Serena Williams knows that it's no longer considered right to blame the victim in a rape case – but still, in an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine last week, she somehow managed to do exactly that.

Reacting to a television news report about the conviction of two boys in the Steubenville case in the US – in which a young girl was raped while drunk and unconscious by a group of teenagers – she said: "I'm not blaming the victim, but-" She then went on to say: "She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky."

In this interview, Williams came out clearly on the side of the boys, also questioning whether they should have received such long sentences (in fact, the two convicted received the minimum sentences).

Of course, Williams was not the only person to have blamed the victim. Steubenville has been one of the most controversial rape cases in America for decades, partly because the videos and pictures that came out through social media – and the work of hacktivist group Anonymous – revealed a sickening portrait of callous jokiness: repeatedly, to camera, one boy joked "she is so dead", "as dead as OJ's wife" and "so raped". But also because, from the start, it has been shot through with victim-blaming – there has been a tendency to protect the boys, the prized football team, and sympathise with them rather than the girl who was abused.

Williams may have been trying to say something about how parents should guide and look after their kids. If so, she botched it. She followed in the footsteps of one CNN reporter, Poppy Harlow, who was also condemned for focusing in her report on the conviction of two of the boys on the loss of their "promising futures".

And Williams, like most of us, has grown up in culture which has failed, in spite of whatever sexual revolutions have occurred, to leave behind the notion that it is the girl's job to protect herself from rape, not a boy's to resist committing it.

But victim-blaming is not just a habit in the US, it is rife everywhere. The last year has brought us a catalogue of global revelations about sexual violence – and along with it the predictable backlash of blaming the victim.

We have seen it in India, where the horror of the gang rape and murder of a young woman on board a Delhi bus didn't seem quite enough to stop some people from suggesting it was her own fault. In a documentary to be broadcast on BBC3, India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman, Manohar Lal Shalmar, the lawyer for some of the accused in the case, says: "If she would be respectable then this would never have happened - She was responsible for this. You cannot say only the rapists are responsible. She is also responsible equally."

Comments like this are not to be discounted as fringe in India, or, indeed, here in the UK. Sadly, they say a great deal about the social mores that lurk beneath, and inform, behaviour. In the UK too, we have also had our fair share of victim blaming – and actually the logic behind it isn't so very different. There was a furore recently when Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross was quoted as saying "not all rape is rape" – the quote was taken out of context, a book chapter which in full makes it clear he is on the side of the victims, but the effect remained.

JUST last week, media commentator Roy Greenslade hinted at victim-blaming when he discussed the photographs of Nigella Lawson being gripped around the neck by her husband, saying: "This is deeply embarrassing for her." And last year, when the report on the case of the child-grooming ring in Rochdale was published, we learned that people who should have been protecting the girls believed these vulnerable young people were "making their own choices" or even involved in prostitution.

Each of these comments has been met with the appropriate outrage, but the fact that they were made at all is troubling. If you look at the internet comment boards for example, they are far from uncommon.

Every one of us has to catch ourselves, be alert to this habit. It is the result of bubbles rising up from the deep, historic waters of our culture. Why do we so yearn to say it is the victim's fault when a person is raped, attacked or domestically assaulted? Why is this perverted logic so entrenched? In India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman, the film's reporter asks why such violence exists. The answer she gets is that, in India, women are not valued at any point in their lives; they are considered worthless from the moment they are born. Women are, says one women's rights campaigner, "through their life cycle, being discriminated against at every stage".

But does that explain it? After all, in this country we think we value girls – yet rape and victim-blaming still happen here.

"My son turns six next week," one woman texted TV show Raising America in the wake of Steubenville, "and among all the other wishes I have for him- I hope and pray my son won't grow up to be a rapist."

I felt the same, watching the footage of these kids joking about rape, and thinking about my own sons, aged just three and six. I felt, too, that this was about the boys more than the girls. That is where the change starts: not with telling young girls never to get drunk or pass out, to never leave themselves vulnerable. We need social rules that protect all – not just the "good girls".

Many of those defending Serena Williams's comments have resorted to comparisons with robbery. They say that if you wandered down a dark street in a dangerous neighbourhood with a wallet full of money, people would say it was your fault if you got mugged. But that isn't quite the case. Studies of attitudes in court cases in America have found that people are more likely to blame the victim in a rape or sexual assault than in a robbery case.

The real message that needs to go out is that there are no excuses for rape. The one voice that has made this clear is the mother of the Steubenville victim. She said this was a failure of compassion, a failure of "moral compass". She blamed the parents a little – but mostly she blamed the boys. For her, clearly, there was no excuse.