Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The Silencer – an open letter to those quick to defend, slow to reflect.

I am an EVB volunteer. This morning, another EVB volunteer challenged Mark Williams (@mwilliamsthomas) on this tweet (which was in response to this story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-23513254).

 "The story about the 12yr girl being raped in London in early hours of Sunday morning is horrific. But what was she doing out at that time?"

The subsequent debate and defence of this tweet has troubled me greatly so I have decided to write a post (inspired by my twitlonger).

Before I do so, I am willing to share with you that I am an adult survivor of rape and sexual abuse. I also experienced rape and abuse as a child. These experiences, alongside my professional experiences and qualifications have enabled me to not only process and manage my own experiences, but to support other survivors.

Regarding Mark's tweet, speaking as a child survivor, I need to emphasize that if I were that 12 year old girl reading that tweet I would assume that either myself or those who were responsible for my care were being blamed instead of the people raping me. The focus from the perpetrators is shifted immediately. This is NOT ok.

Regarding the subsequent defence of Mark’s tweet, the person responsible for rape is the rapist. Some of us had wonderful parenting yet it didn’t stop us being raped. Many survivors are raped in their home, often by people we know. I share concerns regarding a 12 year old being out late at night. But surely the focus on this particular story and where our energies should focus is the fact that a child was raped.

Victim blaming can be subtle – as can be shifting the focus onto others. We do this for a variety of reasons. To focus the blame on others, or even to blame survivors keeps us psychologically safe – it means we can ‘prevent’ it from happening to our loved ones and to ourselves. I greatly empathise and sympathise with people who victim-blame. It is so much more comfortable to do that than to come to the horrific realisation that the only people who can prevent rape are rapists. That is just too terrifying. But it is the truth.

Sometimes survivors self-blame. I did for many years and sometimes still do. By self-blaming I thought I could control my safety and I thought that my physical appearance had made me somehow responsible. But the ugly, terrifying truth is that the blame lies with the perpetrators. The only people responsible for raping this young girl are the alleged rapists.

Questions regarding caring responsibilities/safeguarding should be asked – of course they should - but they shouldn’t be your biggest concern. It shouldn’t be your first question if you truly are victim-centred. This is BASIC. Furthermore, people who support/work with victims can victim-blame. As can victims themselves. Working for victims’ rights does NOT make you immune from victim-blaming. That is a very dangerous path to walk down.

I was greatly disturbed to see a tweet from someone who responded to my twitlonger on the subject with this:

“You may think what he said was victim blaming but its (sic) not. Could you possibly be over thinking it because your (sic) a survivor?”

This statement is damaging, insensitive, minimising, dismissive and silencing. As a survivor, I am more easily tuned into victim-blaming. To the person who sent this tweet, you are perpetuating the myth that survivors are not the experts in their own experience. My own experiences don’t automatically qualify me to support others. They DO, however, make me an expert in my own experience. My decade in working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence and abuse and education do enable me to advocate, support, empower and encourage the voices of survivors. I see victim-blaming and call it out. I’m a survivor. I was silenced for too long and despite the continuous attempts, I will no longer be silent.

Please LISTEN to the voices of victims and survivors when we ASK you to reflect on your language and behaviour. Don't let defence be your first response - try to reflect why/how you may be victim-blaming. When you do, an apology would be greatly welcomed. Thank you.

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10 thoughts on “The Silencer – an open letter to those quick to defend, slow to reflect.

  • Elizabeth @LizJ73. says:

    I looked at the comments in that Twitter conversation. I agree with everything you have written here.
    In this case i dont believe it is only victim blaming at the core of this.
    The recent incident with Christian Jesson and this incident with Mark Williams Thomas have one common denominator. Both of these people appear in front of a TV camera on a regular basis. I think a lot of people have been so blinded by celebrity culture that.
    a, they believe every word that comes out of their mouth forgetting that someone is not infallible just because they happen to appear on TV.
    b, They assume that because someone appears on tv that automatically makes them a nice person acting in peoples best interests.
    Now im not saying that Mark Williams Thomas is not a nice person His determination to expose the truth about Savile showed a stoicism which is admirable.
    What im saying is that people arent right all of the time just because they happen to appear on TV on a regular basis.
    Unfortunately in todays celebtity culture a lot of people seem to want to believe a well known person without question. In todays culture we seem to have lost the ability of reading between the lines.

