The Myth of The Perfect Victim

I remember the year 2018 almost like the events in it occured yesterday. It was the year that I became a lot more vocal about women’s issues on Twitter. 

It was the year that saw me attend my very first talk show to speak about consent culture. It was the year that I created my first feminist group called As Equals Africa. In 2018, I found my voice as a feminist and I used it constantly.

That year was also the year where I went on first protest about rape culture. I attended the We Will Not Be Silent protest in Lagos where over three hundred youths went on a walk to protest the rape culture that was prevalent amongst young people. The protest had come about due to young women calling out the males who had assaulted them when they were in secondary school. I still remember the sense of pride I felt that day when we marched.

But that day was not all bliss. During the walk, some people who were in a bus actually opened the windows and shouted at us. They asked why we were speaking about rape culture when some of us were wearing short skirts and bum shorts. In essence, they asked why we had the right to talk when we could not in society’s eyes be the perfect victim.

According to them and their analogy, what I deduced from that question was that the “perfect victim” had to be a woman who didn’t wear short skirts, was not sexually active, was religious and who was a “good girl”. Only then could the woman in question be granted a smidgen of sympathy. They were wrong.

Now fast forward to two years later in 2020. There were two cases of women’s murder that stood out for me during the pandemic. The first was the rape and murder of Uwa Omozuwa who was raped and killed in a church. The second was of Barakat, a Muslim girl who was murdered in her home in Ibadan.

What struck me were the responses to these women. For the first time in my life, people asked what a woman was doing in a church. Again, those who tout that the home is the safest place for a woman and that woman must have curfews to ensure they come home protected, actually had the nerve to shame Barakat. I cannot remember exactly what was said about Barakat but I do know that she was shamed.

Those two cases cemented in my mind the very truth that there is no such thing as the perfect victim and invariably the perfect woman. You can live your life as a “good woman” but if your husband slaps you and brings another woman home, you will be asked what you did to warrant a slap and a betrayal. 

You can wear long and loose clothing because you don’t want to be catcalled and yet you will still face harassment. When you speak up about it, people will ask why you didn’t fight back or slap the men who touched your bum. If you indeed slapped the men who touched your bum and you had your clothes torn in the market, the very people who told you not to take any nonsense will ask why you attempted to fight back when you could have “simply” ignored and walked away.

Again: There is no perfect victim because in the eyes of most people in sexist societies, women are automatically guilty. 

Even when women try to prove our innocence, someone somewhere will still hold us as guilty. No matter you being modest. No matter you being submissive. No matter you being a woman who believes in sexual purity. No matter you being a woman who hands over her salary to her husband “for peace to reign”. No matter you being a woman who believes in polygamy and accepts your husband’s outside son because you have only girls. No matter. No matter.

To better understand why the perfect victim is a myth, I spoke to two women.

For Ogochukwu, she believes that when there is no such thing as a “perfect victim”, it challenges perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions.

In her words: “I believe there is no such thing as a perfect victim, especially when it comes to women. The concept of an imperfect victim challenges men to take responsibility for their actions and confront the uncomfortable truth that their friend, brother, uncle, father, or even themselves, whom they have been defending by blaming the woman, is actually a rapist. 

Take for example, the recent FUOYE incident: because a man was raped, it suddenly became clear that the rapist alone is to blame. No one questioned what the man was wearing or why he was there; all their vile and anger was directed at the rapist. Some even went as far as asking if there is no female there for him to rape.

This shows the harsh reality that, as a woman, you can never be seen as a perfect victim. Somehow, the blame will always fall on you, not because you are at fault, but because acknowledging the truth would force men to confront the fact that many of them are rapists. To avoid this uncomfortable truth, they prefer to blame the victim.”

Speaking with Glory, a writer and journalist, she simply believes that the perfect victim “does not exist”.

To quote her: “Who does the perfect victim story help? Certainly not women. The perfect victim does not exist. It is a myth. Made up to protect abusers and dangerous men. “The perfect victim story” is based off women being worthy, without reproach etc.

We have to let go of that perfect victim trope. We don’t need perfect stories to find women worthy of justice.”

The truth is that the earlier we realise that there is no such thing as a “perfect victim”, the faster we shall be in achieving justice for women.

The perfect victim is a fallacy. One that only serves the interests and protection of men who rape and beat women without impunity.

It simply has to be discarded in order for women’s rights to be fully accomplished.

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