Why Do We Blame Victims?

There have been incidences in my life where I have been the victim of harassment, bullying, and atrocious behavior, and in some these cases, I received a backlash from people who ultimately treated me like I was the perpetrator – like it was my fault. To my shock and disappointment, this ‘second wound’ also came from some that I deemed close to me.

It happens every day- from small interactions to extreme cases like rape victims. It just happened to me today… this incidence stemmed from my standing up against a Montessori school who would not stop the bullying against my daughter, and then I received their wrath after calling Social Services. My girls were out of the school so they were safe, but I chose to continue my campaign against them to raise awareness of what transpired – all in an effort to protect the other children from the cruelty of the boys and the school’s lack of action. I did it for the safety and wellbeing of the children who were still there… but surprisingly I also received blame from some of the parents as well.

What?!

It boggles my mind this happens when the truth is seemingly so apparent. I can see why the school would fight me when they think they are in the right, but other parents? And just to be clear, their purposeful silence speaks just as loud as their chiding comments – both are condemning.

I have experienced being blamed before, and it never ceases to rattle me when someone chooses to slap me down further when they could have offered a hand to help me up. I’m sure you’ve been there and felt the same as me – it plain o’ sucks. So let’s try to figure this out together… I’ll start. What is the thought process behind degrading victims further when we should instead support them?

In my quest to discover the psychology behind my question, I stumbled upon this article from J.F. Sargent . Sargent lays out a tidy 5 reasons for this peculiar idiosyncrasy, I will focus one of them:

#5: We secretly believe that people deserve their suffering

Hmm, is this true? Are we really thinking a handicapped child deserves the bullying they receive as we standby quietly and watch? Do we believe the women and child victims who are a product of war rape deserve such horrendous crimes against them? Certainly not in these cases, but there may be an element of this idea (depending on the circumstance), although it is definitely not a main factor.

Perhaps Sargent has one decent point though – he believes we blame victims when we do not think we can help them… although I am not entirely convinced of this one either. I know for a fact that I would stand (and have stood) between two fighting men in order to save my friend who was wrongly targeted as a troublemaker. Even if I could not overtly help, I certainly wouldn’t decide to join the perp and kick my friend (or a stranger for that matter!) instead. Although there was that one ex-boyfriend of mine…

Ultimately I want to believe that we are all ingrained with the hardwiring that if we see a wrong, we will stand up to injustice and side with the person who has been mistreated. Where has this notion gone astray?

I wonder if it has anything to do with people who perceive the victim as ‘weak’ and the perpetrator as ‘strong’, in a society where weakness is seen as something to look down upon. Do we frown upon victims because they ‘allowed’ themselves to be victimized? … That they were not strong enough to handle the situation better, or we believe they put themselves in that precarious situation, and so we assume the attack must be their fault?

OK, let’s go with this train of thought. Say someone was victimized and they fought back. They stood up for themselves, they alerted people – perhaps media outlets and a lawyer, and they brought the perpetrator to court. This is such a brave act – to get to the point where you realize you must relive the anguish in the public’s eye and you have to prepare yourself for the potential (likely) backlash of getting wrung through the ringer in order to evaluate your credibility.   Just think of the 50+ women who were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby. No one (namely the media) was convinced it happened – they needed Bill’s admission to believe it, although in their sole focus of him, they completely disregarded all the women who disclosed the crime. Is one famous man’s confession more valid than 50 women’s truth?

This point brings me to my next – unfortunately we’ve had a history of people who take advantage of the system and shout rape or abuse – not out of truth, but out of vengeance or greed. These people do not help the cause – not one bit. They are, in fact, being selfish and hurt the legitimately wounded ones who need the platform to gain justice and reparation against the perpetrator. Every time someone lies and it hits the papers, it weakens the case for victims everywhere.

And this is how the formation of a pattern persists when a victim cries out ‘injustice’ – because of this fraudulent history and dishonest victims continuing deceit, we immediately question their intention and cannot help but feel they are trying to get something out of the perpetrator.

Is this right? Am I on track with my assumptions? Please explain this to me if I am not, because this ‘habit’ of our society has got to stop. Victim-blaming has become way too rampant and it hurts everyone, except for the one who caused the incident in the first place – the perpetrator. By going against the victim, you silently side with the offender… and we can’t have that, can we?

We have built a dangerous routine of victim-blaming, one that is cyclically taught to our children, and it perpetually creates suffering for the innocent. We need to encourage them to speak up and have the courage to shed the fear of being further harassed and alienated. Let us be objective in our thoughts, nonjudgmental with our words and non-confrontational in our actions. Spend time deciphering the facts from each side so you can thoroughly understand the entire situation before casting blame upon one side or the other.

If you don’t have the time or patience, then I suggest refraining from strong opinion (or any opinion, for that matter) and allow the ordeal to be handled between the concerned parties. Society doesn’t need a troop of uninformed participants involving themselves in what does not concern them, for it only succeeds in muddying complex waters and provides absolutely no benefits for anyone, beyond potentially providing misguided and perverse entertainment for the people in the periphery. We’ve all seen ‘Crash’, right? No one wants to be that guy or gal – it doesn’t end well…

As in my Montessori story, if I had not spoken up for the other children, another boy or girl may have fallen victim to the bullying, and another, and another until many more were in pain… needless pain, all because a parent’s fear conquered the guts to take corrective action. But that is not how my story ended, and the courage came not only from me. So people please – please thank those disruptors who chose to take the difficult path to be the whistle blower, the protestor, the survivor with a voice, the victim seeking justice, and the supporter to these brave folks. Stand with them, not against them.

