This opinion piece was written by Ithaca Voice Managing Editor Jolene Almendarez. To submit an opinion piece to The Ithaca Voice, contact us at tips@ithacavoice.com.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of a sexual or domestic assault, contact the police or The Advocacy Center here.

ITHACA, N.Y. — When a press release rolled in Thursday morning about a man groping women through an open window, the nearly all-female reporting staff at The Voice had some choice reactions.

“Not again!”

“It’s the Collegtown Creeper!”

“Did they catch the last guy?”

“Which one?”

The story was published on social media and started making the rounds online with people relating to it in different ways.

Activist Amber Gilewski, associate professor at Tompkins Cortland Community College professor and wife of Second Ward Alderman Ducson Nguyen, said online that she sleeps with a knife in her bedroom. She said a naked man broke into her apartment through a bedroom window when she was a child. He attacked and tried to rape her mother in bed, but Gilewski said her mom fought the man until he eventually fled.

I admitted to keeping a hatchet propped against my nightstand just in case somebody breaks into my home. I once had a neighbor who was a peeping Tom and watched me while I was in the bathroom — doing everything! That’s always been really embarrassing for me. 

But for some reason, the reaction of one of our male commenters online was to question why a person would keep a bed by an open window.

Let me offer a few brief explanations:

  • Because it’s hot outside.
  • Because bedrooms can be very small with few places for furniture.
  • Because there is the general expectation that people should be able to go to sleep without fearing being sexually assaulted, regardless of where a bed is located in a room.

The rage induced by this kind of victim blaming is real and, unfortunately, all too common. Covering crime and courts in Ithaca, I see victim blaming frequently for all crimes. But it’s always different if the victim is a woman or part of a vulnerable community, such as being a child or person who identifies as being LGBTQ.

Because if a woman or other vulnerable person is a victim of a crime, according to our commenters and people who show up to court, that person is always making it up, a whore, attention seeking, asking for it, or trying to get someone in trouble.

And the thing is, no matter what the evidence is, there are people who will never back down from this narrative.

I have seen photos of women whose faces are beaten, bruised and swollen. Photos of women who have bruises and scrapes on their back. I have heard women in tears talk, in detail, about how they were repeatedly raped by a man throughout their childhood — where, when, how. Nothing is left out of these stomach-turning courtroom statements.

But the words whore, liar, asking for it, attention seeker, mentally disturbed, never go away. In fact, they are often the very foundation that defense attorneys use against a victim. Ever been to a psychiatrist? Ever tell a lie? Ever send a drunk text? Ever not call the cops on a friend or significant other? All of that will come up if you accuse a person of a sex crime.

And online commenters salivate over these kinds of details if we report them and are quick to point it out themselves if we don’t report them.

Community reaction like this creates a climate where reporting any crime, but especially sex crimes, is extremely scarring to people involved. That means people are less likely to report these crimes.

People would rather not say a word about being sexually assaulted and raped than deal with the bullshit of victim blaming and retraumatization.

We are all responsible for fixing this problem. It can start right here with the words we choose to use online.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.