Definition of victim blaming: “Victim blaming is a devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.” (taken from USLegal.com).
Examples of victim blaming:
1) Carrie was assaulted by a coworker at a company Christmas party. Carrie was wearing a dress and heels, and had her hair down. Carrie went to the police to report it. Instead of supporting her, Carrie found that most of her coworkers, male and female alike, felt that she should have kept quiet about it, especially because she had had a few drinks and was dressed in a way that made people think she maybe was looking to “let loose a little”.
2) At the age of 17 Amanda was raped by a superior at work. He told her she would lose her job and no one would believe her if she told anyone anyway. Ten years later another woman accuses this person of rape and Amanda comes forward with her story. People berate her for not saying anything earlier.
3) Jennifer gets drunk at a college party and wakes up the next day in some random guy’s bed. She cannot remember consenting to anything but is pretty sure she had had sex. When she asks people at the party if she was acting strange because she thinks she may have been drugged, they all laugh and say that she was “totally up for it”.
4) Samantha misses the last bus home so decides to walk the few blocks between the pub and her house. She is assaulted on the way by someone whose face she never sees. When the story is reported on social media that week people add comments such as “well she WAS walking home by herself late at night!” or “what was she thinking not taking a cab?!”
5) Tracy works in a bar by herself and closes every night at 4am. Every night one of the regulars stays as late as he can and continuously propositions her, in such a way that it always sounds playful to anyone else listening. It gets so bad that Tracy asks her best friend to stay behind and close with her because she is afraid of what this guy may do. When one night he finally goes too far people tell her that she should never have “led him on”.
I could probably make up about 20, 30, 100 more similar situations like that, some that I have lived through, others that friends have lived through, others that I have read about. The point is really that none of these situations have been made up; they have all been lived through by someone or another. I have found that a lot of first reactions on learning about a sexual abuse/assault/harassment/violence story are “oh really? He’s always seemed like a nice guy to me!”, “nah I can’t believe he could hurt a fly!”, “um yeah she could have told people when it happened, not months/years later!”. I don’t know if people understand exactly how hard it is to come forward. I know that I personally have brushed a lot under the carpet, not because I want to normalize this behavior, but because I am still processing through things that happened much earlier in my life, and before I can even talk about the rest I need to get through this. Every person who has felt violated or who has been violated in their life will go through all types of emotions, and we cannot dictate to them how to get through them all and what they MUST do going forward. Intimidation, fear, pain are some of them. The fear of not being believed, the fear of being reduced into a laughing stock, “just another slut sleeping her way to the top”, the fear of not being emotionally stable enough to stand strong. We just have to look at some recently highly publicized rape cases and see that while the perpetrator is the one who is supposed to be judged for his crime, the person whose life is ripped into pieces and fed to the media is actually the victim’s. Can you imagine being violated once, and then seeing your story thrown out to the vultures over and over again? Can you imagine having to face your violator over and over again? Sometimes it really is easier in the short term to dig a hole, place everything inside, and cover it up.
Also, on that note, why are so many of the victim blamers women? Sexual harassment is a part of our everyday life if we are honest about it. If you never feel like you have ever been harassed then you really are a lucky person, because I know that I have been in situations where I have felt belittled, harassed, and violated more than enough times. There are times I have walked away, there are times that I have warned others, and there are times that I wondered if what happened really happened. I have also felt a lot of guilt and a lot of “it was my own fault I shouldn’t have drank that or worn that or been there”. And if you know me you know I also don’t take any shit from anyone, I tend to sense unsafe situations and walk away, and I definitely look out for others. But all types of situations varying from the unsavory to the downright scary have happened to me, from a very early age.
So why on earth are women blaming other women? Harvey Weinstein has been dominating our newsfeeds recently, and I have seen so many women grumble about why no one came forward, but at the same time the women who DID come forward were quashed and shamed. So where do we go from here? Let’s take Mayim Bialik’s opinion piece for example. Instead of using her platform as a way to open the door to a more open dialogue she basically blamed “pretty” women for what happened to them! Yeah, I was a “late bloomer” too, didn’t stop anything from happening to me. Nothing really feminist about victim blaming Mayim! (Sarah Polley’s piece is much more on point).
Let’s also not forget that the current president freely admitted to harassing (assaulting) women. We have him on tape literally saying it. But he was still elected, and he still has many (white) women fans. So where do we go from here? How can we bring down this patriarchy and stop this eternal cycle of abuse if we continue to allow men in prominent positions to get away with whatever they feel like? How can we stop the victim blaming, because every time we blame one person, so many others will be too scared to come out of the darkness. And if we can’t talk about this openly, how can we ever stop it from happening?
How about we all make a promise to ourselves: next time someone says something (in public or private) about being assaulted or harassed we LISTEN without judgment? Instead of immediately jumping to questions such as “why did you never say anything??” or statements such as “nooo he does so much for charity!”, maybe we start to think about how we can HELP the victim as well as bring the perpetrator to justice? I personally have written several accounts of things that have happened to me, but they have only ever been published anonymously, or in my private journal. I’m not hurting anyone by keeping them private, but I don’t feel strong enough to talk about them right now. Not in public anyway. Maybe one day I will, but in the meantime I don’t need to use my personal stories to help stand up against harassment, abuse, and assault.
If you are suffering alone right now there ARE people around to help. RAINN is an amazing organization, and have people available nationwide, 24/7.
I also highly recommend checking out the #facelessnomore project and submitting your own story. We are NOT alone.