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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi all,

The topic I want to bring up today is ‘victim blaming’. I’m not referring to any specific situation in particular, because I think this issue encompasses a lot of scenarios. It happens in romantic relationships; familial relationships; when bringing up issues about race, gender and sexuality; online (even here sometimes), and other scenarios that I can’t think of at the minute.

Examples:
Familial relationships: a child was abused by his alcoholic mother when he was growing up. He finally took a stand one day and reported his mother to the police, and from then on he was shunned by his extended family members for ‘betraying’ his own mother.

Race: when I was living in the UK (not saying anything about the UK in general, but this is what actually happened), I used to have to walk past some really dodgy parts of town quite often, and I got wolf-whistled at and had all sorts of lewd and suggestive remarks hurled my way almost every time I go there. I told my boyfriend at that time who told one of his friend, and I also thrown in a casual observation that all the guys who do this are of certain ethnic groups or immigrants, and then my ex told me that his friend said, ‘how can Kay complain about this, since she’s also ‘foreign?’’ (my ex and his friend are white British).

Gender: well, there’s the ubiquitous rape victim blaming; ‘she’s asking for it’. Also, sadly enough, in some parts of the world, the victim is shamed for speaking out.

Online:
I once called somebody out on their ignorant, typist remarks, yet I was blamed by somebody else of the same type of that person I called out on for ‘conflict mongering’.
On the other hand, I also detest the victim mentality. I believe that, as adults (or soon-to-be adults), we must take responsibility for our own feelings, or more accurately, our expression of those feelings (e.g., no ‘you make me feel…’ crap). We also have to realize that we have the power to take control of our environment to a certain extent, and not just be passive voices whining about being hard done by. However, there’s only so much responsibility one can take when they’re being verbally and/or physically abused without provocation, and then are made to feel they are at fault when they finally decided to stand up towards their abusers. This is why I believe that it is really important to have this discussion.

Victim blaming can be harmful in many ways; it can lead to distortion of reality in the victims (any abuse or discrimination that happens to them must have happened because they ‘deserve’ it), and can cripple them with so much fear that they will not speak out against their perpetrator because they might risk being ridiculed, shamed and their concerns ignored or dismissed. Even as I’m writing this, I periodically have surges of fear and panic that there’s going to be somebody who will selectively read certain parts of this post, take it out of context and then attack me based on their misrepresentation (or mis-comprehension) of the message. Also, the reluctance against taking corrective action towards the abuser is also a tacit form of enablement.

I have tried to speculate the causes of this phenomenon. So far, I have two hypotheses that I think are reasonable, though none of which I’m entirely convinced of:

  • The ‘Just-world hypothesis’: “refers to the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just. As a result, when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety, and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but often at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault”

  • Displacement: “Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening.” I think this could be a way of alleviating cognitive dissonance in the third party with whom the victim confides. For example, a father abuses his daughter, and the girl ran to her mother for protection and help, but instead of confronting her husband, the mother yells at her daughter to ‘stop telling lies.’
So, my questions to you are:

  • Has it ever happen to you? If so, how (only if you’re comfortable to share)?
  • Have you ever witnessed somebody being abused or discriminated against, and they come to you for help and you either did nothing or you have in some way silenced them? If so, why?
  • Why do you think this happens?
  • Any other thoughts?
Thanks.
 

