Hannah Graham, a second-year attending the University of Virginia, went missing in the early hours of September 13, 2014. She is 5 feet, 11 inches tall with a slender build, blue eyes, light brown hair, and fair skin. Hannah Graham has been missing for 16 days. She was last seen on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. There is a lot of victim blame being thrown around.
On September 15, 2014, I decided to share a photo of Hannah Graham to keep awareness up. I made the mistake of looking at the comments on the photo and proceeded to lose my shit. I saw comments saying, “Sorry, that is beach attire. Not Wertland Street at 1am after a big football win partying kind of night. It is what it is.” And “…she was by herself in the projects n its hard to say what happened to her but u dont go in the projects n come out alive by urself a girl thats all im saying…”. Finally, my personal favorite that actually insinuates that Hannah Graham was asking for it, “Like it or not, what we wear makes a statement. That’s why we wear it in the first place.” You can imagine why on a usually passive, Monday night I publicized to the world on Facebook, “Victim blaming makes me sick. Wearing certain clothes and doing certain things does not invite anyone to do anything to you. The fuck is wrong with people.”
I don’t think that people actually realize what victim blaming is and what they are doing when they say stupid things like, “She was drinking underage,” “She was wearing slutty clothes,” or “She was walking around alone late at night.”
Individuals victim blame for various reasons. Women who step outside of traditional gender norms (for example drinking, wearing “provocative” clothing, etc.) “put themselves in dangerous situations” because they have acted beyond their traditional sphere (Burt 1980; Brownmiller 1975; Perry 2001). In cases of victim blame, women are told they drank too much or were wearing slutty clothing (Johnson and Workman 1994). Some individuals would see this as a woman deserving what happened to her, because she had done something to incite that unwanted sexual advance. Women, therefore, are taught to fear and avoid situations that would somehow inadvertently “cause” gendered violence in someway (Perry 2001).
Blaming the victim is a defense mechanism used in order to protect individuals from feeling as though the same thing could happen in their own lives (Grubb and Turner 2012). It’s also a control thing. Individuals victim blame because they want to believe that the world is a safe place (Brownmiller 1975). “Belief in a just world” is a technique that individuals use to maintain control in a world that no longer seems safe and secure. People don’t like to believe that the world is a chaotic place and they want to believe that people deserve the bad things that happen to them (Chancer 1987). Individuals who believe in a just world think that the, “victim is likely to have provoked the incident or inadvertently done something to bring it about… and that she could have done something to prevent it” (Johnson and Workman 1994: 384). It’s like people get some weird sense of justice out of blaming the victim.
Now, you’re reading this post and thinking, “I would never blame the victim.” But upon hearing the news you think, “Hannah’s friends should have done something to prevent this from happening.” Let’s be honest. How does that line of thinking help anyone? Also, if we are still being honest, it’s kind of toeing the line of victim blame. Saying her friends should have been there just throws the blame onto someone else. It’s not productive. Hannah’s friends are not to blame for her disappearance, neither is Hannah, for that matter. The person to blame for Hannah’s abduction is the person that took her. Yes, people need to be safe, but at this point, there is a young woman missing, and throwing shade on her friends isn’t going to help anything or anyone.
Be cognizant of what victim blame looks like. And STOP IT.
I have watched victim blame from afar and felt the pain, and might I add, the intense anger and furious losing-my-shit-kind-of-rage when I see it in action. It’s the kind of rage that makes me post scary four letter words on Facebook and in this blog post. If nothing else inspires you in this post, just ask yourself: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
I was inspired to write this after seeing the commencement of the UN campaign #HeforShe. In her speech, Emma Watson asks for action. I ask the same of you now. In my fear and anxiety I have remained silent, but after watching young women disappear from my hometown every year since 2009, when my friend and god-sister, Morgan Harrington, went missing and was found murdered three months later, I know that remaining silent is something I cannot do in good conscience. It’s time to Help Save the Next Girl. It’s time to stop the victim blame. It’s time to find Hannah Graham.
If you have any information about the night of September 13, 2014 in Charlottesville, Virginia in connection to Hannah Graham PLEASE call the following tip lines:
Charlottesville Police Department Tip Line: 434-295-3851
Charlottesville Police Department: 434-970-3280
Help Save the Next Girl: http://www.helpsavethenextgirl.com/
Charlottesville Police have asked that realtors and homeowners in the Charlottesville/Albemarle region check their properties for anything strange, or anything that might give clues to Hannah Graham’s whereabouts. Do this.
Burt, Martha. 1980. “Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 38: 217-230.
Brownmiller, Susan. 1975. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Chancer, Lynn S. 1987. “New Bedford, Massachusetts, March 6, 1983- March 22, 1984: The ‘Before and After’ of a Group Rape.” Gender & Society. 1(3): 239-260.
Grubb, Amy and Emily Turner. 2012. “Attribution of blame in rape cases: A review of the impact of rape myth acceptance, gender role conformity and substance use on victim blaming.” Aggression & Violent Behavior, 17(5): 443- 452.
Johnson, Kim and Jane Workman. 1994. “Blaming the Victim: Attributions Concerning Sexual Harassment Based on Clothing, Just-World Belief, and Sex of Subject.” Home Economics Research Journal. 22(4): 382-400.
Perry, Barbara. 2001. “Doing Gender and Doing Gender Inappropriately: Violence Against Women, Gay Men, and Lesbians.” Pg 417-440. Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics. Ferber, Abby, Kimberly Holcomb, and Tre Wentling. New York: Oxford University Press.
Amelie Rives, a native of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a recent graduate of Roanoke College. Her interests include feminism, gendered violence, and masculinity. She wishes she lived in a world where she didn’t have to write blog posts like this.