WHEN I think of how we respond to female victims, I think of the Victorians. Specifically of their approach to mourning, particularly in respect to women in the upper classes.

When someone died – a parent, a husband a child – women partook in a complex set of rituals that dictated everything from their dress to their behaviour. This elaborate show – the black clothes for two years, possibly for the rest of a life, the removal of oneself from society and recreation – were all to send easily interpreted signals bereavement. To fail to perform grief in this prescribed public manner was to show great disrespect to the dead and to their trauma. It also was to invite suspicion. Suspicion of sexual promiscuity and disingenuous sorrow.

Rules and restrictions dictated how a woman must behave to be accepted as a genuine sufferer. They needed appropriate cues to understand a woman’s pain. It was a visual shorthand for judging who was deserving of time, sympathy and respect.

Is this so different for what we want from women now when they claim to be victims of male violence?

This week I was invited onto the BBC's Good Morning Scotland to talk about Chloe Ayling, the woman kidnapped in Italy, held hostage and put up for auction as a sex slave. But I wasn’t there to talk about Lukasz Herba, that man who allegedly drugged her, bundled her into a bag and attempted to sell her on the dark web – but whether we should believe Chloe’s story. This in itself is a reflection of how we as a society look at women who suffer crime at the hands of men.

You probably already have an opinion. Most of those haunting the comments sections and social media echo the likes of: “It’s a publicity stunt”, “it’s suspect”, “it doesn’t add up”. Yet, all of these are directed at Chloe. The same scrutiny is notably and predictably absent towards her perpetrator.

But she was smiling? She was in booty shorts! She was seen shopping with Herba! He kindly drove her to the consulate! That’s not how people react when they’ve been traumatised!

This is not an episode of EastEnders – it’s real life. The idea of a perfect victim is the fiction. Most perpetrators of violence against women are known to the victim. And who are we to adjudicate a stranger’s response? Everyone reacts to trauma in different ways. Some laugh nervously, some can’t cry, some disassociate, some default to their typical behaviours. Our whole idea of what trauma looks like is shaped by what we consume. In movies, books and reality TV, most of it scripted and/or sensationalised for dramatic effect. There is no set response that is a barometric measure of the profundity of their suffering that we can accurately interpret as outsiders. The opinions we form, though they seem considered, independent and even rational, are a product of our culture.

Chloe is a glamour model, and according to public reaction this denies her the right to be believed and to be protected. A job that only exists because of male demand, but which has been repackaged and sold back to women as the last bastion of our empowerment. We’re encouraged to take part in this sexy lie (as Caroline Heldman calls it) where we allow ourselves to be objectified, but when we do we’re seen to invite our own misfortune.

This splits women into two camps: prudes who we judge for being tight, but deserve our protection, and louche women who we celebrate for claiming their sexuality, but who deserve what they get. There is no room for nuance, nor for the complexity of real life.

WHEN we blame female victims, we reinforce the idea that violence, physical and sexual, is the norm and inevitable. We accept them as a natural part of our world. What this also does is perpetuate the damaging masculine stereotypes of violence and primal sexuality, that continue to be both the cause and consequence of these crimes. It also reinforces the damaging rape myths that obfuscate justice for women. That rape has to be physically violent, is committed by strangers, that women regularly regret sex and lie for attention.

Blaming women perpetuates a cycle of violence. As a consequence, physical and sexual assault is under-reported, which leads to poor conviction rates, resulting in less visibility of perpetrators, which means we believe women less and question them more, leading back to endemic underreporting. It’s a toxic ouroboros where male abuse is excused, explained and justified, and women are made to account for their perpetrators' actions.

This is the double-price women pay for trauma. Their past, present and future behaviour is under the microscope indefinitely, and used to exonerate those who harm them. To be a woman and a victim of male violence is a sentence. Chloe Ayling deserves to be heard, to be believed, and not to carry the weight of the abuse committed against her.

This sort of crime is about power and control. It is the fault of the mindset and behaviour of the perpetrator – not the survivor. No matter who a woman is, what she does or how she behaves, she must not have to account for crimes committed against her.

It doesn’t add up? Nonsense. This is the extreme but not unthinkable consequence of a culture that has normalised the idea of women as sex objects, to be used, bought and sold.

Of course, to ask questions of the news we read is human. We should all be judicious consumers of the information presented to us. But we must be mindful of the stereotypes and narratives certain reactions reinforce. To put it bluntly: whilst we keep instinctively wagging the finger at errant women, without asking questions of the offender, men will get away with rape and murder. Literally.