In October of 2006, Gary Fricker raped a woman (known only as Jane Doe) at gunpoint in the parking garage of the Stamford Marriott in Stamford, CT, in front of her two young children. He also pointed his gun at those children and threatened to sexually assault one of them. The one positive part of this story is that Fricker was captured by police three days later and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence; if there was any victim-blaming in the criminal trial, at least it didn’t sway the jury. Now, however, Jane Doe is suing the Stamford Marriott for failing to secure the building or notice when a violent crime took place there — and in its defense, the hotel stops just short of arguing that she asked for it.
It’s tempting to highlight the details here — she was raped by a stranger, at gunpoint, in front of her children — to underscore the horrible absurdity of trying to hold this woman responsible for being the victim of a violent crime. But the fact is, most rapes are not committed by strangers with weapons, and that’s part of why victim-blaming so often works. Why did she go home with him? Why was she wearing that? Why was she drinking so much? How can we be sure she didn’t want it? A good woman jumped by a gun-wielding stranger is one thing, but a woman who merely claims she didn’t consent to sex, well, that’s a different story! Except it’s not. And the routine attempts to discredit victims of more typical rapes — committed by someone they’ve met, who was not threatening them with a weapon other than his own body — actually pave the way for a “special defense” of “She should have been more careful” when we are talking about a stranger with a gun. The reason that has potential as a legal strategy — the reason it’s not ultimately laughable — is because people in this culture are already so used to questioning whether women do enough to protect themselves from any man who might decide to rape them.
The insidiousness of victim-blaming goes far beyond people saying, “Why was she wearing that?” It’s also saying, “Why did she go where a rapist might be?” — like, you know, a parking garage, or a city street, or her own apartment. It’s the inevitable arguments that all women should take self-defense classes to stop rape. It’s the assumption that every woman is responsible for preventing the actions of violent criminals when it comes to this one particular violent crime, and any arguable lapse in judgment can be seized upon as evidence that she just wasn’t trying hard enough not to be attacked. In a nutshell, it’s rape culture. As long as we constantly question all of the decisions women make prior to a man’s decision to rape them, victim-blaming will remain a viable legal strategy, no matter the circumstances.