The tragic story of Masa Vukotic has been all over the news lately.
The rather common and initial response from a rather large segment of the population has gone something along the lines of, “why was she alone in the park?” For altogether too many cases of violence against women, the initial response is about something that the women did or didn’t do that either encouraged the situation or did nothing to prevent it from happening.
With good reason, many of the articles in the media regarding this case are about victim blaming. It’s not right that the first response is “why did or why didn’t the victim do X”, rather than “why or how could the attacker have committed such a horrible act?”. It’s not her fault that she was killed.
So, across all levels of big media and social media, a hot storm of anger has been unleashed towards victim blaming. Those in the media are offended at the idea that women are considered to be at fault in their own assault – and rightly so.
And now, to cycling…
When a cyclist gets hit by a car, the media and the general public quite often does the complete opposite. They may not say that the cyclist was asking for it, but there are often mentions of the lack of hi-viz clothing, or that they were riding at night, or in the middle of the lane, or that they shouldn’t be riding on that particular road, or any road, for that matter, or everyone’s favourite – the helmet. Why, oh why, weren’t they wearing a helmet? Well, why wasn’t Masa walking with someone? In neither case are the victim’s deserving of what they got, nor would a helmet have prevented the cyclist from being hit in the first place. In fact, if you really want to get into which would be a more effective deterrent, the helmet would loose by a mile – it has zero effect on whether or not you get hit, whereas walking with someone could, and often is, actually a determinant in whether or not you are attacked in that time and place (note: I can’t find any actual statistics to back that up, but would you argue against it?).
Now, there are rare accidents where the driver really couldn’t have done anything to avoid hitting a cyclist or pedestrian. You cannot reasonably equate these accidents with an assault. For the vast majority of collisions, however, these “accidents” were avoidable. In these cases, any mentioning of the cyclist having done or not done something that resulted in their being injured or killed is the same type of situation as remarking that a woman should not have been walking alone, or at night, or should have been wearing different clothing.
We are not comfortable with the first instance, but we are disgusted by the second. Why?
Perhaps it has to do with this: I realize that an assault is very much done on purpose while the intent of a driver hitting a cyclist may be different or non-existent. The driver intended to maintain their speed and pass at close range, or enter a roundabout far too quickly and without checking, or opening their door without checking, or purposely harassing the cyclist, or actually harassing the cyclist, etc, but likely (usually) did not intend to actually hit, injure, or kill them.
Perhaps it is the intent that mattersto us. That’s the difference between a homicide and manslaughter, after all. You know what’s not different? That a person died, and shouldn’t have. People get outraged if someone suggests that women owe a duty and responsibility to wear appropriate clothing so as not to encourage an assault, yet join in with those saying,
“Riders of bicycles, particularly on main roads, owe a duty and a responsibility to other road users.” link
So it’s the vulnerable victim that is to blame.
Perhaps this boils down to people being comfortable with negligence and not with intentional assault. That’s different, we say. Perhaps we don’t get morally outraged about this because while we are unlikely to ever intentionally kill someone, the choices we make in our cars may one day see us killing someone anyway, and we want to keep these crimes on completely different planes.
Unfortunately, negligence is intentional, otherwise it would be called ignorance, and so we arrive back at the same outcome as someone being assaulted or killed by an attacker: someone is hit by a car and is injured or killed because of a choice that someone made.
So, the question stands: why is the media so comfortable blaming one victim, while being horrified when it happens to the next?
What do you think?
Header image: source