Columns / Discourse / May 8, 2013

From Brazil to Boston: Violence and victim-blaming

If you are a woman and interested in Latin America, you’ve probably at one time or another heard the warnings. Don’t travel alone. Try to stay with a man if you can. An escalated form of the classic “stranger danger.”

For the most part, these “travel tips” are unwarranted conceptions of other countries, rather than the result of any real substance. Of course violent events are bound to occur abroad, the same way that they will inevitably continue to occur in our own backyard.

The only real difference between the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon or the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and homicide in any other country is our propensity toward victim-blaming, specifically if that individual was a tourist. Even more so if the tourist is female.

She should know better; she shouldn’t have been traveling alone. Didn’t she know it was getting dark? It’s this inclination that presents a real barrier in victims coming forward and receiving the help that they need.

Brazil hardly falls into the category of developing nation and has little in common with Central America or its South American neighbors. It’s a country that’s booming economically in a time when many other countries are just struggling to stay afloat.

Still, if you’ve been up to date on the Brazilian news, the most recent stories you would have caught are likely not economic in nature.

Instead, you will have gotten a nice dose of fear while reading about rape. The rape occurred in a very public setting. A 16-year-old boy was caught on security camera robbing passengers and raping a woman on a public bus in Rio de Janeiro, according to an article by the BBC. He has since turned himself in, blaming the incident on a cocaine addiction.

This incident comes closely follows the rape of an American tourist, which occurred in late March. The American woman was raped for six hours while her French boyfriend was beaten, according to an article by the BBC.

As the nation prepares to host the football World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016, the proximity of these incidents raised the issue of security at a national level and increased the uneasiness of tourists.

Local officials of Rio de Janeiro have admitted that a substantial amount of crime occurs on public transportation and that they are making every effort to increase security and heighten the overall safety of the city. To a certain extent, this is necessary. Every nation should do everything in its power to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors. On the other hand, this is impossible.

The country may be more economically successful than its neighbors, but that doesn’t mean that Brazil (or any other country for that matter) has an endless supply of resources to throw at increasing security.

When James Holmes let loose in a movie theater in Colorado last summer, killing 12 and injuring 70, the U.S. didn’t station guards in every movie theater in the States. Not that some wouldn’t have loved that idea, I’m sure. But this incredibly violent crime can happen in the middle of the night or in broad daylight on a bus in Rio de Janeiro or at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Though we can and should do everything in our power to prevent violent outbursts, we can’t eliminate crime.

Most importantly, it is not the victim’s responsibility to avoid being targeted. Whether the issue is where someone chooses to travel or the clothes they wear to a nightclub, they have every right to exercise that right. The perpetrator is the only one guilty of any wrong.

Too often we confine ourselves to the infamous “Knox bubble.” We fail to venture out into scary Galesburg and instead allow ourselves to be wrapped up in our own unchanging perceptions of the world.

Whether it’s a fear of traveling to Latin America or a trepidation to hear out a group on campus, this ignorance is the closed-off mentality that makes it difficult for oppressed voices to be heard.

Last week, our editorial board addressed the issue of anonymity on campus. The anonymous rants on Knox Confessions and the graffiti that read “Shut the f— up SASS” on SASS’s poster is not only unproductive, but demonstrates either blatant sexism or, more likely, an ignorance about feminism and SASS in general.

According to Lewis’s Law (an Internet term coined by Helen Lewis on Twitter in 2012), “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.” If students would listen to SASS’s message or maybe take 12 seconds to do a Google search,they’d discover that feminism in its broadest sense is equal rights for women.

I’d be surprised if anyone on campus honestly came out, hoping to eliminate the right of women to vote, endorsed pay discrepancies between genders or encouraged the harassment of women.

But being unwilling to even discuss the fate of women in a safe, somewhat sheltered environment like Knox does not instill much confidence in the future of free and open discourse, one free from victim-blaming.

Samantha Paul
Samantha Paul is a senior double majoring in creative writing and Spanish. She previously served as both a news reporter and a copy editor for TKS. During the summer of 2012, Sam served as press chair of a literacy brigade in El Salvador. She has also interned with both Bloom Magazine and The Galesburg Register-Mail. At Knox, Sam is an organizational editor for Catch magazine.

Tags:  Abuse brazil feminism Helen Lewis James Holmes Knox College Lewis's law rape Rio de Janeiro Sandy Hook SASS victim-blaming

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Samantha Paul
Samantha Paul is a senior double majoring in creative writing and Spanish. She previously served as both a news reporter and a copy editor for TKS. During the summer of 2012, Sam served as press chair of a literacy brigade in El Salvador. She has also interned with both Bloom Magazine and The Galesburg Register-Mail. At Knox, Sam is an organizational editor for Catch magazine.




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