Liberation Therapy Blog
The Insidiousness of Victim Blaming
#victimblaming Trigger Warnings: Rape, Sexual Assualt, Sexual Abuse, Victim Blaming, Victim Shaming.
Okay, so here goes…… I should be doing MA stuff, but I can’t put this off any longer, it’s too important! In this blog, I’m going to write about rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. This may be triggering, please do not read if you are concerned about that. Thank you.
‘Victim Blaming’ is a phrase first used by psychologist William Ryan in his book ‘Blaming the Victim’ in 1971. He said it’s an ‘ideology to justify racism and social injustice against black people in the USA’.
The phrase has since gathered traction, and grown in application to include what’s known as ‘secondary victimisation’ or ‘secondary traumatisation’ of a victim of crime, specifically sexual assault. It’s also interchangeable with the term ‘victim shaming’.
What happens in victim blaming/shaming is this: somehow, for some spurious reason, the victim of the crime/rape/assault/anything they have not consented to, is held accountable for what has happened to them.
For example, the girl raped walking home at night in a short skirt she wore to the club with her friends. In the subsequent court case, the victim is asked about her sex life, her sexual preferences, whether she led anyone on etc. She is picked apart over something intensely private in order to justify the attackers decision to force non-consensual sex on her. The attackers friends, and worse possibly her friends imply that she is somehow ‘asking for it’ by walking home late at night in a short skirt on her own.
I understand the perspective that we need to do what we can to keep ourselves safe. I understand that there are behaviours that put us more at risk than others. I understand that we have to take responsibility for our own actions.
But it is NEVER someone’s fault they were raped. Nobody has the right to do that to another human. Nobody.
And then there’s the horseshoe theory that brings victim blaming back close to itself in the extremes, by asking ‘what does it say about men if we generalise that they can’t control themselves if a girl in a short skirt walks past them?’
When we attach responsibility to the victim of a crime perpetuated against them, we stigmatise the victim themselves, and importantly, those who suffer similar crimes. We relieve the criminal of his own responsibility, suggesting it isn’t his fault he put his appendage somewhere uninvited.
Victim shaming, especially against victims of rape or sexual assault, potentially prevents that person from reporting the crime against them. Especially where the scenario isn’t a clear cut case of rape, where maybe they knew the person, where maybe they were drunk and don’t remember saying no, where they felt they had led the person on, and so somehow ‘owed’ it to them to have sex.
When rape isn’t an aggressive force of violence, victims struggle to understand how it’s so clearly rape. When people have been victims of crime in situations that they feel like they somehow put themselves in danger, they make themselves accountable, because society tells them ‘you asked for it’.
Here’s the real problem with it:
I worked for a while with clients who were victims of sexual abuse. Not ONE of those woman (I didn’t have male clients) reported their assault. Not ONE.
Because then they get dragged through the court. Their sexual behaviour gets discussed in public. They’re forced to relive their experience over and over again in order to convince a jury that this degrading, violating act was made against them. Because they’re told ‘you were drunk’, ‘you flirted with him’ (or her), ‘you said yes to his friend’, ‘if you can’t remember being raped, how do you know you were?’, ‘your ex partner says you like it rough’, ‘you’re lying because you’re angry he broke up with you’.
When we victim shame we are asking the wrong person to take responsibility. When we victim shame we are allowing the perpetrator to be excused of their crime, because the victim somehow led them to believe they were entitled to commit whatever crime it is against them. When we victim shame, we allow the cycle to perpetuate.
This concept does not only apply to rape. It applies to burglary, theft, pickpocketing, domestic violence, and any criminal offence committed against one person by another.
If you have been triggered by this post, please use these numbers to find support:
Samaritans: 116 123 (UK & ROI)
Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-14:30 daily, 19:00 – 21:30 Daily, 15:00-17:30 Monday to Friday)
Women’s Aid & National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
(Please let me have any other numbers you feel are relevant, these are UK based numbers only)