Two people decide to sneak up onto a rooftop because they want to see the view from up high; a seemingly harmless activity. However, person ‘A’ decides to push person ‘B’ off the roof and to their death. Now, who’s at fault? Is it person ‘B’s’ fault for being up on the roof in the first place? Or is it person ‘A’s’ fault for pushing another person off a roof?
Whilst this scenario is fictitious, circumstances of victim blaming are frequent – especially concerning matters of sexual assault. This is the case for who the CBC is calling ‘Jessica,’ an indigenous woman who claims she was sexually assaulted as a teen in 2008 by a stranger, who she claims is a Northlands employee, during K-Days. Upon receiving a lawsuit regarding this tragic event, Northlands released a statement of defence in August, perpetuating the false narrative that victims ought to be held responsible for the actions of others. According to Northlands, Jessica was sexually assaulted due to her “own negligence.”
Whilst Northlands has recently amended this statement and is now seemingly supportive of Jessica, we cannot forget that a major company released a statement publicly victim-shaming. This apology, though it’s nice to see, comes off as a feeble attempt to gain positive publicity instead of being authentic.
Northlands’ original claim was preposterous for the following reasons: younger children simply don’t have the mental capacity to make elaborate decisions and victims are not responsible for the actions of their attackers. As a child grows, their brain develops and allows them to think more critically about themselves and the world around them. This is because a part of the brain called the amygdala, responsible for immediate reactions develops much earlier than the frontal cortex, which helps us with reasoning and allows us to think before we act.
For instance, younger children are more likely to look for immediate benefits, only focus on one aspect of the situation, and make impulsive decisions. Northland’s statement presumes that a 13-year-old has the same capacity for critical thinking as an adult, which is simply inaccurate.
Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to presume that a person who was pushed off a roof should be responsible for the incident, simply because they went up on the roof in the first place. The same can be said about Jessica and her attacker. Whilst I do agree that underage drinking with a stranger is extremely risky, it’s imperative to recognize that individuals are not responsible for other people’s actions. To say that this young child “ought to have known” is fundamentally victim blaming.
It comes from a place of privilege for an adult to ridicule the actions of a child. As an adult with hindsight, it’s easy to say what Jessica should and shouldn’t have done. I find it highly improbable that adult Jessica would make the same decisions she did at 13 because she now has the capacity to make decisions that her 13-year-old self couldn’t. An older man took advantage of a trusting child and exploited that to commit a horrible crime. That is who we should be blaming – not the victim.
This presents us with a bigger issue: why aren’t we holding perpetrators responsible for their actions, and instead are shifting the blame onto the victims? This is a part of why sexual assault victims do not come forward; they don’t feel like they will be believed, or they fear that they will be judged. Instead of lashing out, we all must work together to create a safe, understanding, and compassionate environment to help victims feel safe coming forward.