It’s time to hold the offender responsible

| May 7, 2013

Instead of passing all responsibility to women in telling them how to avoid sexual assault we should make it clearer that the offender is the only one to blame, says Karen Willis, Executive Officer of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

The statement that strikes fear into our hearts: ‘There is a sex offender on the loose’.

The first problem is that most sex offenders are not strangers. Generally they are family members, ‘friends’, someone we work or go to school with. We may have met them in a social situation or gone on a date with them. Stranger danger or ‘sex offender on the loose’ accounts for less than 1% of the sexual violence in our community.

Following this statement is generally a warning to women to stay at home, lock the doors, don’t go out at night, don’t be alone, etc. A long list of don’ts, don’ts and don’ts. All suggesting women should lock themselves away.

I think when we hear ‘sex offender on the loose’, we should gather our friends, take to the streets, have picnics in our parks at midnight and generally say: We have every right to be here, and there, and everywhere, whenever we want.

By telling women what to do to avoid sexual assault we are making women responsible for managing or avoiding the criminal behaviour of that small group of violent men who think it is their right, who think they are entitled.

It’s time our response was to the offender. It’s time we held him responsible.

We should be saying to him, ‘you are wrong’, ‘your actions are criminal’, ‘you need to change your behaviour’, ‘you are to blame’ and ‘we will tolerate your behaviour no longer’.

We need to say loud and clear, how a women dresses, where she is, what she is doing and how she is doing it is her business and her right. It is not an invitation to harassment, innuendo, judgement, inappropriate touching, cohesion, manipulation and never ever an invitation for forced or non consensual sex.

There is no such thing as a ‘rape me skirt’, and being drunk is not an excuse or invitation for exploitation.

So next time we hear about someone experiencing shocking and criminal violence, instead of suggesting that the victim holds some responsibility, let’s all be very clear.

Sex offending is a criminal act of violence for which the offender is always, no excuses ever, completely responsible for his actions.

He has no right.

To him we say: STOP NOW.

Karen Willis

Karen Willis is the Executive Officer of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia provides the 24/7 telephone and online crisis response and counselling service for anyone in Australia whose life has been impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence. The organisation also provides trauma specialist counselling for those impacted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as well as for women who have experienced sexual assault in childhood, from six Women’s Health Centres around NSW. Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia continues to participate in research, primary and secondary prevention, law reform, and advocacy in the areas of sexual assault, domestic and family violence. Karen has worked in the field of violence against women for over thirty years. She is clear that it is every person’s human right to live their life free of violence and that when violence occurs, it is every person’s right to receive compassionate professional assistance in their recovery and full redress for the crime through the criminal justice system.


  1. Sam Kharman

    May 7, 2013 at 4:41 am

    Offenders responsible

    With due respect. We should be saying to him, ‘you are wrong’, ‘your actions are criminal’, ‘you need to change your behaviour’, ‘you are to blame’ and ‘we will tolerate your behaviour no longer’ ‘we sentence you to 12 years jail, no parole’. Sam Kharman