In case you’re wondering, my story ends well because I learned that word of our dispute spread through the grapevine and has provoked many parents to continue my work. They voiced their concerns to the administration, which has finally forced them to initiate a better action pan against bullying. Hoorah for our teamwork to create a safer environment for our children, which is really all that matters, but it could have been a lot less painful if non-believers joined our effort instead of working against us.

In another theory, Juliana Breines spoke about a study by Dr. Melvin Lerner in which he “theorized that these victim blaming tendencies are rooted in the belief in a just world, a world where actions have predictable consequences and people can control what happens to them. It is captured in common phrases like “what goes around comes around” and “you reap what you sow.” We want to believe that justice will come to wrongdoers, whereas good, honest people who follow the rules will be rewarded. Research has found, not surprisingly, that people who believe that the world is a just place are happier and less depressed.  But this happiness may come at a cost—it may reduce our empathy for those who are suffering, and we may even contribute to their suffering by increasing stigmatization.”

I can see this point. I don’t like, but I can see it… although, I must admit, it feels very narrow in its perspective. Anyone who is alive and is human knows from experience that good things do not only happen to good people and likewise for bad things to bad people. There is no distinction; we get both – the good with the bad. Life doesn’t work that way – it is a topsy-turvy roller coaster, although I wish I could maneuver karma like that…

Imagine knowing you can gain wealth and success by being a stellar person and also be aware that punishment would come down like the Saudi Arabia punishment system where a thief would get his hand chopped off. This is a pretty straight-forward way of viewing the effects received from being good or bad – it would certainly make life a lot simpler as the expectations of our actions would be more clear. Right now, so many people think they can get away with wrongdoings. Perhaps they do for now, but will they in the end? A topic for another time, as I obviously regress…

If something bad happens to someone, people may automatically determine that the victim had something to do with its cause. This line-of-thinking can be true for some cases, but it is dangerous to lump all victims into this mind-set. For example, let’s take the very controversial and emotionally charged subject of black people who are shot by police. Of course, there are different circumstances that go into each case, but some say that the police have a quick trigger-finger against black people (the black supporter’s position) but one can also say that police wouldn’t be in a confrontation with them if the black person was not in the middle of a crime (the pro-police debate).

So, in looking at this scenario very loosely, each party had a responsibility in the outcome – don’t shoot to kill if you aren’t in a life-threatening situation and black people (any people) need to avoid putting themselves in situations where scared cops would rather be quick to kill you in order to protect themselves and others then to be killed. This is a good example of a complex situation that needs further evaluation – perhaps one side is correct, maybe it’s the other, or it could be a combination where both sides are partially right. Only a thorough investigation can determine the truth, and even then it could be tainted through a biased lens. Fundamentally, I ask you all to be as objective as possible in your opinions of these charged and complex events.

But there are also seemingly very clear-cut cases where the victim had nothing to do with “reaping what they sow”, like a red-headed child who becomes the target of attacks based solely on his hair color. It is these situations where I ask that concerted action be taken to protect and support the cases where the victim is obvious… And for all others, please do your homework, listen to both sides, and make an educated determination of which side you are taking, instead of making the decision based on superficial characteristics, i.e. siding every time with a black person vs. white or a man vs. woman, etc.

Another interesting point comes from the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. According to them, “one reason people blame a victim/survivor is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and this gives a false sense that this could not happen to them. By labeling or accusing the victim/survivor, others can see the victim/survivor as different from themselves.  People reassure themselves by thinking, “Because I am not like the victim/survivor, because I do not do that, this would never happen to me.”’

A thought-provoking theory indeed. A victim experiences a negative event in their life and people do not want to associate themselves with it. In fact, wanting to create this ‘distance’ actually drives them to the far opposite side of the situation – away from the victim and toward the perpetrator. The best we can do in these situations is to be cognizant of what the survivor is going though – to think about them, and not us. We don’t always have to project our emotions onto everything. If you don’t already, try thinking about others and their feelings first in these situations – what they are going through and how you can help, then pledge any amount of support, from attending a protest to a quick nod of alliance – it all helps, especially considering the alternative of blaming them. A great exercise is to imagine walking in another person’s shoes. I know it is a cliché, but it works. It always helps me, and it also guides me when I need to forgive someone. It is a good practice to integrate into daily life, in many different ways.

Someone once said they thought people are intrinsically good and thus believed wrongdoing was caused by the victim. They are, of course, utterly mistaken, as everyone should know by now – there are a lot of evil forces at work in the world today. Because of this, the good needs to support each other and band together to crumble these cemented ideologies. We needn’t continue living with these destructive mindsets – it doesn’t have to be this way. It SHOULDN’T be this way, and it CAN change. All you have to do it try. Start with you, then teach your children, those around you then broaden your circle of influence.

The more voices we have in this together, the better chance we have to making this change far-reaching and permanent.

So what can we do about it?

We can be more aware of our own thoughts and actions. We can step in when a victim is getting blamed and stand with them in unity. We can listen to the full story – to both sides, before making a judgment. We can use our resources to seek justice for the victim. We can comfort the survivor instead of adding to their trauma… at the very least, let’s not do that – let’s please not AMPLIFY their pain.

I believe in us, and I KNOW we can… If you can’t do it for them, at least do it for yourself – for your peace-of-mind in knowing you did the right thing, for your belief in yourself that you have compassion for others, and for the role model you know you are (or can be) to your children.

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It is the intention of this site is to create more love and less hate, so in order to protect the sanctity of this forum, I ask you to respect my judgment-free zone where everyone can safely share without worry of criticism.  I welcome all productive and positive contributions to this open forum, in any way you wish to accomplish this.


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