Our Values & Internalised Victim Blaming: An Open Discussion
Where do our values come from? Mine were instilled by my relatives, primary carers, educators and peers. These values contribute to how we view domestic & sexual violence and abuse; they contribute to those internalised views that we hold, and those that we externalise to others.
How many of us can honestly say, (and I mean absolutely honestly) when we read a report about a stranger rape in an area that isn't well lit or when the woman has been drinking, that we don't, (or haven't, at some point) have an amount, however small, of victim blaming in our thoughts? We might think 'If only she'd got a taxi' or 'alcohol makes women so vulnerable'. If we hear of a domestic homicide, we might think 'If only she had left him'.
Reactions such as this are immediate, almost like a brain reflex meant to keep us 'safe' from harm. We'll be 'safe' if we don't behave as she did. We'll be 'safe' if we avoid those areas. We'll be 'safe' as long as we don't associate with 'those' sorts of men.
Those first thoughts are linked to our values, what we hold to be true from a very young age. The messages that we are taught start from birth, we are told that girls are 'quiet' and 'compliant' and that 'boys will be boys' or 'aggressive'. These messages contribute to victim blaming, in its many forms. Some forms may be less overt than others - the comment such as 'he's such a nice guy - are you sure he meant to do that?' Or, they may be easier to spot; 'if he keeps abusing her, why doesn't she just leave?' We have many examples of varying degrees of victim blaming on our site. They may vary in severity, but what doesn't vary is the harm that is done to survivors.
The values I had as a child and young woman are not the same values that I hold now - I read about cultures other than my own, I questioned the views held by those around me, I challenged my thinking & met other women who made me question my beliefs. Alongside this, as a child who was sexually abused, I wanted to relieve myself of the guilt I held for the abuse that was perpetrated against me. Shedding these internalised messages or values, wasn't easy for me. It's much easier to think that those who have experienced abuse should somehow have been able to prevent it, or even avoid it in the first place. It is also constant 'work in progress' - campaigns such as this one work to challenge those messages, and to reframe our thinking.
What makes us think that survivors should take responsibility for abuse perpetrated against them? This almost exclusively happens when discussing domestic & sexual violence - the assumption that, at some point in time, the survivor 'did' or 'didn't do' something that caused the perpetrator to commit the offence.
Acknowledging that men (and it usually is men) abuse women & other men, in such great numbers both because they can, and because they choose to, is a difficult thing to do. It means we may have to look at all of our values in relation to DSVA, and how they fit with the societal messages that we continue to absorb throughout the whole of our lives.
It feels like an uphill struggle, when we see Children's Services blaming children for abuse that may be perpetrated against them. We see police not taking allegations seriously, as in the Oxford Gang case.
We are heartened when we read a news report of a domestic homicide and the victim blaming defence isn't included, but are disheartened when we know it is one report, in a sea of many other damaging ones.
How do we deal with this issue? Raising awareness via a safe space to share experiences is a step forward, but it isn't a solution.
We need to reframe the values held about women and girls who have experienced domestic & sexual violence and abuse. We need to question where those values originate, and change them. We need to campaign for organisations to take the issue of DSVA seriously. We need the curriculum to include Sex & Relationship education. We need organisations to acknowledge the need for change, commit to it, and to invest in training & culture change. We need to challenge the myths around DSVA that contribute to victim blaming.
What are your thoughts? Any advice for us as campaigners? We appreciate all thoughts, ideas and suggestions and you can include them in the comments below.
‹ Victim Blaming in Criminal Justice Systems Changes are happening – BBC article gets it right ›
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We need to include more detail about self blame, as it is a powerful tool used to ‘control’ your experience. For me, blaming myself for rape in child and adulthood was a lot more comfortable than putting the blame where it belonged.
I struggle with it every day. The impact of victim blaming (internal and external), however is horrific. I had to start challenging it in order to prevent self-hate, getting into abusive relationships & from killing myself (via eating disorders).