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Hi Kayness,
Victim blaming is something with which people with learning disabilities (or other "invisible" disabilities) are very familiar. When we don't understand what the teacher said in a class because the teacher was talking too fast or because we're distracted by every extraneous sound or just plain distracted, we are told that we weren't listening. We are told that we are lazy and don't apply ourselves when we have difficulty with homework or paperwork on a job or any of that sort of stuff. Even though there is more knowledge about learning disabilities now than when I was in school, life hasn't really improved all that much for kids with learning disabilities.
And, yes, this sort of thing does happen to me. I have a central auditory processing disorder and hyperacute hearing. I have been told that I'm not listening, that I'm not especially smart, that I have a bad attitude, that I don't want to work, etc., etc. There are many people who seem to believe that, if my disability is inconvenient to them, it should go away. When the disability fails to disappear upon command, I am criticized for having a disability while it is inconvenient.
Oh, as to the second question: yes, I have witnessed that. When I was in prison, I was asked for help by a woman who couldn't read and who was in the required GED class. She needed help with her social studies homework. I read the passage out loud to her and then asked her the questions. When I read to her, she understood but she couldn't make sense of the words when she tried reading on her own. She told me a sad story of how she got no help in school but, instead, was told that she was stupid. Her mother beat her for doing badly in school. In prison, she felt ignored when she asked for help in learning to read. She refused to go to the class one day because she said that she got no help. She was sent to the segregation unit for disobeying a direct order (to go to the class).
I think that it happens because it is easier to blame victims than to make systemic changes in education, job environments, etc.
Oddly enough, to fix my problem would actually be fairly easy. There are acoustical engineers who can design buildings so that they are not echoey nightmares. But that costs money.
Unfortunately, society has determined that some people are disposable and that it is easier to write people off as "stupid" and "hopeless" than it is to teach them in the way that they need to be taught and to help them realize their talents.
All of society loses because people are considered disposable.
Thank you so much for bringing up this sad and serious topic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
@walking tourist, thank you so much for your response and your stories…it’s really sad to hear and I really appreciate that you share it. There is so much injustice in being trivialized, marginalized, ridiculed and dismissed simply because it is easier to do so than to try to truly understand the problem and come up with a workable solution. The more I hear stories like yours and the lady’s, the more I’m convinced in my decision to no longer be silent about it. I was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty and ‘what if’s.
 

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Kayness- what you are describing is a phenomenon that I am familiar with and have experienced also. Part of the problem is oftentimes the perpetrator has a higher status within the social system/ family, etc and more than likely has some sort of authority or power over the victim. Also when you take the focus off of the victim and place it on the perpetrator, things can get really ugly really fast, because not only are you exposing something one individual did wrong, you are more than likely blowing the top off of and exposing patterns of abuse or corruption within an organization/ family/ social system, etc. People don't like the messiness of it, nor do they like to have light shed on their flaws or the flaws within their family/ social system/ etc. What I have noticed too about people who abuse power is they can be very good at hiding their dark side and what their true motivations are; they may be very charismatic and charming in front of the 'right' people, which just further undermines the credibility of the victim.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
thanks @R22 and I totally agree and appreciate your contribution. I was thinking along the same line as well with my displacement example. If the father is sole breadwinner, it will take a LOT, like, insane amount of courage for the mother to stir things up and risk getting into a mess to protect her children; it is so much easier to suppress it.

and then the child is practically left isolated ...well...tragic.
 
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First of all, this is a very well-thought-out post. It's clearly an issue you care a lot about. The just-world hypothesis in particular rings very true to me. I have had instances in my life where I learned something had happened to someone close to me and it took some amount of struggling to come to terms with it. I could have been thinking, "how could this have happened?" It doesn't matter how, really, now does it. It happened and needs to be addressed in some way.

On to specifics.

• Has it ever happen to you? If so, how (only if you're comfortable to share)?
No, fortunately, to my memory, it has not.

• Have you ever witnessed somebody being abused or discriminated against, and they come to you for help and you either did nothing or you have in some way silenced them? If so, why?
No, but I have some stories along these lines to share.

Many of the girls and women I've been involved with have confided in me that they were abused or raped by exes or family members. One of them was a friend's girlfriend, she told him, and he told me. She had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather repeatedly and had told, but when it came time to testify against him, she failed to do it, and somehow she ended up back in his care. Her mother was in denial of the circumstances... I mean what kind of woman hangs onto a man who's done something like that to her own daughter? I don't know if she recanted or what... but I know the abuse continued. I never could understand how my friend tolerated this situation, but honestly, so did I. What could I have done? The case had already been made and set up, but she was too afraid to proceed.

It's one of those things that stays with me... but I still can't figure out how I could have changed things. She cheated on my friend several times and he kept taking her back, but still there was part of me that wanted to bash the man's head in with a bat. I never actually saw him after I learned that all of this had happened, though he does appear in one of my prom photos from high school with his arm around the girl... it's hard to look at that picture.

