Blaming the Victim by Angela Caldin

victim-blamingSome societies and cultures view a rape victim as to blame for what has happened to her. She is seen as damaged and may suffer isolation, be disowned by friends and family, be severely punished or even be killed. When this happens, we are shocked and call such behaviour barbaric. But the same phenomenon of the shifting of blame has now been revealed to have happened here on a big scale. One of the many horrifying things to come out of the report on the grooming of young girls by predominantly Asian men in Rotherham is the way in which the agencies involved (police, local council and social services), staffed by both men and women, seemed to adopt the group attitude that the underage victims were to blame for what happened to them. For example, when the police entered a house where an eleven year old girl was present with several adult males, they arrested the girl for being drunk and disorderly, but were apparently not concerned about what she was doing there with a group of men. On another occasion, an underage girl, found in a room with an adult male where it was clear that a sexual act was taking place, was arrested for being in possession of an offensive weapon whereas the man went free. I am not in the least saying that these young girls were angels, but they were underage and therefore the men having sex with them were committing a criminal offence. And yet nothing was done about the men and the consensus seemed to be that the girls, usually from deprived families or in care, were complicit in what was happening to them. Somehow, the blame was shifted from the men who groomed, raped, threatened and abused them to the girls themselves.

Victims at Fault

A retiring woman judge has recently suggested that women out for the evening should take care not to drink too much in case they are taken advantage of by a man and cannot later remember enough details to make an accusation of rape stand up in court. She has been vilified for appearing to shift some of the blame from the rapist to the victim. Perhaps she is right that women should be careful not to make themselves vulnerable, but it is the man who takes the decision to engage in the act of rape however he manages to justify it to himself. In the same way, it is the perpetrator of domestic violence who physically or psychologically assaults his partner out of proportion to any provocation he might have received. The mantra ‘She was asking for it’ or ‘She pressed all my buttons’ is heard over and over again in court, ignoring the reality that the abuse the perpetrator administers is generally excessive compared to the words or actions that might have provoked them.

The same tendency to blame the victim occurs in the sphere of bullying. It seems that when people hear that someone has been bullied, they have trouble empathising with what the victim experienced, especially if the victim has some negative or annoying personality traits. People will point out what is wrong with the victim rather than acknowledging that the real problem lies with the bully and his or her choices. It seems that it is easier to tell a victim how he or she should change in order to avoid being bullied than to tackle the bully. Until recently, in many cases of bullying in schools it was the victim who was moved to another school, not the bully.

A similar attitude is prevalent in the field of poverty where the poor are often characterised as being feckless and reckless, incapable of organising their finances or their lives and with no initiative to free themselves from hardship. It is their fault that they are poor, not the fault of the prevailing system which frequently penalises the poor in favour of the rich.

Responsibility

It would appear that there is a belief that if victims were somehow different, weren’t seduced by alcohol and gifts, didn’t wear provocative clothes or get drunk, didn’t have features or traits which could be picked on, or weren’t so lazy and incapable of budgeting, then they wouldn’t become victims.  Blaming the victim is in essence an attempt to escape responsibility. Put like that in simple words, it goes some way to explain the extraordinary behaviour of all those in positions of authority in Rotherham who presided over the systematic abuse of so many very young girls who were not afforded any kind of protection or support. The one thing we can be sure of is that those girls, whatever their behaviour or beliefs, did not bring what happened upon themselves; they deserved better from an adult world which has apparently continued regardless both in the ranks of some Asian men and in police stations, council offices and social services.

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