Trying to Make Sense

My wife recently returned from a trip to Israel. This weekend, over breakfast, she was telling me about meeting Eliezer Ayalon and getting to hear his story of surviving the Holocaust.

The one point of the story that really struck me was that, upon his arrival in Israel, no one wanted to hear about his being a survivor. In fact, society really seemed to assume that if you were taken to the camps, you must have done something to deserve that, and if you had survived, you must have done something to cause that too. It struck me because I honestly think this sort of attitude is somewhat present in our own society when it comes to child abuse and sexual violence.

How many times have you seen someone try to “explain away” someone’s past experiences, making excuses for why we were targeted or playing the old “blame the victim” game? As I consider these people and the people in Israel who wanted to point to something “bad” about Holocaust survivors and victims, I’m left with one simple explanation for both groups. Simply put, they are scared and ignorant. Their worldviews cannot comprehend the possibility of something like that ever happening to them or in their family, so they concoct excuses about why it couldn’t happen to them.

These are the same people who watch the news and count themselves as smart for living in a nicer neighborhood, not going out at night, only letting their kids go to the “approved” schools and activities, and only interacting with the “right” people, only traveling to the best places, and on and on. There’s no room for sympathy for victims because that would be admitting that maybe, just maybe, they could be a victim too. Obviously, since they’ve done everything right, they cannot be a victim, and your victimhood is a result of your wrong decisions.

Their entire worlds would crumble into nothingness if they had to face the fact that people become victims for no other reason than someone else decided to do something harmful and evil. There was nothing the victim could have done differently to avoid it, no poor decision that would have caused them to be in harm’s way, no mingling with the wrong crowd, no nothing. They were just living their lives, as anyone else would, and had nothing but the bad luck to be targeted by someone wishing to do them harm.

Those who would deny that possibility lack the strength of character to see the world for what it is and accept that there is always a risk of something bad happening, no matter what precautions you might take. It’s not just that they lack sympathy for victims. They need the constant, false comforts of their own safety more. If they aren’t somehow better than these victims are, then this could happen to them as well, and they are too weak to accept that as reality.

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  1. The world nowadays is full of merciless people. You know already why said that. I can’t stand to see that even children at their young age are being abuse by adults. I’ve read and watch a lot of news about these cases and I felt disappointed to those parents who do not know the meaning of “being a parent” to their children. All of us are not safe in this kind of environment. The government should focus on this. Children are innocent. How can adults maltreated them in such way when they know that they are too defenseless. I feel pity to see children on television buttered by their parents and relatives.

  2. Mike, your post gave me so much encouragement in understanding the apparent lack of ability by some people to have compassion for victims and survivors. I am seeing it up close and personal as of late, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Your words pulled it together in a very concise way. Well done.

  3. This is such an interesting idea to me. I never thought about this as being a possible reason for people to belittle or deny survivor stories…but it really does make a lot of sense. In fact, looking at it through the lens of this post, I realize that I have a family member who exhibits this exact behavior/response to victims. Thank you for sharing this with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

  4. I think that your comment about society fearing what can so easily happen to them, is key. No one likes to be reminded of their own mortality, meeting a victim of a crime who is a reflection of themselves, is too uncomfortable for many. It is sad, very sad, that this fear gets in the way of empathy. I wonder if there was more empathy, and less fear, this world would be a very different place.

    Take care,

  5. It’s just mind boggling. But, actually, your explanation makes a lot of sense to me, Mike. It’s funny, I was just drawing my own comparisons between The Holocaust and child abuse survivors myself recently. Thank you so much for having the courage to write this post and for sharing it for the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. Hooray for you!

  6. Thank you for writing this. It is incredible that you have the courage to write about this with such candor. I am a survivor of sexual abuse as a child. This is helping me understand, after MANY years, there are more people out there like me.
    Again, thank you for writing from your heart AND from your experience!

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