Let's Agree to Stop the Victim Blaming

But first we need to know what Victim Blaming sounds like


Recently an abuse advocate posted on social media about the Ravi Zacharias abuse investigation and it ignited a thread that included victim blaming. With great patience and tact, the advocate pointed out instances of victim blaming in the thread and provided multiple resources to explain the dynamics of abuse.


Let's take a look at some examples of victim blaming from the social media thread that are all too common from Christians:


“Isn't [the victim] responsible for her actions in this relationship?”


“[The victim] made some very wrong choices”


“They [the abuser and the victim] both need to admit their sinful behavior.”


“I do not blame [the victim]. I do not, however, excuse her behavior.”


“She was not totally blameless like [the biblical] Able…”


“I…pray that she has repented…”


“Is [the victim] sinless, or are you sinless? No, we are all sinners and need to repent and turn back to God and do our best the next day.”


“I hope you do not think I have been blaming the victim. All I am saying is that [the victim] needs to understand that what she did was not right in God’s eyes so that she…[won’t] have it happen to her again in the future.”


What all these statements have in common is…you guessed it!...they each blame or shame the victim.


How so? In the simplest possible explanation, because each of these quotes imply that the victim is at least partially at fault for their own abuse.


Now some of you will respond with “So what? I am entitled to my opinion about victims and abuse”. And that is true. You are. And if you are someone that does not care about preventing abuse, protecting the vulnerable, supporting victim/survivors, and holding abusers accountable, then, by all means, stop reading this.


However, if you would like to become a safer person for victims/survivors, and/or if you would like to stop being an ally for abusers, then continue reading.



The above quotes can be broken into a few types of victim blaming statements with some overlap:


The 50% at Fault Statement


These statements suggest or state directly that the victim is just as responsible for the abuse as the abuser.


Examples:


“They [the abuser and the victim] both need to admit their sinful behavior.”


“Isn't [the victim] responsible for her actions in this relationship?”


Each of these statements not only assigns 50% of the responsibility to the victim, they also shift the focus from the abuser, their choices to abuse, and the behaviors and techniques they used. In order to prevent abuse and to support victims/survivors we need to keep the responsibility on the abusers. They are the only ones responsible for the choices they made to abuse another.


The Contradictory Statement


This one is a bit difficult for some to discern because it states two opposing truths. While many of us may do this without awareness, abusers use contradictory statements whenever they have to explain, justify, or apologize for their abusive behaviors. So, when we do this, whether or not it is intentional, we are using the same tactic as abusers, plus we are affirming beliefs that allow abusers to justify their actions.


Examples:


“I do not blame [the victim]. I do not, however, excuse her behavior.”


“I hope you do not think I have been blaming the victim. All I am saying is that [the victim] needs to understand that what she did was not right in God’s eyes…”


In each of these examples the first part seeks to defend or justify the speaker by presenting the speaker as well-meaning or loving, as “not blaming”.


The second portions directly contradict the first parts. So, “I do not blame”…is contradicted by “I do not…excuse her”. “Excuse” means to attempt to reduce the blame of the one excused. By not excusing the victim, the speaker is literally blaming the victim. That is what “not excusing” someone means.


In other words, it is impossible to not blame and to not excuse one person in one context.


The “For Her Own Good” Statement


This is another technique abuser ally communities, usually inadvertently, use. Abusers use this tactic to justify controlling potential victims and victims.


Example:


“I hope you do not think I have been blaming the victim. All I am saying is that [the victim] needs to understand that what she did was not right in God’s eyes so that she…[won’t] have it happen to her again in the future.”


In the thread, when the speaker was called out on some of her victim blaming, she responded by shifting the focus, insisting that she was not blaming the victim but was instead seeking the victim’s future well-being through pointing out what the victim needs to understand to protect herself from abusers.


This sounds good. Except it isn’t. Why not?


Well first, again, because the victim’s choices are not the issue, the abuser's choices are.


Second, focusing on the victim being required to do anything – even understand her behaviors, choices, or sins, is not only blaming the victim, it is also placing a burden on one that needs their burdens relieved.


Disclaimer before reading the next paragraph: I am a Christian, and have been for a long time now. It is likely due to the books I read as a child – I am looking at you Lewis, L’Engle, and Tolkien – and my mother’s love, prayers, and modeling what it is to be someone that trusts and walks in relationship with God.


