Published on June 8th, 2013 | by Amy Jane Helmericks1
(Blog) Going Cross-Eyed Staring at the Dragon
A lot of people are (rightly) up in arms over the concept and practice of victim-blaming.
Victim-blaming is when commentators (that would be anybody commenting on an event, around the water-cooler or in a courtroom) say or imply that the survivors are somehow responsible for the behavior of the person or people who victimized them. That something about the victim (by making him/herself an easier or more-attractive target) made the assault happen.
This sort of talk reinforces the misconception that any human can control the behavior of another human, regardless of the power variables. It is heaping abuse on abuse and often re-traumatizing individuals who have already been through more than enough.
Yet there are some victims who accept, and even welcome, victim-blaming, for reasons I’m just beginning to understand.
You see, if a woman believes she is at fault for being attacked, if it was something she wore, or a behavior she engaged in, she might believe she can take back control and prevent herself being victimized ever. again.
Here is a chance to feel re-empowered.
Only, she can’t be sure she’s doing absolutely everything. Even if she commits to living a different life, away from everything she’s ever known, she may still not feel safe. She may still wonder if every potential threat got the memo that she’s doing everything correctly now.
This is the way a chronically depressed person can feel as well when he or she learns there are things s/he can do to feel better (as I wrote in my article Staring Down the Dragon: Fighting Chronic Depression).
When depressed individuals learn there are different behaviors they can choose to make fights with depression less frequent or less severe, or if a non-depressed person learns about these things, it becomes easy to fall into victim-blaming.
Yes, there are things women can do to make them statistically more likely to be victimized, but none of those things create an attacker. None of those things take hold of another human’s will and change their nature into something other than they choose to be.
“Just don’t ever get drunk—then it won’t matter what you’re wearing,” or “There are safer things to wear if you want to get drunk,” becomes the depressed person’s friends asking, “How much sugar did you eat yesterday? You know that screws with your system, don’t you?”
We also hear, “Did you take your vitamins/meds? When was the last time you exercised? Had protein?” or (my unfavorite double-edged sword), “When was the last time you read your Bible?”
These make sense on one level: they can be my basic self-check when I’m trying to identify where I currently am, or wonder how I got here. But practices didn’t create, and can’t eliminate, the core reality that I’m going cross-eyed staring at a DRAGON.
Blinking may be something I do, but it’s not inherently wrong that I blink, or my fault if the dragon jumps me in that moment of blindness. The dragon is as separate from me as the perpetrator is from the victim.
It’s harder not to victim-blame when we feel like our own enemy, but we didn’t choose this fight, and we do not keep starting it again.
The word “victim” gets a bad rap in some circles, and I have a hard time using it, even when it’s accurate.
Lately I heard someone use the word “survivor” in every opportunity they had to use the word victim, and I found that comforting. I know I want to do more than survive. I know I want to be victorious in my life. But there are also days when Survivor is a badge of victory.
Have you ever blamed yourself for things that have happened to you—an assault, an injury, a mental health struggle, and emotional breakdown? Does understanding victim-blaming help you feel relief, or does it make you feel more out of control?
Photo by Kate Smith via Stock.Xchng.