In my experience, there are two variations of victim blaming. First, there is self-blame. It’s unique in that the abused individual is inflicting the responsibility of that abuse on themselves. This is extremely common, especially if there has been verbal or emotional abuse involved. It’s part of the reason we stay in abusive relationships; we believe the lie that we are to blame, that we deserve the abuse, that we failed to stop it and must therefore be just as guilty as our abuser. This particular post won’t focus on self-blame but it is definitely a topic for discussion. Just know this: the abuse you suffered is not your fault.
The second form of victim blaming comes from outside voices. Where we’re listening to the voice in our own head when it comes to self-blame, this blame comes from other people [and the media, i.e. news reports that fail to take the side of the victim, resulting in a very skewed view of abuse].
One form of victim blaming is judging the victim’s appearance or actions as the cause of the abuse. It’s a common cultural stigma. If a woman is drunk, dressed in a short skirt, flirting, walking home alone late at night, etc. and gets raped, it was her fault. She was asking for it. I am that awkward flirt you see in the comedy sitcoms. I admit it. But for those times when I have been flirting back and forth with a guy, my thought was more, “I wonder if he’s saying this because he’s actually interested in me…?” Never, ever, ever has it been, “I hope he forces himself on me and ruins the rest of my life.” No one thinks that. But that’s what victim blaming says: you wanted it and you got it so deal with it. Check out the post about the This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me Campaign for more on this type of victim blaming.
Another reason people prefer to shift the blame to the victim is that they don’t fully understand the concept of abuse. It makes them uncomfortable. Or they minimize the trauma in their minds and thus inflict guilt on both parties. Or they’re trying give themselves the moral high ground because, “Well, I would never have let that happen.” It’s especially easy if someone views the victim as somehow inferior to themselves: “Well, I never drink and she is always drinking so it was bound to catch up with her someday. She made herself an easy target” or “He must have just crossed a line and she snapped. Maybe if he hadn’t been so…fill in the blank…she wouldn’t have attacked him like that”.
Finally, abusers tend to make excuses for their actions. In fact, we all do that to some degree. Those family car rides when my little brother and I got on each others nerves…inevitably, one of us would get in trouble because Mum or Dad could hear the “Ow! Stop it!” and whoever had inflicted the pinch or the flick would be the one in trouble. And the response of the accused was always the same, “But he/she said this…he/she started it!”
Ok, so now we’re both in trouble but which ever one of us had taken it to the next level, from petty insults to physical abuse, was the one who received the greatest share of the blame. Why? Because no matter what my little brother said to me, I had no right to physically harm him. I could make up all the excuses in the world but, in the end, I had made the choice to pinch, flick, or slap.
People make excuses because we don’t want to own up to our mistakes or the wrongs that we’ve done. Most kids don’t hunt down their mum to say, “Mum, you better come here because I just spilled grape juice on your white comforter and then used it to cover your wall with my sticky, purple hand prints.” It’s usually more like, “I didn’t do that…”
In the same way, very few people are going to want to openly admit to committing an abusive act. Rather, they’ll shift the blame to their victim and hope that the rest of the world lets them off the hook.
Regardless of the form it comes in, blaming the victim is never right. The victim is never to blame.