Victim blaming — what should we do about it?
I’ve been considering why people are hesitant to believe reports of abuse. Not just that. I’m considering the responses even when they DO believe it. There is a tendency to blame the targets / victims and I have wondered why that is.
And here’s something that’s been a slight comfort to me. It’s not just us. Targets of abuse aren’t the only ones blamed for the things they’ve suffered. People want to blame victims, all victims of everything! And I am starting to think it’s innate. My friend’s child saw an abuse prevention video about child abuse. This 5 year old told her mom that she would tell if someone tried to hurt her, but she didn’t think that would happen because she wouldn’t be in the situation depicted in the video. No one taught her that. She did it to protect herself from having to believe that bad people can get to her. The mom corrected her and told her to never EVER blame the victim and so on.
Here’s another example. I have observed in a couple of fb neighborhood groups where I read that if someone reports a theft from a car, the next post or two rails on the victim of the crime for having left ___ in a car. This is consoling to me because I see that it’s not JUST targets of abuse that are blamed, it’s anyone who suffers.
I’ve seen people mourning the loss of children and thoughtless commenters asking if the child had been vaccinated or questions about the kid’s diet and so on. That’s not to comfort the mourners. It’s to comfort the ones who don’t want their kids to die from the same thing that took my friend’s child. They try to discover what could have been done to prevent that suffering so that they can avoid their own suffering. And in doing so, they blame the bereaved.
I could go on and on. It seems to boil down to this. People want to believe that bad things, all bad things, are preventable; that the victims of these bad things made some mistake and if they can just avoid those same mistakes, they will be just fine. Blamers seem to NEED to believe this. And when they are confronted with a horrible thing, they look for ways to believe that that thing could NEVER happen to them, that they can live and behave in such a way to avoid that particular suffering.
And so blamers ask heartless questions of grieving parents, of victims of crimes, of us. It’s not just us. It’s anyone who’s experienced suffering. Consider Job’s friends interrogating him and insisting that he had to have sinned. This has been going on since the beginning of time. But we don’t have to participate in this cycle. We can advocate for others and for ourselves. Now that I know what victim blaming is, I confront it. When I see it on Facebook, I call a fb foul and leave a comment like “fb foul. Criminals steal because they are criminals not because of the location of the things they stole. NEVER BLAME THE VICTIM.” I noticed a friend advocating for a child who had been bullied because he liked some character on his school supplies. The fb crowd was criticizing the child’s parents for buying him those school supplies. The school supplies didn’t beat him up. Bullies did. My friend entered the fray and educated those who were willing to listen and ranted to me about the ones who wouldn’t. I’m proud of her for trying!
These days people seek me out to tell me stories about how they noticed victim blaming and how they took the opportunity to advocate and educate. They will find me or call me and tell me about conversations with people to let me know that they are making a difference. I give them imaginary gold stars on our imaginary advocacy chart. I have my imaginary gold stars handy if you’d like to tell some advocacy stories.
For further reading, see Persis’s post on The Just-World Phenomena and Victim Blaming [Internet Archive link].
Also [this link was added after publication] Enabling? Sins of the Victim? Tetchy topics indeed!