When you’re a victim of violence and abuse, you already feel pretty crappy, right? Can you imagine that there are actually people in the world that want you to also be ashamed and feel guilty that you’ve been a victim?
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about victim shaming. If you’ve ever been a victim, and shamed for the horrible things that happened to you, I want to help you rise above it and take back your power. If you’ve ever shamed a victim, let’s talk about that too, and let’s change that behavior from within you.
So I’ll start with a story. When I was 15, a new neighbor moved in. He was in his 20s, had just been released from prison, was a registered sex offender, and his offense was stabbing a woman in the head with a screw driver and raping her – or something along those lines. He seemed pretty cool. He was out playing basketball in our neighborhood and my mom let us play with him. (I’ll withhold the parental judgement for the moment while I finish the story.)
Everything seemed to be going well until one night around 2 a.m. we got a knock at the door. The cops had a search warrant for our house. They came in with a great urgency, explained that a rape happened, explained the person who committed the rape matched the description of someone that lived in my house, and they proceeded to go though the house taking items as evidence when they felt it was appropriate. It wasn’t until the next day when I found out the rape happened down at the Holiday gas station, and the alleged rapist was our new neighbor.
Immediately, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that days prior I was just outside laughing and joking with this guy and shooting hoops with him (or attempting to with my lack of any athletic skills and tiny 5 foot frame). Now he was accused of rape. Again???? I immediately shifted to a state of denial. He seemed so nice and happy. It couldn’t be him. No. It wasn’t. My mom denied it too. All of us did. That is until I heard about the weapon he used to attack her – a screwdriver.
I was converted. I knew it was him. I knew he was guilty. Surprisingly though, I was in a minority.
I actually heard people, some who were in my own family, insinuate that the victim was to blame for being raped. I heard that her shirt was unbuttoned at the top. I heard that she had a history of being promiscuous (she was married with young children at the time of the attack). I even heard people asking what she had done to lure him in to rape her.
I remember thinking that maybe I was wrong to put all the blame on the rapist. Maybe she had a part to play in getting raped. Remember, I was 15, and the mind is very immature and impressionable at that age. I was clearly being programmed by my family to blame the victim. Basically, I was being convinced that somehow she asked for it.
A day or two later, his mom called us over to her house. Her son was on the phone, and he apologized to us for all the trouble he caused. He basically apologized for raping her. My family was still in denial, and for me, that’s when things got really weird.
So let’s get the facts straight: This guy has a history of sexual violence, he just pretty much apologized and told us he committed the crime, and y’all still think he’s innocent and she is to blame for this?!?!
There’s a time in everyone’s life when they start to question the programming they get from their family, community, and society. This was the beginning of that awakening for me. I thought about what it would be like if I was that girl. What if I wore a shirt that was buttoned too low. How would I feel if I was raped? Would I deserve to be raped for wearing my shirt that way? I was employed at McDonalds at the time, and I often left the top two buttons of my uniform unbuttoned for comfort’s sake (you gotta let the steam escape from being so sweaty in that place). Do I deserve to be raped for that? Certainly not.
Victim blaming is an ideology to justify bad behavior. Victim blaming does not take into account empathy for the victim, and it excuses the behavior of predators. You know you’re a victim blamer if you do any of the following:
- Justify rape is ok if the rapists said it was consensual, but the victim clearly tells you she/he has been raped, is traumatized by the event, and/or is under the age of consent.
- Sympathize with people who make racist comments because you don’t think minorities should be expressing their rights to equality, and you don’t believe they are unfairly treated regardless of the facts.
- Make comments like, “she asked for it,” “they both have problems,” “he shouldn’t have married her anyway,” “she was drunk, so what does she think would happen,” “he provoked her to come at him with a knife.”
Here’s what you should do if you catch yourself saying these things, or if you hear someone blaming the victim:
- Challenge the thinking. Tell yourself or a victim blamer that they are blaming the victim. Identify the genesis of that thinking. Sometimes being aware of what’s happening and putting a label on it helps change the attitudes.
- Don’t allow people to make excuses for their abusive behavior.
- Sympathize with the victims and survivors of abuse. Let them know that they are not to blame.
- Reframe questions like, “Why does Anna stay married to Josh?” to “Why does Josh cheat on and lie to Anna?” to put the responsibility on the abuser and refrain from blaming the victim.
If you are a victim, here’s how to cope with people who blame you:
- Remove them from your life. I don’t care if it’s your own mother or sister or whatever. If you have people blaming you for being abused, you deserve better. Put yourself first. Weed your garden. Drop ’em like a hot potato, and don’t look back. If they’re calling you on the phone and leaving messages like, “I called the guy who raped you, and he said you weren’t raped because you were in love,” you’re likely dealing with a dangerous and toxic person, and you need to protect yourself from dangerous people.
- If you can’t remove them from your life right away, try to reason with them. Explain what happened to you, and see if they can empathize or sympathize. Take them to a therapy session with you. If they don’t get it, come up with an exit strategy and follow the advice in #1 above.
- Seek the guidance of a therapist, spouse, or good friend. When you’re the victim, you’re going to need support. Therapists are professionally trained to get you through tough stuff and they’re covered by health insurance. Seriously consider getting one. If you can’t do the therapy thing, invest in a good friend. You need support right now, and you can’t really put a value on friendship to get you through tough times.
- Meditate. Work out. Do anything to remove that stress from your life. Don’t let it build up inside you. Don’t let it get to you. You deserve better, and you can’t give anyone anything unless your cup is overflowing again. Take care of yourself until your cup is full, and don’t stop until you do just that.
- Treat yourself. Retail therapy? Check. Chocolate mouse cake? Check. New shoes? Check. Day at the spa? Check. Do it all. You deserve it after you’ve been victimized and then victimized again.
At the end of the day, remember that we live in a society that is full of victim blaming, but things are changing, and change begins with you. You have power over your life, and you can set up boundaries for appropriateness of how you expect to be treated. Habitual line steppers be damned. Don’t be afraid to dump half of your friends and family members if it means having a smaller group of loving and supportive people capable of experiencing empathy and supporting you as the amazing person you are. This is your life, and you are here to live it to the fullest, so don’t let anyone drag you down.
Small minds don’t understand big dreams. Don’t sell yourself short. You might be a victim, but don’t let it define you, because it really doesn’t.
The Guru Girl