OPINION: We need to stop victim blaming

“Cancel rape culture” written on the steps of Cherry Hall following the arrest of a student on rape charges.

Editor’s note: Criminal charges against Benjamin Massingille were dismissed on Dec. 22, 2022, and the civil case against Massingille and other defendants was dismissed on May 24, 2023. Massingille’s record was expunged by the courts on April 29, 2024.

When Ben Massingille, who will face a grand jury on rape charges later this month, stood before his initial hearing last week, his attorney asked the judge if he was aware that Massingille and the victim had previously had a sexual relationship.

The attorney was seemingly implying that because there had been consent in previous interactions, what happened on Feb. 27, which led to Massingille’s arrest on rape, sodomy and imprisonment charges, was also consensual.

The judge interrupted the attorney and noted that these details weren’t relevant to the probable cause of whether unconsensual sex occurred.

The judge was right. That was irrelevant.

The fact that the victim and Massingille had been involved before is irrelevant to the crime, and it draws attention to the larger issue of victim blaming.

A “yes” once isn’t a “yes” for every time after that. The victim had every right to say no. That right was taken away from her.

Victim blaming is something that almost exclusively happens to sexual assault victims. People are asked why they went to that party, why they wore what they wore — all questions that imply they should’ve known what would happen to them.

When a car is stolen, we don’t ask its owner where it was parked. We don’t blame them for the type of car they drive, or say that since it looks like that it’s more likely to be stolen.

This would be ridiculous. So why do we allow people to talk about sexual assault survivors like this?

The Massingille case has shown that our campus needs to collectively reject victim blaming and stand for what is right. Consent needs to become more commonplace in our campus culture so that we can prevent incidents like this from happening again.

We need to speak out when we see something. We need to hold each other accountable. This will start when we stop allowing our friends and classmates to treat survivors this way — to treat people this way.

It’s on us to change our language, to change how we communicate consent, and to change how we talk about these situations. It’s on each of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.