Friday, 1 May 2015

Victim shaming

Rape culture. Bullying. Positive thinking. Self defense. Disease survivors. Empowerment. Bootstrap economic strategy.
All of these things, good, bad, wrong or right, have one thing I can't bear to stay quiet about.
Victim shaming.
The irony is not lost on me, that some of these are supposed to be beneficial, even preventing harm to people through their own actions.
That is what bothers me.

Rape culture is an obvious evil, and one of the worst for the brand of victim shame that involves blaming the victim for motivating the crime. This normalizes a criminal act that does terrible harm to the victims. The same can be said for bullying. The idea is that if the victim of these acts would just take actions to prevent or counter the perpetrator from committing the acts against them, these injuries would not take place.

So a rape victim should have been less provocative of a sexual reaction, by dressing less provocatively, or by changing their attitude or demeanor, or by not being in places where a rape might take place. If they had to be there, wear that, or act that way, they should have been expecting to raped, and if they couldn't defend themselves, it was their own fault.

A bullying victim should stand up for themselves, defend themselves, fight back, or stay with people who can defend or deflect the bullies. If they continue to be bullied, it is because they are weak, or poorly taught, or too cowardly to ask for help.

Diseases are for the weak, too. If you would just think the right thoughts, eat the right foods, behave properly, worship a god in the correct manor, abstain from dangerous behaviours, you wouldn't get the disease in the first place, and if you did, you could fight it off, and be a survivor.

If you think positively, then, all things will come to you. This myth says that if you visualize success, you will succeed. Fake it till you make it. Believe that you will triumph, and victory will be yours! If you fail, you didn't try hard enough. You didn't have faith. You didn't genuinely believe.

The whole thing boils down to being in charge of your own life, your own destiny. This is positive, right? Empowering? We really want to believe we can control everything.

Except if it doesn't happen. Then everything that goes wrong is your own fault. You are sick because you have a "victim mentality". You were raped or bullied because you set yourself up for it. You failed because you are stupid, or you didn't try hard enough. You are poor because you didn't work hard enough.

This is making the status of being a victim of the actions of others into a shameful thing. To the point that we change the language of being a victim, to being a "survivor". A "victim" is weak and pitiful. A "survivor" is powerful, admirable. This is said in good intention, to give the victim a sense of hope, that they have come through bad experiences, and are empowered to survive more.

Again, except when it doesn't happen. When you succumb to pain, disease, oppression. The blame shifts from the cause to the effect.

 Being a victim is a fact, not a choice. Bad things happen to people who do not deserve them.  There are things we don't have control over. How do we help to prevent the bad things? Well, we can teach that being a perpetrator is shameful, and being a victim is not. We can try to teach that no one is within their rights to bully anyone just because the target is powerless to stop or prevent the action.
When those who don't learn these things commit these acts, we can focus on helping the victims, not asking what they could have done to prevent the problem, but what we as a society can do to stop it from happening again. We have to stop expecting the victims and those in danger of becoming victims to take all the action, when the existence of those who do harm, as well as the opportunity to do harm, is something we need to tackle as a social problem. We need to recognize that when someone is suffering from poverty or disease, they deserve help and understanding, not pity, nor derision.

Being a victim is not a reason for shame. Ignoring or blaming the victim should be.

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