Blaming the Victim or Soothing Our Own Anxiety?

I know that as soon as I say anything about blaming the victim, your own thoughts about rape, abuse, etc. automatically get your back up. So be it. I’m not going to say that we should be blaming the victim, but rather, that in blaming the victim people are not engaging in the thought process that we ascribe to that behavior.

Let me give you an example. Teenage girl is raped, various people see the story, some of whom point out that she was drinking/smoking/out past curfew/dressed provocatively/hanging out with the wrong crowd/, whatever. Immediately, others will jump in, claiming this first group is “blaming the victim”, and what a horrible thing that is. They will instead point to society, using terms like rape culture, and misogyny to explain why this occurred.

To me, they are both doing the same thing, looking for a reason why this happened. Whatever you choose to believe is the reason for someone being raped, or a child being abused, or someone being murdered, we all instinctively try to make sense of it, to find a reason why it happened. More importantly, we want to find that reason so that we can convince ourselves that it will never happen to us.

If we can find something, anything, that makes a victim of a horrible crime somehow different from us, then we can maybe convince ourselves that the world is still a safe place, as long as you don’t do what they did. On the flip side, if only we could improve society by either getting rid of all abusers, or teaching criminals to not commit crime, then we can all go back to feeling safe. But the world doesn’t work that way. Someone will always abuse. Someone will always commit a crime, someone will always take advantage of another person violently, or financially. That’s why we have laws against those things, so that when it does happen, those who break those laws will see a swift consequence to breaking the laws. (Whether that actually happens in all cases or not, is certainly up for debate, but the theory is sound.)

However, even with the laws in place, there will always be people who break them, and when they do, we will always look to try and explain why someone became a victim, because we don’t want to admit that we could just as easily be that victim.

It’s a tough thing to live with the knowledge that at any second, you could become a victim through no fault of your own. It’s scary, it can even be paralyzing. So we look for alternative realities. One of those is finding some “reason” why anyone becomes a victim, and convincing ourselves that that reason doesn’t apply to us, therefore we are safe. If you truly believe we need to stop blaming the victim, and we do, instead of shaming anyone who dares do it, start with an understanding that it is actually a natural reaction to the lack of control we all feel when we think about horrific crimes. Help people identify the behavior, and strengthen them to live in a world where anyone could be a victim. We owe it to them, and to the victims.

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