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Victim Blaming

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 14 July 2010

This post could potentially be very controversial, but it needs to be said.  I must insist that if you choose to criticize my stance here to please read this post through very thoroughly.  One’s position on this topic is very easy to misinterpret and no discussion can occur without one made in good faith.

It seems that, particularly in feminist circles, any hint of blaming the victim or suggesting that a victim bears some responsibility for not preventing his or her (mostly her) own victimization is one of the more reprehensible and appalling things one can do, short of being the victimizer.  Indeed, this makes sense – I did write about how, in feminist theory, such attitudes foster an environment in which such crimes may occur more frequently.  In this light, it’s easy to see why individuals who put some blame on a victim, or question a victim’s actions that put him or herself in a position to be victimized are vilified; it’s all a part of the bigger picture to stop such things.

Much of it also comes from simple disgust over giving somebody who’s already violated and hurt an even harder time, especially if they believe the criticizer appears to not fully understand the situation.  It’s all a lot easier said than done.  Hindsight is a bitch.  The victim surely has all of this running through his or her head over and over to the point of a burning exhaustion, are pointing out such things helpful or productive in the slightest?

The idea is that by giving ANY notion that the victim could have avoided their own victimization, you are perpetuating this "cycle of violence".

My answer is, unsurprisingly if you’ve read much of this blog at all, that it depends.  It always depends.  It depends on a variety of factors – from what happened in the situation itself, the victim’s own attitude, thoughts, and feelings about it, etc.  An inflexible one-size fits all approach to this subject cannot work.  Finally Feminism 101 is a good example of trying to do so in favor of the victim, even going as far as to suggest that one shouldn’t advise that women take certain precautions from being raped.  This is how they justify their position:

Short answer: Because it puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim.”

This seems ridiculous to the point of being dangerous in my eyes.  Maybe I’m paranoid, but danger lurks wherever you go, whether you are male or female.  You always think it will never happen to you, so when it does you’re always taken by surprise.  You may feel safe but in reality, you’re never safe; safety is a false illusion.  Taking precautions against something like being raped, being mugged, or who knows what where you can is always a good idea, I don’t care what anyone says.  To suggest that there’s nothing you can do so you should just not worry about it is rather naïve.

Now, I need to note that when it comes to rape in general, a lot of suggested precautions (like consider where you walk at night, don’t get too drunk with strangers at a party, etc.) are poorly thought out.  The vast majority of rapes occur by somebody the victim knows – a lover, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance of the victim.  Those aren’t people who just jump out of the bushes and grab you in a dark alley; those are people you wouldn’t think anything is wrong with until it’s actually happening.  Running for your life, calling the police, or pulling a weapon of some kind on them isn’t something that would necessarily come to everyone’s mind in such a situation.  Bear this in mind when looking at it in hindsight.

I said that because if one is to help somebody, they need to understand their situation.  Giving a blanket response that pins undue blame on the victim here won’t help anything and simply make one appear ignorant.  Telling somebody that their oversight of whatever put them in a situation to be raped just to make a point rather than actually help them seems to be rather despicable to me.  All so-called “blames” should be intended as a life lesson for the victim to learn so as to know the warning signs and thus possibly avoid it from happening again in the future, which obviously required some understanding.  If the case is this latter case, then I don’t know how anybody could have a problem with it.

And this is why Finally Feminism 101’s position here bugs me so much.  Their response comes from a mindset that the “blame game” is a zero sum game; as if by acknowledging that the victim had some way of avoiding being victimized that it somehow absolves the victimizer’s responsibility for the crime.  It does not, even if it does take a bit of the focus away from the victimizer.  But it is vital to bear in mind that not all people who would rape a person, mug a person, steal from a person, or whatever are the same.  Some are predators, out looking for a victim; some would only do it when presented with the temptation of an opportunity.  Some don’t care and have no consideration for their victim at all; some have an awareness, but try as they might, can’t fight their temptation (though, again, this hardly absolves them of the responsibility for their actions).

