Victim Blaming is Widespread
Victim Blaming Has Been a “Normal” Response to Sexual Trauma
One of the most obvious ways we have participated at the cultural level in victim blaming is when people say, think, or imply: “She was asking for it.” to minimize rape or sexual assault. Traditionally, we have assigned this maladaptive response to the misogyny that comes with patriarchal values.
I want to make it clear that I do NOT think this assessment is wrong. But I also don’t think it’s the full story. Chalking the phenomenon of victim blaming up to misogyny doesn’t address why this misogynistic response has come about so forcefully (there’s the use of violent imagery yet again that is just part and parcel of our every day language) and is so very widespread across cultures.
We see the minimization of sexual violence- and the extent of it- in so many ways: When a staggering statistic like “1 in 4 girls will be sexually harassed or assaulted before the age of 18.” is thrown about, our societal reaction is to wring our hands and cluck with worry. Because it’s so overwhelming, we end up having to chalk the phenomenon up to yet another “too bad, so sad” part of daily life. That statistic is something most girls learn about at some point, and then either as girls or women, they need to make sense of it. They have to normalize it at some level. All too many normalize the statistic along with their lived experiences of assault or harassmentas just another part of daily living. Men have to normalize it at some level. All too many men witness harassment, hear about assault, and are exposed to and expected to participate in perpetuating rape cultures, and they also have to normalize this atrocious phenomenon as well.
Misogyny cannot account for all of the sexual violence perpetrated against people. The statistic about children being sexually assaulted or harassed also includes a multitude of boys who then grow up to normalize their experiences on some level. These same organizations estimate that 1 in 7 boys directly experience being sexually violated in some way prior to the age of 18.
We then point to our admittedly very conflicted values around power as it relates to sexuality in general. This gets closer to the truth, but still it compartmentalizes the issue to cultural wide sexual values, norms, mores, and assumptions. It does not get across how much normalizing of trauma goes on. Nor does it really highlight the continued trauma -and need to cope with trauma- that happens to a staggering percentage of the population on a day to day basis.
Victim blaming is an almost predictable attempt by traumatized people to explain -why- trauma happens to innocent people.
Traumatized people do not think logically. We think only of how to quickly understand what happened in desperate attempts to stop trauma from happening again. We latch on to outlandish explanations in desperate attempts to protect ourselves from trauma happening again. In the aftermath of trauma we think “I will never ride in a car again” as a legitimate way to protect ourselves from future trauma.
Again, this is a very real and extraordinarily harmful response that has caused immense suffering for millions upon millions of women, girls, men, boys and for entire families, and communities.
But victim blaming goes well beyond sexual violence perpetrated against women.
Victim Blaming Has Also Been a “Normal” Response to Oppression of ANY Kind
Think of how we have systematically place entire groups of people along a continuum of desirable and undesirable categories. We explain xenophobia and related dynamics in terms of in group and out group evolutionary predilections. In terms of fear, in terms of ignorance. But what about the trauma response of making victims “other”.
Justification of outright racism always begins with some form of “They deserve it.” It’s rampant, and, as with sexual violence, the dynamics are very complex. I do not mean to imply that racism can simply be “simply” chalked up to an unrecognized culture wide trauma response. I am saying that the unrecognized trauma responses of the oppressors are also important factors in the complexity and entrenched nature of the dynamics that make up racism and institutionalized discrimination.
The Role of Victim Blaming in the Conceptualizing of “Enemies”
What #MeToo Can Do to Help
The longer term impact of #MeToo remains to be seen, but it is a narrative long overdue in it’s frankness and ability to articulate and actually come to grips with the amount of trauma that we are subjected to on a daily basis as humans. Not just as women or as survivors of sexual violence, but the amount of trauma we as humans are subjected to.