Stop Judging Me
Addressing Victim Blaming
By: Amy Thomson
Often the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the phrase “victim blaming” in the media is the conversation on sexual assault. Society seems to find itself obsessed with what the victim was wearing, what they were doing, how they were acting rather than focusing on the fact that the blame singularly lies with the perpetrator in every case regardless of the circumstances. However, there are other instances where this blaming occurs, and one of them is within the context of intimate partner violence. Blaming language is pervasive throughout the often controversial discussions of abuse, and it is not uncommon to hear the following phrases:
“Well, she must have done something to make him angry! No one does that for no reason!”
“And yet she stays! If it was really that bad, she would leave!”
“I’d never allow anyone to put their hands on me. If someone tried that with me I’d . . .”
“I would have known something was wrong with him . . . I would have seen it coming from a mile away!”
“How could she have been so blind? It’s so obvious something is wrong with him!”
Since when did people decide that victims and survivors of abuse don’t deserve compassion but all other tragic events do? This behavior, whether intended or not, ends up humanizing the abuser while simultaneously demonizing the victim. While much of it isn’t intentional, the root often stems from those who have only experienced healthy relationships trying to decipher the dynamics of abuse. They have a difficult time reconciling they hear about to what they have experienced and that’s because they exist on separate planes.
When someone tells you why they can’t leave or why they keep going back, it isn’t appropriate to respond by saying their reason is just an excuse. Unless you’re trapped or have been in the situation, you won’t know how precarious it is, how impossible it can get and how real those traps are – including the mental perception of being trapped.
“I stayed because I had no money”
According to Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, 99 percent of domestic violence victims experience some form of financial abuse. The abuser financially cripples their partner by denying access to family resources, confiscating money, forcing them to quit work, opening lines of credit and taking out loans in the victim’s name without consent and without informing them. This makes the victim reliant on the abuser for even the most basic necessities. They have no savings, no credit and no way to build up either.
“I stayed because of the kids”
The motivation behind this varies depending upon the victim’s circumstances. Some may come from broken families and don’t want to put their kids through the same thing. Because of financial abuse, they may not be able to afford to raise the child alone. Others may have been threatened by the abuser that he/she will take the children away by petitioning for full custody, making a false report of abuse/neglect to child protective services, or even killing them.
“I stayed because I had nowhere to go”
Abusers commonly isolate their partner from family and friends, because they’re a direct threat to their control over the victim. In an attempt to prevent an intervention, abusers isolate their partner from their families by moving away and/or cutting off communication. If a victim tries to leave, they may find themselves in an unfamiliar area with no family around to help. Rural areas also typically lack the community resources and shelters a victim needs in order to get the help they need after leaving.
“I stayed because I was afraid of him”
Victims know what those who haven’t been abused don’t: leaving the abusive relationship is the most dangerous time period. According to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa, during the first two weeks after a victim leaves, their abuser is 70 times more likely to murder them. In fact, 75 percent of domestic violence victims who lost their lives to abuse died while they were leaving or shortly after.
“I stayed because my priest/clergy said I had to”
Many victims of domestic violence experience lack of support in their faith, both at the hands of clergy and the congregation. Because the pressure to conform adds to their desire to live according to their religion, victims often feel they are being blamed for the abuse because they are not fulfilling their role in the relationship. Clergy and congregation members sometimes enable the abuse by gaslighting and manipulating the victim into thinking they could prevent the abuse if they changed. To further complicate the issue, many who practice faith live much of their life around their beliefs and might not have access to resources outside the church.
Even though victim blaming typically comes from those who haven’t experienced abuse in any form, there are still cases where survivors engage in blaming behavior with each other. Because we know this is coming from someone who also survived abuse, we are more prone to internalizing what is being said, thereby reinforcing the blame we already feel. Survivors have a tendency, sometimes without even realizing it, to tell other survivors things like,
“You should know he’s not going to change. He keeps promising you he’ll stop and you go back. Don’t you know by now what is going to happen?”
“Well you have to want to leave. I left on the first attempt, and I had children to worry about.”
“You’re lucky. At least he never hit you.”
“You’ve been gone more than a year now. You should be able to (insert action like ‘adapt’) like me.”
Why do people engage in victim blaming? A study on victim blaming and the role of stereotypes of women published in 2008 by Nicole Capezza and Ximena Arriaga with Purdue University offered several theories.
Most notably, it mentioned that a tendency to engage in victim blaming may be the person’s way of reconciling unacceptable, destructive behavior; it is inferred that false logic is to blame in this case. They figure the woman must have done something to make the abuse happen. Those who see a woman as combative are more likely to blame her for her situation, which unfortunately only serves to cement the lack of compassion in society in general.
Regardless of why people engage in victim blaming and whether or not it is intentional, the practice is inherently dangerous.
“Justifying or attempting to explain the reprehensible behavior of an abuser is not only loathsome, it endorses an abusive culture, perpetuates the oppression of women, and promotes their continued victimization,” Dr. Chenelle A. Jones said in article posted in The Hampton Institute, a working-class think tank.
There is not a case where it is ever acceptable to abuse another person. Engaging in victim blaming perpetuates shame and silence, often keeping the victim trapped with their abuser.
At no point is it ever the victim’s fault when they are abused, regardless of whether or not the abuse they endure ever takes physical form. The act of abuse is deliberate and calculated, and the damage it leaves behind can be monumental. The only appropriate reaction is to show compassion and be supportive.
Be a part of the person’s healing instead of inflicting more harm.