What is Victim-Blaming?
This next posting was written by a dear friend of mine. From someone who is as passionate about victim blaming issues as I am, I wanted to share this short article with you. Here she explores victim blaming within society. I hope she’ll continue to share her writings with me.
Author: Jan Stanners, MA
This is the belief that someone who is a victim of a crime or other misfortune is complicit, in some way, in his or her own victimization. Another term is victim-precipitated victimization. A good example is when a man who has battered his partner for years if finally killed by his victim.
As a sociologist, I am always looking for a general pattern in diverse behaviours. So while victim-blaming in sexual assault is the focus of Slutwalk, I’d like to look at some other examples of this action to see if a general pattern emerges.
The group that suffered the greatest loss of life and property were the poor in New Orleans. I heard many people say “Why didn’t they just evacuate…after all they had a lot of warning”. So was those most harmed who were responsible for what happened?
Think a little deeper. How are you supposed to evacuate when you don’t have a vehicle? Remember, these are the poor in NOLA. And even if you do evacuate, how will you pay for food, accommodation and other necessities when you reach your destination? A friend, who was there, pointed out another challenge those people faced. Many of the poor work in service industries where if they evacuated and there was no total devastation they could lose their jobs because they were absent.
Is this victim blaming? When you look at the response of the American government it suggests that they blame the citizens who stayed. There are areas of NOLA that are still uninhabitable and most of the restoration work is being done by charitable groups.
Gay Panic Defense
This was used by defendants who had assaulted or killed someone who they claimed had made a homosexual advance. The perpetrators were so horrified and terrified that they became temporarily insane. While not a legal statute, this ‘panic’ was utilized to support claims of insanity, diminished capacity, provocation, and self-defense. Probably the most well-known attempted use of this defense was in the case of Matthew Shepard who was murdered in 1998. (The judge did not allow the use of that defense).
This defense was, however, used successfully in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and resulted in the downgrading of murder convictions to manslaughter. Victim blaming?
I can give many more examples. Battered women who are told to lose weight, keep a cleaner house, and not to ‘bug him’ if he’s tired or stressed. She ‘makes’ him hit her. The studies that attempted to link intelligence to race using brain volume measurements and culturally biased IQ tests. Minorities just weren’t as smart so couldn’t be expected to achieve. The search for a faulty gene in Aboriginal people that leads to alcoholism: they are biologically flawed so can’t be helped. The ‘culture of poverty’ ideology stated that poor/minority peoples have a culture that doesn’t value education so why try to help them achieve. That one informed American social policy in the 1960s. And finally, women who ‘make’ men assault them sexually because they dress or behave in a provocative manner.
The common or general characteristic of all of these incidents is that someone in a dominant position is making a pronouncement, deemed credible, about someone in a subordinate position. In sociology we call this ‘structural inequality’: it is built into many of our social institutions such as the law, education and social programming. In the case of sexual assault, some men (not all) say that they cannot help themselves when women entice them with flashes of skin or flirting (I’ll talk about that idea later). They have the authority to label her a ‘slut’ and hold her responsible for whatever befalls her. This is why the efforts to reclaim the term ‘slut’ may not go well. Women lack the authority to speak with credibility when they speak of their own sexual behaviour; it’s always judged as good or bad by men.
The Impact of Successful Victim Blaming
I’ve often wondered why women were so reluctant to report sexual assaults to the police or even their families. We have legislation that bars the identity of a sexual assault victim from being released publically. But victims of break and enter or auto theft or physical assault don’t want their identities hidden.
Could it be that the process of victim-blaming has been so successful that the victims of sexual assault themselves believe that they did something to cause the assault. They speak of being ashamed…but they didn’t do anything shameful, did they?
Given this climate, we must praise and support the courage of those women who refuse to be hushed. I was most impressed when the client of Match.com who was assaulted by a man she met through the service came on television, undisguised, to talk about what happened.
NO MORE VICTIM BLAMING!!!