My hope for this blog is that people can learn from it as well as find their own stories here. I believe there are experiences which are shared by many of us, and we find comfort in knowing we are not alone. I try to maintain a balance on my blog of information and experience, education and emotion. I know that for myself, if i understand on an intellectual level what is happening to me, it helps me manage the feelings that come up.
Today I want to talk about an instance when we find ourselves wanting to achieve distance from one another and find differences: victim blaming. This is when we put responsibility for a crime or abuse on the victim, and give at least partial absolution to the perpetrator.
We do this in a lot of different ways. Some of them are subtle like not not picking up the phone when a friend calls, whom we know is in an abusive relationship. I want to differentiate here between not answering because we are not in a place to be receptive, and not answering because we, on some level, just want her to do it for himself or herself already! We do it when we erase their experience by saying that men cannot be sexually assaulted.
Next, there are the questions we ask: Why doesn’t she just leave? Why were you walking there at night? You had how many drinks? What did you think was going to happen? We also may make statements like, “I would never go to the ATM at night!” “That’s why I am always careful.” “You know, you should always use the buddy system!” Of course there is a time and place to talk about prevention. Right after the fact and directing these statements to the victim is not it.
What is truly alarming to me is how these incidences are dealt with on a larger, systemic and societal level. One example that comes to mind is the idea that a person in the commercial sex industry, or prostitute, cannot be raped. Let’s be very clear that this is a sex positive blog, and I support the choices of consenting adults. Someone who works in the commercial sex industry and is robbed or sexually assaulted will not be able to report the crime out of fear or being blamed for it. His or her victimization will be seen as their own fault for being in the situation.
So why do we do it? First, I believe that when we do it, we believe we are helping. We don’t want to see that person go through such an ordeal again, so we make suggestions as to how they could prevent it. While we may believe this is the right thing to do, we may actually be making things worse for someone we love and care about. The person has already been through something traumatic. Then we are adding to the trauma by implying that they are responsible for it. If you are not sure how to help someone, ask them. If that doesn’t seem right given the situation, then ask if they’d like you to just be there. If they don’t accept any assistance, it’s not personal. It’s not about you in this time, it’s about them! Also, even if it’s the person you are closest to in the world, they may not reach out to you. Again, this is not about you. Try to see where your loved one is doing what they feel they can to take care of themselves. There will be ways to help. Instead of seeing it as rejection, try to think of it as, “not right now.”
The second reason we do it does have to do with ourselves: We want to feel that we are different enough that it wouldn’t happen to us. We take comfort in this sense of security, even if it is false. We need to tell ourselves that we somehow are at less risk for having the same thing happen to us. We play Monday morning quarterback, saying what we would do differently. This gives us comfort, and helps us differentiate from potential victimhood.
We can do better though. We can make different choices that support relationships with one another. We go about doing this by acknowledging our own fears and limitations. If I don’t know that something is a problem, I can’t fix it. I may be afraid of having the same bad thing happen to me that has happened to my friend, but this doesn’t give me license to treat her badly. I am responsible for my own reactions. Her healing needs to be about her.
As we go through life and survive different events, we have the potential to grow from these experiences. When we share this strength with one another, it reinforces it within ourselves. If we could each focus on strengthening and reinforcing the pack instead of picking off the weaklings, we’d each be quite a force to be reckoned with! So that’s my challenge to each of us, including myself: Take care of one another. If you need to focus on the differences in order to feel safe, find an outlet that still keeps the victim’s needs as a priority. Each of us will, at some point, require care from others in order to recover from something. Your giving care and compassion to another helps them to heal and grow so that when the time comes, they will have all they need to return the favor.
In the mean time,