This is what I explain to others who attend my training & awareness raising events. To often we hold conflicting views referred to as cognitive dissonance. Which goes a long way to explaining why we victim blame & why we don’t address the issues effectively. The most ‘dangerous’ professionals are those that are unaware of their own belief systems to the extent that they’re blinded to the bigger picture & will spend years colluding with perpetrators & victim blaming
this is a great post to start – internalised self blame is a huge issue to confront imo. as Clare said it often relies on a huge amount of cognitive dissonance and sometimes maintaining that can rely on wanting others to affirm the ideas and agree, which means that damaging notions about abuse spread and aren’t challenged. I find it very difficult to think about how to tackle it – having been in that place, being very glad I am not there any more but still having compassion for why, I don’t however really understand how I moved out of it. as pointed out above that shift can be painful – suppose it needs a good balance of consciousness raising and support…
I think there are so many messages from a huge amount of sources that lead to victim blaming, for one example being bullied at school if that bullying was then reported by the child to a dinner lady or teacher the child being bullied would often told off for being a tell-tale a crime seemingly worse than the bullying. I also have noticed recently on twitter that being accused of being a racist is considered by some to be worse than actually being a racist. It seems that some prefer victims to remain silent, silence unfortunately acts as a form of collusion, though the silence happens mostly because of fear and shame. But now we have the Internet as you say a safe place, a place where we can raise our voices, and just maybe it is the solution? Because I think men have been protected from our pain, our silence has wrapped them in the cosiness of thoughts that women don’t mind street harassment it’s quite flattering, they really are attracted to bastards and some women just like rough treatment because women all enjoy rape fantasies don’t they? Women don’t feel genuinely scared and intimidated by men it’s all a bit of a laugh isn’t it? Obviously some men know exactly how terrifying they are and they enjoy it and they can hide in plain sight intimidating women in-front of other men (and women)under the guise of Men will be men, and if the women get upset they’re over sensitive, neurotic, feminists, nutters etc etc. It’s time the message gets sent out that men and women were born on Earth not Mars or Venus and that we all speak the same language the problem is that we don’t listen. Everyday Victim Blaming and Everyday Sexism are amazing sites that need to make themselves heard and as people read others stories and write their own and share these pages they will see where the blame really lies and that’s with the bully, the abuser, the rapist and the murderer. Silent no more, if you hurt me I will tell on you, I will shame you, for shame has no place in my head.
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have been thinking about this a lot since you first posted so apologies for my repetitive commenting! I feel like internalised victim blaming is often in a sense protective for the survivor – confronting the premeditated nature of sexual violence can be incredibly painful because of either realisations of your own lack of control and therefore the perpetrator’s power and deliberate choices, or even, on a more structural level, the realisation of your powerlessness in the face of the societal constructions around femininity and violence which have affected you from birth. self blame is easier. I often feel incredibly guilty when relating to other women in a context that I know raises their awareness with regard to this, but I tend to feel that our defence mechanisms are so strong that if someone ‘hears’ what you are saying then on some level they are ready for it, and also that on some level survivors *should* know. I guess it’s odd in a sense for me because I was strong on my beliefs about sexual violence and victim blaming before I had any direct experiences, so my experiences of denial were more about ‘but why would that be damaging’, ‘surely I will be ok’ rather than thinking that the violence I had experienced wasn’t a crime in itself. but I guess since we have started that conversation, my experience is becoming more common. it is difficult to strike a balance, because women can and have processed their own experiences without that feminist consciousness raising process, but I still instinctively feel that that is powerful and that all women should know. to say otherwise perpetuates the dynamics under which we live which allow violence to continue 🙁
Victim blaming is a symptom of sociopathy. Just as the man who kidnapped and raped three girls for 10 year. He made a statement before the courts in whech he blames the victims for the crimes. This worked out poorly for him, he was given life and a thousand years. They whole notion of blame the victims is sociopathic logic and extremely dangerous.
When I first worked at rape crisis I thought if I just said ‘it’s not your fault’ enough times then women would stop blaming themselves. Slowly I learnt that I had to do more, I had to ask why each woman thought it was her fault, and help her unpick the illogic, often at some point saying ‘so if you heard this from another woman what would you say to her’ and then ‘so why is that true for you too’. In my experience the biggest shifts come when women meet other survivors, they can see and name self/victim blame for someone else, and receive the same in return. I am not sure about the use of ‘values’ – fine for EVB, less sure about what victim blame is. I would see it more as deeply embedded patriarchal beliefs and practices which, some of which occur across time place, and some of which mutate in new contexts.