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From Overdoses to Sexual Assault: Why Do We Keep Blaming Women?

Last September, when the tragic news that rapper Mac Miller had died from a drug overdose hit the internet, people were quick to take to social media to express their grief, condolences, and, because it’s the internet, opinions. Among the thoughts and prayers were a group of twitter users who didn’t hesitate to place the blame of the rapper’s death on Ariana Grande. Miller and Grande shared a previous relationship but were not together at the time of the Miller’s death, and they claimed that his drug abuse began because she left him.

This struck me as odd; normally in cases of addiction and overdose, people blame the addict for “choosing” to have the addiction, but in this case, the blame was being directed towards his ex-girlfriend. The internet is known for not being the kindest place, but the comments I found when I went poking around were terrible. Twitter users told Grande, “this is your fault” and “you killed him.” Grande eventually disabled the comments on her social media accounts.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the internet has blamed women for overdoses and struggles with addiction. When singer Demi Lovato had a serious drug overdose in July, the internet responded without missing a beat. At first she got love and prayers, but soon the insensitive comments and memes started popping up along with blunt attacks and insults mocking the singer’s struggle with addiction and stating that it was “entirely her fault.”

One twitter user observed this paradox: “When Demi Lovato overdoses, addiction is a choice. When Mac Miller overdoses, it’s Ariana Grande’s fault. Y’all sure do hate women.”

Unfortunately, society unfairly blames women in more situations than just overdose. Take, for example, one of the most common questions asked after women are raped or sexually harassed: “Well, what were you wearing?”

These women are often told that they “shouldn’t have worn that skirt,” or “shouldn’t have had that last drink,” or “should have called a cab instead of walking home.” Instead of teaching men to be respectful, to ask for consent, and to understand boundaries, for so many years society has blamed women and claimed, “boys will be boys.” Says Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in an interview in Vice, “women [are not] coming forward after they’ve been assaulted because they’re blamed for the men assaulting them, as if their very existence, their very role, makes them blameworthy.”

Victim blaming goes as far as to convince the victim that she actually was to blame, or even that she wasn’t raped at all. A study I found in an BBC article from November 2018 showed that 60% of women and girls aged 14 and older who had had non-consensual sex obtained through force did not consider what they went through to be raped. The victims in a similar study explained that they didn’t call it rape because

“-The attacker didn’t match their expectations of a rapist (‘he was my friend and everyone loved him’) -They worried that their behaviour didn’t match a ‘normal’ victim’s (‘it was my fault to be that intoxicated’) -There hadn’t been physical violence or resistance (‘he wasn’t beating me’)”

In both cases of overdose and sexual assault, we put an impossible pressure on women to be completely responsible for both themselves and those around them. We make them feel guilty for actions out of their control, or even push them to unfairly blame themselves.

I’m obviously no expert, but I think on the surface we can begin to solve this by expanding knowledge and awareness about addiction, overdoses, and sexual assault. But deeper than that, I think society needs to take the sexist pressure of unrealistic responsibility off women and allow them to fully focus on their own well being, for a change.

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