A recent article featured in the Swedish newspaper The Local (Swedish news in English) reported on a widely covered story regarding the group rape of one woman by seven men (eight men were charged but seven were convicted of rape, their sentences ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 years in prison). The story is horrifying as the group of men repeatedly raped the woman over an extended period of time, laughing and clapping their hands as they did so.
What we will focus on however is the language used by some of the individuals that commented on the article on The Local’s website. Many of the comments displayed stereotypical victim blaming thoughts and language and hardly any of those commenting reacted to the victim blaming, probably a consequence of how normalized victim blaming is.
It is troubling that the newspaper does not appear to screen through its comments since many of the comments are quite disturbing. We also find it interesting that no one appeared to pick up on the victim blaming. Since victim blaming is both widespread and normalized in our society, it is not uncommon to find language that indicates that the woman is at fault. We do believe that it is very important to discuss the language used to place blame on the victim as it trivializes the act of rape, questions the woman’s intent, while simultaneously diminishing the actions of the seven rapists.
We are going to share with you some of the comments provided by the readers. One of the comments that upset us was the belief that the woman should not have put herself in the situation she was in. To clarify, the article is somewhat vague when describing where the rape took place, but we were told that the woman attended a party. The comment then begs the question, what situation was she putting herself in? Going to a party? Perhaps women should altogether stop going outside and stop being so reckless as to leave their homes and venture into the world. Perhaps they should even expect rape when they go outside? The comment trivializes the role of the perpetrators, while placing the blame on the woman. What the comment also does is assume that most rapists are strangers that can be avoided. Some rapists are strangers, but many more are partners, acquaintances, friends and former lovers. Women experience rape within the home and by partners or people that they love, trust, and care for. Also, how can a woman prevent being raped by seven men? Should she physically fend them off? We all know that this is much easier said than done.
Furthermore, rape, as one of the comments indicated, was blamed on the very nature of Swedish women. One person commented that: “After speaking to two swedish women the other day I am not surprised that swedish women get raped wherever they go. It is a miracle that it doesn’t happen more often”. This statement is outrageous and claims that Swedish women deserve rape because of the way they act or the language they use. How these women acted or what they said that made them deserving of rape was not mention by the person providing the comment. No woman, however, deserves to be raped. Ever. Period.
A fourth, and very upsetting, comment stated that: “A woman got her dream 300,000 SEK”. This person refers to the money the woman was awarded (which is roughly $ 41,700). This statement is incredibly demeaning and trivializing. It suggests that being repeatedly raped by seven men was all worth it in the end since the woman was given 300,000 SEK. This person does not take into consideration the physical, emotional and psychological effects of rape. Instead, the person alludes to the fact that the woman got what she wanted, money. Does monetary retribution make her suffering any less painful and real? Does it minimize the harmfulness of her experience? There is not much we can say about this comment more than that it is a horrible example of victim blaming.
The occurrences of victim blaming appear to be everywhere. Not only in less regulated social networks such twitter and on personal blogs, but also in edited newspapers that allow readers to comment on the articles. The notion of victim blaming is also so common that it often goes by unnoticed. What we are going to do, however, is to report these comments as abusive. Hopefully this will make some difference.