There are other similar cases in my past, like a girlfriend who was sexually abused by her grandfather, and another who was raped by an ex-boyfriend, though she never described the incident that way.

• Why do you think this happens?
In my case, I felt powerless to help. In the specific case mentioned above with the girl and her stepfather, I felt like the law had run its course and she had been intimidated out of solving the situation. She was also a degree or two removed from me, since she was a friend's girlfriend. Again... I don't know how my friend handled it.

• Any other thoughts?
Yes, this is a great topic. Thanks for starting it. I imagine it's going to fill with some pretty distressing stories. :sad:
 

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I experienced it constantly in school, where it was the norm to be scolded for seeking help when bullied.

When that situation caused me to suffer from depression and anxiety, I had to go to a shrink, where I was subjected to CBT, and again treated like having feelings was the problem. I received no validation or help.

At girl scout camp, the other girls thought I was weird, so they set me up to be framed for things, and if I told that it wasn't me, I was never believed. I was always the one who got in trouble.

In the abusive relationship I ended up trapped in for seven years, whenever I showed any signs of distress, even to set boundaries, my partner would always say I was being too sensitive, was immature, and lacked self-control, because I was affected by his verbal abuse and cried when he said cruel things to me, or because I became frightened when he was being physically threatening. When I told the neighbor about the physical violence, the neighbor said "most of the time when women are beaten, they are not innocent. If he hit you, you must have said something to deserve it," then he proceeded to tell me that he didn't really believe me, and that other friends of his claimed their husbands beat them, but he didn't believe them either. He said my partner seemed like such a nice guy, and women tend to exaggerate to have control when they are upset.

Every chance I get, I try to fight victim blaming, and if I ever see it happening to someone else, I stand up for them. It is one of my most potent panic triggers, but that terror empowers me to fight it wholeheartedly, with all of my passion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Hey everyone, thanks for the responses and for sharing your stories. It's just that I find it really hard to take, I didn't realize I would get as worked up about this as I do. It's the injustice that really sets me off.

I found a blog post that relates really well to this issue:

Emotional Abuse and Bullies: If You Don’t Like What You See When You Look in the Mirror, Don’t Blame the Mirror « A Shrink for Men
Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? If you don’t, do you confront it and change if necessary? Or do you get mad at the mirror, threaten to destroy it or drape a cloth over it, and deny what you see? Since beginning this blog a month ago, I’ve received both positive and negative feedback via comments. Many of my posts describe emotional abuse and bullying behaviors, which are typical of those who have Borderline, Narcissistic, and/or Antisocial personality traits.

People who abuse others maintain their power by keeping the truth of what they do secret. When you speak the truth, they begin to lose power and control. That’s what abusive personality types are after–power and control over you. When you speak the truth you also tick them off big time and there are usually negative repercussions–for you, not for them.

A friend described my blog as “waving a red cape in front of a raging bull” and asked why I’d deliberately try to antagonize people who are like this. The friend also pointed out this is a pattern for me.

This was hard feedback to receive. It felt a little bit like blaming the victim. Instead of becoming defensive and lashing out, I held the mirror up to myself and saw this to be accurate. I’ve provoked bullies in my personal and professional life in the past to expose them for who and what they are and made myself a target by doing so.

Even though I didn’t like having this reflected back to me, I didn’t get mad at the mirror. I didn’t denounce the mirror as irresponsible, tasteless, or cruel. I didn’t break the mirror or cover it up to deny what I saw. I looked into it and said, “Yep, that’s right.”

There’s something that compels me to say, “This is wrong. The emperor’s naked. We’re not the crazy ones. You are. Stop it.” I had a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder traits who bullied us. Having a bully in the family meant you couldn’t speak the truth for fear of setting him off. Confronting a bully, especially if they’re not afraid of you, is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

And what am I doing exactly to provoke them? I’m not naming specific bullies I’ve encountered in my life. I’m not outing anyone’s identity. I’m describing what emotional abuse and bullying are in general terms, the etiologies of these behaviors, and the effects and damage to those on the receiving end.