So anyway.


One of the oddest things I have encountered since learning my ex-husband had sexually abused and assaulted a child while I was married to him, is the expectation Christians have that victims are required to do all kinds of things such as forgive the abuser, pray for the abuser, reconcile with the abuser, etc.etc.etc.


Meanwhile too many Christians, bizarrely, have few if any requirements for the abuser beyond a performative act of repentance. You would think Christians would at least require and hold abusers accountable for not abusing anymore. But no. It is assumed - contrary to all the evidence of experts -- including Christian experts – that if the abuser “repented” then they are safe.


The “Maybe Not 50% But at Least” Partially to Blame Statement


This is any claim that seems to mitigate the abuser's blame while also assigning partial blame to the victims. It is victim blaming by degrees. As in, “I never said she/he was completely responsible or even half at fault, but she/he is at least partially at fault.”


Example:


“She was not totally blameless like [the biblical] Abel…”*


This sentence is one of the most obvious examples of victim blaming in the thread. To say that she is not “totally blameless” is equal to saying, “she is at least partially to blame.”


The Victim is Responsible for Other Victims’ Abuse


This is a brutal one. It is any statement that implies the victim is responsible for the abuser’s abuse of another. Some examples include not disclosing sooner, or not testifying in court, or recanting an allegation.


Example:


“She does need to come forward [to protect others from the abuser’s abuse].”


This statement implies that if others are abused during or after the victim has been abused, then the victim is responsible for that abuse. This ignores the reality of abuse dynamics, the influence of abuser allies, and the many other reasons victims do not tell.


If you want to create a safer environment for the vulnerable, there are ways to do so, but blaming victims is not the way. In fact, blaming victims invites abusers into your community, since it illustrates that if they are exposed as predators they will not be held responsible for their actions.


To say that a victim failed to protect not only themselves, but others, is not only untrue but cruel.


And the Non-Victim Superior Statement


This is any statement or question suggesting that the victim should have known better because the non-victim would have known better. It not only focuses the blame on the victim, but it also suggests the non-victim and those like them are somehow superior to the victim. These statements or questions imply or directly say that the non-victims could never be manipulated by an abuser because of some reason absent from the victim, such as the knowledge the non-victims have, or their spiritual status, or the choices they would make.


Examples:


“I would never…”


“How about from now on [the victim] does not [do the things the victim did when being abused].


“Doesn’t she have the Holy Spirit?”


“Why would she….?”


“Why didn’t she just leave?”


There are a number of problems with these: First, it is not a good look. No matter how spiritually worded, it comes off as superior and condescending, as if the non-victim is invulnerable to abuse. Or, as if the victim is somehow "less than" or defective and therefore more abusable.


Second, no one really knows what they would do in certain situations if they have never encountered them. For example, you cannot know that you would never be deceived by an abuser. Given the right circumstances and the right abuser, I guarantee that you can be manipulated by an abuser’s charm.


You disagree?


Ok then. Did you suspect Ravi Zacharias of being capable of abusing multiple women sexually? No? Then you are not invulnerable to being manipulated, deceived, and abused.


One other thing that all the above victim blaming statements have in common is this: Abusers love them and use this logic to groom potential victims, victims, and allies.


Victim Blaming is bad because it minimizes the violation victim/survivors endured. It also minimizes the severity of the abuser's choices and therefore the consequences the abuser should experience. Plus, it shames and silences victim/survivors and creates an unsafe environment for disclosing abuse.


If these reasons are not enough for you to stop victim blaming, then consider this: It confirms the abuser's distorted beliefs that drive their abusive behaviors, such as: the victim is responsible for the abuse; others will support them and not the victim; and they are entitled to continue to harm any victim that dares to expose them, as well as other potential victims.


So, if you want to help abusers create an environment where they can abuse and be supported at the expense of the vulnerable, in other words if you want to be an abuser ally, then once again, by all means feel free to continue to do so.


Of course, my hope is that instead you will choose to commit to learning how to be a safe and healthy person for victims/survivors. And if you are a victim/ survivor and hold any of the victim blaming beliefs listed above, then may you be blessed with a fierce self love that reflects God's love for you, and deeply imbued with the knowledge that you are not to blame - not even fractionally - for your abuse.


Notes


* Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain's murder of his brother Abel.

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