Even in death, female victims of violence are subjected to sexism.
Earlier this month Jacqueline Vandagriff, a 24-year-old Texas college student, was brutally murdered. Her body was dismembered, wrapped in a deflated kiddie pool, and set on fire.
Officials believe the man who killed her is 30-year-old Charles Bryant. According to reports and video surveillance, Bryant met Vandagriff at a bar on the night of the murder. It's unclear if the two knew each other beforehand, but police believe they met for the first time that evening. The two had some drinks and barhopped for a bit. Afterward, Bryant took Vandagriff back to his home, where he allegedly killed her.
Due to the horrific nature of the crime, the story garnered national attention.
But the murder wasn't immediately reported as horrible man appears to have committed horrible crime. No. The New York Post reported it as Student dismembered and burned after leaving bar with man she’d just met, implying that Vandagriff herself played a role in her own murder by following a stranger home after drinking.
People's headline read Security Video Shows Texas College Student Jacqueline Vandagriff Drinking and Leaving Bar with Alleged Killer, just to remind everyone she was drinking the night she was killed and went home with him voluntarily.
The Washington Post wrote, She left a bar with an accused stalker. Hours later, police found her burned body in a park, which somehow suggests Vandagriff should have known Bryant's criminal history before leaving with him—or at the very least, should have known better than to leave with a man she presumably didn't know well.
A local Fort Worth, Texas news site wrote Slain TWU student apparently went to suspect's home before she was killed, reminding us that she went off to her death of her own free will.
These headlines bother me because they highlight Vandagriff's choices and actions more than her alleged killer's. They focus on the fact that she chose to go to a bar alone, she chose to drink, and she chose to go to this man's house. Meanwhile, there was nothing particularly notable about Vandagriff's actions—many women go to bars, meet guys, and go home with them without getting killed.
The sad reality is that headlines like these speak to a larger problem: When crimes are committed against women, too often, our culture dissects the victim's actions as much as the criminal's.
In Vandagriff's case, the media's victim-blaming was relatively subtle, with outlets focusing more on her killer as more details emerged. But based on the headlines, I can't help but wonder: If Vandagriff had been a sexual assault victim rather than a murder victim, would the public have believed her story at all? How many times have women been in a similar situation as Vandagriff, reported a rape and then been labeled a "party girl" or "promiscuous" rather than a victim? How many times have cops asked survivors, "Were you drinking? Did you flirt with him? Did you go home with him voluntarily?"—all questions that play no role in whether or not a crime was committed.
Let me put it plainly: Vandagriff is not to blame for the horror that happened to her. Her killer is. And we shouldn't wait until women are dead to believe their story.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.