I’m telling men who have been abused and bullied they’re not alone, that the way they’re being treated is wrong, and they don’t have to accept it. You can find this information on other websites, psychology and self-help books, and professional psychiatry and psychology journals. The only difference is I’m tailoring this information for men who are emotionally abused.

And that’s why the emotionally abusive, professional victims/bullies don’t like what I write. It’s not their highly controlled and distorted spin on the truth. It’s the truth as I see it and as many people who have been bullied and hurt by these people see it.

The worst thing you can do when you’re involved with an abusive person, at work or at home, is to speak the truth. You get brutalized for it and they gun for you all the harder. It’s like the schoolyard bully who takes your milk money and then threatens to beat you up if you tell anyone.

In order to keep the peace and get along, should the rest of us surrender our “milk money,” our truth or our well being, so we don’t trigger the bully and get beaten up? I don’t know. Maybe.

When you’re bullied as a kid you go to your teacher, a parent, or some adult who’s in a position of authority to make the bully stop. But what do you do now as an adult when the person bullying you is your boss, co-worker, wife, or girlfriend? Who is there to step in and say, “Enough?”

Since bullies won’t take responsibility for their actions and won’t stop until someone with authority makes them stop, the rest of us have to take responsibility for ourselves. Why did we become involved with them? Why do we stay with them? Why do we allow them to get away with their bad behaviors? Why is it so hard to speak the truth? (Actually, I know the answer to the last one. It’s because they get even nastier).

I used to try to get along with the bullies in my life by not having the “audacity” to disagree with them, have a better idea than them, or point out that they were being hurtful and unfair. “Just trying to get along” made me physically ill and depressed after a while.

I encourage those of us who just smile and swallow it, to collectively stand up for each other and say, “This is wrong. The emperor’s naked. We’re not the crazy ones. You are. Stop it.”

It’s scary to do this, but half of the United States did it just last November. When enough people take a stand and say “we’re not going to tolerate and excuse these behaviors anymore” the bullies lose their power and their control, which means they can’t hurt you anymore–well, they can try to, but it’s a little harder to do once you’ve de-fanged them.
however, it hurts even more when a third party, one from whom you'd expect some sort of help, protection or at least sympathy, turns their back on the victim and side with the bully...
 

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Victim Blaming Sucks.

That said, I think there is multiple types of abusers.

In my experience "Abusers" will fit into at least one of the following categories:

Hurt people hurt others. - Everybody has felt pain at some point; I do not believe this statement applies to everyone.

They can't fully comprehend the situation. - They aren't very bright.

They are in denial. - The truth hurts.

Pure Selfishness - They got caught up in the moment. They wanted something you had; they stole it.

Different agendas clash - Fundamental Evangelist meets Gay Rights Activist.

Accidental - If they had known that would've hurt your feelings, they wouldn't have done it in the first place.
 

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  • Has it ever happen to you? If so, how (only if you’re comfortable to share)?
yes. i was molested and then labelled a slut who must've asked for it.

  • Have you ever witnessed somebody being abused or discriminated against, and they come to you for help and you either did nothing or you have in some way silenced them? If so, why?
Nope, wouldn't ever silence someone because it absolutely enrages me when people are silenced or worse, when they speak and are ignored and then arbitly advised to "speak up". bloody listen already! this is same reason i hate it when the word "rape" is used frivolously: that's a serious word. to dilute it and "steal" that vocabulary is a form of actively silencing people who've had to live with that traumatising experience.

  • Why do you think this happens?
victim blaming banks on shaming people into silence, into forgetting that they're entitled to be furious with the violation of their rights. it shifts the focus and language of the discourse very effectively from the bystanders to the person who has been hurt. when the hurt person (i dislike the word "victim") is in the limelight, the bystanders get to be invisible, thus exculpating them of the need to act and actually remedy the injustice.

also, victim blaming creates a very dirty us-them divide: YOU are the victim, and everyone else is US, hence if i'm by implication a part of the US, i get to be an asshole and state my views as if i represent the dominant group and by extension, claim the social power privileges of the dominant group. that's how victim blaming also leaves the person being attacked feeling like there's no point trying again to speak - it's like the whole world is represented by the person dumping grief.

and finally, holding the hurt party responsible for what happens to them is an excellent way of ignoring the fact that they are disempowered. it pretends that everyone has the same rights and social privileges. when you don't acknowledge a problem, you don't have to fix it.

sorry if i'm ranting a bit. this pisses me off very badly!
 

