Victim Blaming: Gail Stern @ CLC

I went to a beautifully executed seminar about victim blaming. It was thought provoking, witty and poignant in it’s approach. It had everyone in the room in discussion, and laughter. Yes, I said laughter.

Gail Stern, held the mike, and quite frankly, she was brilliant. She took something as important as the issue of victim blaming in our society and presented it in a comical way. This isn’t to say, she was any less sensitive to those who have experienced rape or was taking the issue lightly. She spoke, and she made it easier for us to make connections. She utilized a comedic approach to educate the community about the reality of sexual violence.  She used humor as a tool for sparking discussion and for making a point.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term Victim Blaming, it’s quite simply blaming a victim. A good thumbnail definition is as follows:

When the victim of an event is blamed, or partially blamed, for their own attack. Mainly used in context with rape, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual assault, but can be applied to other situations. It wrongly shifts blame from the guilty party onto the victim, and therefore doesn’t (or makes it more difficult to) punish the one truly at fault. The term was popularized by the SlutWalk movement, which started after a Canadian police officer advised female students to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid being victimized.

It’s an important issue that often is swept under the rug, as with rape itself. We like to think that we are safe in our little niches of society, that if we are good people, good things will happen to us. We also like to think, that if we prepare ourselves for the “inevitable” stranger danger, the dark and creepy man who will come a get us if we aren’t looking over our shoulder—that we will be okay. This is where victim-blaming comes into play. If we can believe that we are good people, then those who have bad things happen to them are bad people or have done something to deserve this. Individuals who have become the victims of misfortune are often judged by outside observers as being responsible for their own fate. Quite often, people don’t even realize that they are engaging in such practices.

Think about it. It isn’t odd to us to ask, the moment someone mentions a headline, or story regarding rape, we ask questions like these: “Well, how was she dressed?”, “what part of town was she in?”, “Was he drunk?”, “Was she drunk?”, “Well, she slept around didn’t she?”. It isn’t. We engage in small discussions like this. This isn’t to say we are insensitive, or cruel, it has been ingrained into our minds as a societal norm. We believe in what she describes as a “just world theory”.

I kinda described it above, it’s the idea that people need to believe one will get what one deserves so strongly that they will rationalize an inexplicable injustice by naming things the victim might have done to deserve it. So asking all those questions, are a part of victim blaming. By putting the blame elsewhere, we see a person who has been victimized as different from ourselves. It’s the whole— “Because I am not like him/her, because I do not do that, this would never happen to me.” It’s false reassurance at the cost of devaluing an individual.

Ultimately, that’s what it does. It devalues a person and their worth, their reputation. Have you ever heard of positive reactions to rape? Women/men who report abuse, are often condemned for it. Victim-blaming attitudes only work to marginalize the victim and make it harder for her to come forward and report the abuse.

It saddens me that we live in a society that blames those who have experienced such a travesty. It saddens me that we live in a society where women have to be afraid of half of the population because of rape culture.

I see the sticky notes “brotip#1: don’t rape”. It’s complete nonsense. Men are not the only perpetrators of rape. Men aren’t inherently rapists. They’re not.They don’t see a woman, get a hard on and run to attack them. It doesn’t happen like that.

Violent acts are always choices that individuals make.

How do we change it?

  • Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear them
  • Do not agree with abusers’ excuses for why they abuse
  • Let survivors know that it is not their fault
  • Hold abusers accountable for their actions: do not let them make excuses like blaming the victim, alcohol, or drugs for their behavior
  • Acknowledge that the survivor is his/her own best expert and provide her/him with resources and support