sober or not, or wearing a bikini or a burqa, rape deals explicitly with the intent to control someone else’s body. Unless the driver of the car had the explicit intent of hitting the runner, I don’t think the analogy matches up.

      I would, of course, enjoy hearing anything else you have to say. I always encourage discussion of topics when it is conducted in a rational and logical manner.

      All the best,

      1. Hi Meghan,

        Thanks for responding and bringing up some great points! I will do my best to answer in a way that makes sense.

        I agree with what you are writing. It is sad that we live in a world that we still have to say things to people about being safe. Everyone should have not only a legal right but also a realized right to comport themselves how they want in both public and private environments. My only concern is that even the most idealistic among us should understand that such a world does not exist. Perhaps this world will never exist so long as we are humans with updated brain software still running on million-year-old hardware. This explanation is not meant to be an excuse–merely an observation about why an issue exists and continues to exist.

        Your comment on intention brings up a lot of interesting other questions and the need to more precisely define what that word means within this context. If you are defining intend as a “determination to act in a certain way” (Merriam-Webster’s definition), then it becomes difficult to know for sure what a person intends to do. Sober versions of people determine their behavior differently than intoxicated versions of people. Distracted drivers (texting drivers) have determined their driving to be different–and worse– than non-distracted drivers. A reasonable person should be expected to know that they are drastically increasing their chance of hitting something or someone for every second that their eyes are not on the road. Similarly, a highly intoxicated person, who has decreased inhibitions, should also be reasonably expected to understand how they are being affected and adjust accordingly. I would like to think that we agree with each other.

        The last thing I will say is that your initial post was about sexual assault, which is much broader than rape. My analogy suffers when it is compared to rape. That was not my original goal, and I probably should have made that point clearer. My analogy was intended to address the broad definition of sexual assault. Intent becomes murkier when such definitions are applied, and I think my runner analogy holds up significantly better under those criteria.

        Thanks for your comment!

  2. Simply my opinion but with drug and alcohol abuse running rampant in any college setting, I do not view the precautionary statements as offensive… knowledge is power and simply stating that consumption of intoxicating substances could increase your risk of being victimized seems appropriate. How is that blaming? No one asks to be raped and no victim is to blame regardless of their choices but it is not rude of the University to make an obvious statement. Your statistics are correct but you seem to intentionally leave out how many of these cases involve use of drugs As an alumni I am disappointed in the author and editor would take a platform to “make a fuss”. If you want to make a point supply your readers with tips to stay safe such as traveling in groups and in well lit areas. I cannot speak to the intent of the university’s statement but I disagree with your stance and would much rather see an article supplementing their warning OR providing a better argument. This is just trying to stir an argument. If I had college age children, I would want them to understand it can happen to anyone and what risks they take when they make certain choices. Being offended by such comments just goes to show how over sensitive our public has become. This is not a blame game. By the way the statistics you failed to include are summed up by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Their article states “At least one-half of all violent crimes involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.” It further comments “It is important to emphasize, however, that although a woman’s alcohol consumption may place her at increased risk of sexual assault, she is in no way responsible for the assault. The perpetrators are legally and morally responsible for their behavior.” This is undeniably the truth, never does someone ask to be attacked regardless of their wardrobe, actions, or consumption. But why hide that it remains a risk? I am used to reading such statements from the University from my time in Lock Haven and can say with some assurance that guiding students is to make wise choices is hardly blaming.

    1. I understand what you are saying. However, we live in a culture where people who persecute the person(s) who sexually assaulted them are asked questions such as “what were you wearing” or “were you drinking”. As if answering the affirmative to the later makes the victim any less of a victim. The University should make a point to promote safety. I absolutely agree with that. However, I agree with the author when she says that the university was placing the blame on the victim in this instance because of their choice of wording.
      The was a well written article that brings up a good point about rape culture and victim blaming in society. It is a conversation we need to have. “No means no” needs to be taught. Consent needs to be taught. Of course there are people who do not have the best interests at heart for everyone, but this article is the start of a very important conversation that we need to start having.

  3. Very opinionated rant of an article. It is not the victims fault obviously no matter what they are wearing etc.Like do you actually think Lock Haven University is putting the blame on the victim? Because they suggest being careful of consuming alcohol and drugs because they can help put you in a more compromising position? Thats ridiculous you should be happy they put that its called educating a public. You are so twisted up in your female power that you can’t think straight. Alcohol is a huge factor in sexual assaults. Its one of the most used tools by the weirdos who do this shit. Thats a fact. Lock Haven by saying be careful of where and how you consume alcohol and drugs is a nice reminder to be careful because you never know other people.

    Ever hear the saying a lock keeps an honest man honest? Ill explain just incase its saying that without the lock the temptation is greater to the honest man but with the lock he is not going to think of breaking in. Where the dishonest man with break through the lock. No one would say its the guys fault he didn’t have a lock so the robbery is ok. Just as the rape victim is not at fault for drinking or dressing provocative its the raper that we have the problem with. Lock Haven is simply saying drugs and alcohol could make your lock appear loose and tempt others. Its that simple its not saying it is your responsibility to not get raped its simply saying heres a few steps to take to be cautious and try to prevent yourself from being in a possible situation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s