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I was in an abusive relationship for several years in my teens. I kept it a secret from most people and luckily most of my friends were very supportive when I finally sought help.

It's still all too common to hear (and usually by people who do not know about my past) that women want to be in abusive relationships, otherwise they would get out. I could try to explain the abused mentality until I'm blue in the face, but it's hard to impress upon people how much that loss of power changes the way you think and act. Ultimately, yes, I did find the strength to leave. It was very very hard to do so, and had I not been heavily conditioned by my "boyfriend" and partially convinced by society that the abuse was my fault, it would have been much easier. As I write this, I have to keep erasing my sentences that begin with "Well, it was my fault that..." because that is how deeply the blame-the-victim mentality is that I can't escape it nearly 10years later.

I know that there will be some that read this and roll their eyes and say I'm shifting the blame. But no, the blame is entirely on the abuser and not me. If you have never experienced a loss of power and self like you do when abused, you do not know the amount your perception is skewed by it. In the relationship, the abuser didn't seem like an inhuman monster like my naive 14 year old self thought they were. He was real, tragic, and I saw why he acted out like he did. First it was sympathy, which he used to control me. He would constantly tell me how no one would ever love me like he did, and that I was lucky to have anyone. He would tell me that he only hit me because I did something to upset him. He would rape me and tell me that had I only been a good girlfriend and performed sexual acts on his command that he wouldn't have to do that. This warps your mind, especially at such an impressionable age. It started out so subtle, that I never realized it went from yelling, to hitting, to molestation because you begin to compartmentalize the bad. It's hard to comprehend, so it gets locked away. You could have told me point blank that I was being abused in the worst of it, and I would have not believed you. He was just misunderstood, and the ' little outbursts' were my fault and I deserved them.
 

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More than once I've seen/heard stories (mainly the internet) about children who misbehave get hauled off by the police. As a militant I can't help but want to take down anyone who calls the police for such stupid reasons and the police themselves for not doing their job right. And what this has to do with victim blaming is that instead of blaming the people who are supposed to teach the child, the child themselves get all the blame for their behavior.
 

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I watch Trading Spouses quite regularly. It's a programme where a parent (usually the mom) swaps families with another mom for two weeks. Quite a few years back, there was one episode which was a classic case of victim blaming.

There were two families. One was a lesbian couple and their two young kids. They were loving and the moms brought up their kids to be tolerant of others. The other was a conventional type of family, a mom, dad and their two teenage daughters. The mom, Julie, is quite intolerant. She has many controversial views and is not afraid to let them be known. She hates illegal Mexicans, thinks that being homosexual is a birth defect and if she found out she was pregnant with a child who had Down's syndrome, she'd abort it. This, of course, did not sit well with the other mom, Pepper, who has a Mexican help, a sister with Down's, and she herself was lesbian.

Pepper invited her friends over for a party. In the party, she called out Julie for the stuff that she said. Unbeknowst to Julie, there was a Mexican girl, a mother of a child with Down's syndrome, and a homosexual couple among others. So Julie refuted Pepper, and ended up pissing basically everyone off. And then here's the big one. Instead of feeling sorry for what she had done-insulting Pepper and her friends-Julie called Pepper out for holding a party and inviting people who were bound to be insulted by what she, Julie, believed in. This was pure gold. Julie basically is unafraid of insulting anyone, as long as they're not there when she's insulting them.

Obviously, there was a lot of editing involved, and I trust Julie isn't this way in real life, but this was shocking to me when I saw it, and I thought this was a fine example of victim blaming.
 
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I think victim blaming often comes from fear. To use the obvious example, people will blame rape victims for rape because they don't want to feel powerless against rape themselves.
Is this the same thing as displacement?
 
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