Essay Winner: Tatum Everson

We asked students to write about the following prompt: As we work to end violence through awareness and education, please explain how victim-blaming, in the context of sexual assault, affects your community, and what can be done to address victim-blaming and change the way sexual assault is perceived in your community.

The essays we received spoke to the thoughtfulness and compassion of the youth in our community, and we were honored for them to participate in our essay competition, that asked them to engage with their communities to identify, and offer ideas to address, the victim-blaming they experience. The following is the winning essay from Tatum Everson of Eleva-Strum.

Through growing up in a small town, I have always seen terrible stories on the news and had the thought in the back of my mind that “that would never happen in Eleva-Strum”. I saw stories of sexual assault and abuse as taboo and things that I wouldn’t really need to worry about encountering in my community, because of the small-town trust. Now, that I’ve gotten older, I definitely have a much stronger understanding of issues involving sexual assault, and see more clearly the different problems that arise from this, including victim blaming and the perception of victims.

Young people, often women, are told everyday by the media that they should look a certain way, and come across a certain way to be the “perfect female”. With this, especially in a school setting, women are told by their dress codes in school that they need to change what they look like so that they are not a “distraction” to the boys.

This is a major factor in victim blaming in that it teaches young women from a young age that their dressing and their bodies are the problem. When, in all reality, the message that should be being taught is that young boys/men need to learn the ability to control themselves and their urges. Just because a girl wears a shirt without sleeves, does not mean that she was asking for attention from a boy.

This type of environment brings forward the feelings that what a girl was wearing, or how she was acting was the reason she was assaulted. I find it very disappointing to see that there is still a portion of people in my community and around the nation who believe that a girl should be at blame for getting sexually assaulted because she was dressing “scandalously” or acting in a “provocative” manner. Women hold the right to wear/act how they see fit, and just because it may interest a man, it does not give him the right to her body in any way.

In my community, and the surrounding ones, I have heard from multiple different people that they believe that if they were to come forward with their story of abuse or assault, they would be judged by others. I’ve also heard that some women, especially around my age, believe that going to the cops would get them nowhere. These types of societal beliefs are laying the foundation for victim blaming.

People who have been through such traumatic events should not have to be worried about being judged by those around them for what has happened to them. Victims of these types of crimes are often embarrassed or ashamed of what they went through. And, it is heartbreaking for me to think that a victim could be so strong and finally come forward with their story, and they would be judged and put at blame for their actions that “caused” their assault. This type of treatment from a community towards a victim can be detrimental to the victim’s feelings toward not only the event, but themselves and their worth.

I believe that the main reasoning behind the ideas of victim blaming in my community and this country would be a result of feeling in control. Most people despise the idea of not having control in their daily lives. So, when it comes to these matters, people put blame on the victim because they believe that if the victim had only “controlled” their outfit, actions, words, etc. better, then this event wouldn’t have happened. That mindset is just invalid in cases of sexual assault. People who think this way do not fully understand the reasoning behind these assaults. An attacker is the only person to blame in these scenarios; they are the ones who need to be “controlled”.

The best course of action to break away from the idea of victim blaming would just be through education for the community.

Many, if not most, people who have not experienced sexual assault do not understand the psychological turmoil it can put a person through, especially when victim blaming. People need to be able to better understand the victims, and be more empathetic toward them, through education on these topics. Though this topic is not one that people enjoy discussing, it is definitely a complete necessity to be talked about. And, I think Health Education classes in high school should better address these issues as well, so if a student is ever put in a situation involving victim blaming, they can better understand it.

If there was more education out there in schools and other community centers about these topics, people may be better able to understand the problems with victim blaming.

(Kim Jones (L) from New Horizons presenting Tatum Everson (R) with her prize package for winning the Essay Contest.)