I haven’t written a blog post in a long time; I’ve been relatively happy so haven’t felt the need to vent. But this last month or so, I’ve been struggling with a few things.
We’ve all heard of victim blaming, especially over instances of rape and domestic violence, but it’s there with other crimes too. Victims of pickpockets are often criticised for where they carry their wallet, victims of bullying are criticised for making themselves stand out and be targets. We all know it’s wrong and shouldn’t happen, and in all honesty part of me thought society was getting better at not doing it.
Victim blaming justifies the actions of the offender. It gives them a defence and suggests you understand why they did what they did. And siding with the offender can make the victim feel so much worse than the original crime did, because you’re basically telling them that they deserved what happened.
BUT what I realised recently is that I do it too!
My daughter was physically assaulted a few weeks ago by her ex-boyfriend. The assault was interrupted by two local boys and two security guards, so other than some bruising on her legs and arms from bracing on some steps to stop herself being pulled up them, and from being dragged about, she had no physical injuries. However, she was of course emotionally distressed and upset.
When I was told what had happened to my daughter, someone I love and would die for, the first thing I said, after asking if she was OK, was ‘Why did she go off with him?’ As if somehow her reasoning for agreeing to talk to her ex would affect how wrong I considered the assault to be. In reality it didn’t matter, but I still asked and the question automatically made her feel like she had to defend herself for being assaulted. It automatically made her feel responsible and it wasn’t her fault.
It turns out a whole other offence was the reason she went to talk to him. He had photos of her and he was threatening to distribute them if she didn’t talk to him and give him another chance. And again my instant response was ‘Why the hell did you do something so stupid and send him photos?’
And it wasn’t just me that threw these questions her way, it was everyone. Why not tell someone sooner about the threats, why didn’t you let people know he’d hurt you before, if you was scared then why was you with him so long? All seemingly innocent questions, trying to understand the situation, but all totally irrelevant. And all adding to my daughter’s feeling of responsibility over what happened, resulting in her feeling she had to give me her phone and let me witness first-hand the abuse she’s had to deal with, the reason she was still communicating with him and his attitude to having got aggressive and abusive before. The messages were hard to read, and seeing her feel like she had to justify herself over an assault against her made me realise just how badly and insensitively I had reacted. I’ve been on the receiving end of such accusatory questions in the past myself, so I feel like I should have known better.
She wasn’t responsible, it wasn’t her fault. And I really want to understand what drove me to even care about the answers to those questions because none of them mattered. No matter what happened in the lead-up, she did not deserve to be hurt, scared and physically intimidated.
Maybe I didn’t want to believe horrible things can happen to my daughter without her doing something wrong? Or did guilt over allowing those things to happen make me want to normalise it and make it seem not as drastic as it was? Or is it simply the inability to believe a boy I’d welcomed into my house, cooked for, and on occasions defended was able to behave in that way unprovoked?
But whatever the reason, it’s made him feel ‘safe and justified’ – so much so that he still feels able to mouth off to people about her, while my daughter, the victim, feels unworthy and untrusted. And that’s not what I intended or want. And I’m sure it’s not how anyone truly feels over the incident. No one can look at what he did as justified and no one (with any kind of morals or care) can look at his behaviour as acceptable!
The police were involved and based on all the evidence they had, they really wanted my daughter to press charges, but she refused. Not because she cared about her ex-boyfriend but because she didn’t want to upset other people. And I’m struggling to deal with that, as upsetting other people is the last thing she have to think about. We should all be worried about protecting her, and she should have been made to feel safe and secure enough to pursue things however she wanted to. And the fact she didn’t makes me feel like I’ve failed her a little.
I haven’t yet come to any kind of conclusion, but it feels a bit like our questions and need to justify things are about us and about our need to believe bad things can’t happen to people for no reason. Or maybe it’s to justify our own association with the offender and not truly because we blame the victim. Because although I wish I’d responded differently, I sure as hell don’t blame my daughter!