Following the controversial report by the New York Times about the hidden history of sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, DKNY founder Donna Karan learned an important lesson while defending the movie mogul: Victim blaming, at least in this case, will not be tolerated.
The designer is facing a backlash after she made comments that seemed to blame his accusers and their wardrobe choices — not Weinstein himself — for his own sexual misconduct. “I think we have to look at ourselves,” the designer said when asked to weigh in on the scandal while on the CinéFashion Film Awards red carpet. “How do we display ourselves? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?
She continued: “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing — what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Karan was immediately criticized for her comments, particularly the suggestion — which, unfortunately, many people believe — that women “invite” trouble based on how they dress. This attitude of shaming women for their own harassment is harmful to women because it discourages them from coming forward and ignores the abuse of power and control of their harassers. And it’s harmful to men too, by treating them like animals who can’t control themselves around women who dress seductively.
It is worth noting that Karan retracted her remarks and apologized. But the designer’s words are shedding light on a deeper issue — the prevalence of victim blaming in cases of sexual harassment and assault that is so ingrained in our society. According to Psychology Today, blaming victims has serious consequences for their mental health and recovery, leading to future problems like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Following a negative experience with coming forward, a victim will also be less likely to seek additional help.
“We are a culture of victim blamers,” marriage and family therapist Beverly Engel said in an interview with U.S. News & World Report. “The core of victim blaming is that we don’t want to feel out of control. Fighting for our freedom, being independent, fighting against someone controlling us — we have a whole history of that,” she said, describing victim blaming as an attempt to quiet the notion that things are not always in our control.
For future victims of harassment and assault, these comments serve as a decision-making factor: Will they report their abuser and risk going through the court of public opinion or suffer in silence as they encounter a number of abuse aftereffects? Will they start questioning themselves and the validity of their accusations?
Along with Weinstein’s accusers, a number of pioneering women in a variety of industries are coming forward in an effort to break the victim-blaming stigma and bring awareness to how differently the abuser and the abused are handled following such incidents: Actress Amber Heard experienced major backlash after coming forth with domestic abuse allegations against Johnny Depp. Per USA Today reports, the alleged abuse victim of a Dallas Cowboys player experienced attempts at discrediting her character from the NFL Players’ Association. In Silicon Valley, harassment victims like Ellen Pao are being dragged through the mud for bringing awareness to the culture of victim blaming.
While looking to these brave women who are spearheading the conversation, it’s important to recognize the power that words have on current and future survivors of sexual harassment and assault and make sure the message is loud and clear: You are not at fault for your abuse.
If you’ve experienced workplace harassment, domestic violence or other abuse, know that your pain and feelings are valid, and many people out there are ready to fight by your side.