    • Admin says:

      Thank you for your comment Liz. It is not so much the victim blaming that saddened me – as harmful as that is – but the defensive and aggressive position taken. I appreciate it is hard to reflect when one is challenged. Yet unless we start doing so, we will get nowhere. @portiasmart wrote a great post on her experience regarding The Wright Stuff and panellist Amanda Lamb. Amanda’s response mirrored Mark’s “I didn’t victim blame, you are wrong” etc. It is just incredibly disheartening when people are unwilling to challenge their frame of reference on this.

  • Redskies says:

    Thank you for such a clear response to Mark William’s tweet and the defence of it.

    Mark Williams, by contributing to the culture of victim blaming in this way, however unintentionally, is helping to normalise the rapist’s response to finding a vulnerable child out late at night. It teaches that the basic decent human response of trying to help someone vulnerable is not to be expected but that rape is.

    Words mean something.

    • Admin says:

      They do – language matters. We really appreciate this comment and we agree that Mark’s intention was likely a good one – which makes his continuous defence all the more disappointing.
      Thank you.

  • JLOsm says:

    This is disheartening – as usual people remain uninformed about where the true responsibility lies for rape.

    It seems getting the message across that women (and men and girls and boys) should be able to be out on a London street in the early hours of the morning and not expected to get raped still needs a lot of work.

    Being raped should not be a factor that is even in the frame.

    But as we have seen (and always see) the implication behind the comments are that the young girl in question shouldn’t have been out on her own in the dark because it is dangerous.

    At no point is there a recognition by the mainstream media that the danger is the rapist (rather than the supposed carelessness of the victim) and also that it is not reasonable to expect a huge swathe of the population to avoid the rapist.

    This is easier than thinking about how to change our rape culture so it is no longer an issue.

    But this would mean recognising rape culture.

    And that would require far too much work – so it is easier focus on feminists and survivors being oversensitive.

    It is this connection that is missing from mainstream media commentary.

    • Admin says:

      Thank you for making time to comment. I agree with your statement word for word. Accepting rape culture and victim blaming culture is too easy and too familiar. We know we have a battle ahead but we will continue…..we have to end a culture that is so damaging and silencing.

  • Elizabeth @LizJ73. says:

    I totally agree Admin. Disappointed is how i feel about it and how id describe it too.

  • Zanna says:

    adding my support. Very sad to see the aggressive response to being called out. As so often happens, the person being questioned focussed on their own ego and identity as a supporter. I have been guilty of the same mistake and I hope that, like me, this person will realise that good past actions and good intention do not make you infallible.

  • betty says:

    also adding my support as I find the language issue really disturbing. Victim-blaming, as a descriptor has become the new privelege-checking. People unconsciously doing it will try to defend themselves until (they hope) the phrase becomes meaningless. This happened with the casual use of words such as “pimp” to mean “jazzing things up” or “making better”. Come on people!! I know this kind of talk will encourage the “speech police” brigade, but it’s something people need to be taught to double-check before meaning becomes meaningless.

  • Jeanie says:

    This is exactly right. Maybe she was upset about something and she ran away. Maybe she’d got lost (children do). Maybe she was in “care”. Maybe she’d missed a train or bus. Maybe she went out looking for male approval.

    What she was doing out at that time is utterly irrelevant – unless (and this is the implication in the offending tweet), one is labouring under the misapprehension that the reason she was raped is because she was out at that time. Which is the same as saying to every woman and child, “the only way to not be victimised like this is to stay at home” – which is not only untrue, but also a gross attack on civil liberties and equality.

    If one is a man I can see how it would be so much easier to say that women shouldn’t go out than to address the male behaviour that we risk whether we stay inside or not.

    Personally, I don’t think Mark Williams Thomas is very suitable to be working in his field with unexamined attitudes like this. He is a danger to victims.