Understanding this is vital because when one does so, they are far more adept at recognizing the fact that doing certain things leaves them more vulnerable to opportunists, thus putting them at a greater risk of becoming a victim of a crime.  The best example is when one leaves a few hundred dollars on the front passenger seat of their car in plain view while they go to the mall or see a movie.  Tucked away and not so easily visible from the outside, the only person who would steal that money is one breaking into cars in the parking lot at random, making it much less likely to happen to you.  Out in plain view and any person passing by may see it and become tempted; it also helps to mention that those already breaking into cars at random will see it and be far more attracted to it, as if they’re calling them, thus making their break in not so random.

If a person leaves their money out in the open like that, how much blame would you put on them?  If you were to be consistent with Finally Feminism 101’s line, you’d say they were totally without fault.  And while I recognize that Finally Feminism 101 was talking about rape, an analogy to it still applies; how hurt a victim is from the crime is completely irrelevant in regards to this specific analogy.  Save that one for when it comes to sympathizing with the victim, not when talking about the ways in which the victim could have avoided their own victimization (and again, remember how the situation between money being stolen and rape can differ quite dramatically; I’m not trying to suggest at all that these two are in any way similar, but rather, am making a point that bringing this up to a rape victim can be called for).

I’m not so sure that “blame” is necessarily the best word to describe it, but I know of no better word.  It’s a different kind of blame, one that recognizes that you screwed up in some manner but that doesn’t take the blame away from the criminal.  So while there was something they could have done to prevent their own victimization and they are blamed for not taking those precautions, the crime itself is still ultimately the responsibility of the criminal.  Again, this is not a zero sum game.

Finally Feminism 101’s entry on this subject goes even further, trying to claim that taking precautions won’t work, at least in the case of rapes.  They bring up a few examples, but notice how in all of those examples they hardly bring up any details surrounding the rape itself, but of the details that are brought up, they’re simply framed to make the victim appear wholly innocent.  I don’t know their specific cases so I’m not commenting on them, but I will say this: Reality is often very messy, where very few people ever have it all together.  I’m certain there do exist a vast number of rape cases where no individual could legitimately point out to the victim where he or she could have seen it coming.  At the same time, there are clearly a number where one could, or where one put themselves in a situation where they were at further risk – drinking unsafely many times and waking up to find herself defiled on a few of those nights being one example.  If one cannot recognize that drinking wildly like that can potentially put them at a far greater risk of rape or sexual assault, they are doomed to repeat it, and that is exactly what we don’t want.  Or at least what anybody who wants to stop rapes should ever want.

Now, this is not to suggest that nobody should ever drink, but this is a reality we all must cope with.  Such risks can be mitigated through drinking more safely, controlled, or whatever to the point that enjoying life like that, if that’s what you like to do, can still be done.  But as always, situations where an individual is victimized differs so greatly from one another that it’s almost impossible to say “this should always be the case”.  The only thing I think we should all agree on is that we do need to recognize that risks exist that make us more vulnerable and that there are usually certain ways to avoid or mitigate those risks.  This doesn’t absolve any victimizer of their crime.  Bringing such things up where appropriate is called for.  Tough love is still love; sometimes the only way we’re able to really open our eyes to the harsh place that is society is through learning the hard way, and that takes pounding such life lessons in one’s head, complete with a hand reaching out for them to hold the whole way.  Doing so may save him or her in the long run.

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4 Responses to “Victim Blaming”

  1. What a bad message to send. Leaving money sitting out doesn’t give anyone the right to steal it. First you say that safety is an illusion and that no one is ever safe… and then you say that some victims may deserve some blame. That is dumb. How could victims of crime take “precautions” if danger is everywhere and no one is safe? Hmm? Is a person at fault for leaving their car door unlocked if someone went in and stole their iPod? Are they more at fault than if they locked the car, but someone smashed the window to steal the iPod? I don’t think so. The thief is at fault. It takes a lot more effort to commit a crime than it does to take precautions against crime. Leaving your house, staying in your house, being drunk, being sober, whatever, no matter what it doesn’t give anyone the right commit a crime against you.

    • Anonymous said

      Did you even read his post. You are in agreement with him. But he is further adding that it is not a zero sum situation. It can be true simultaneously that the victimiser is entirely at fault and that the victim could have done something to mitigate the chances of it happening.

    • Did you even read his post? You are in agreement with him. But he is further adding that it is not a zero sum situation. It can be true simultaneously that the victimiser is entirely at fault and that the victim could have done something to mitigate the chances of it happening.

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