Victim-Blaming: Do Intentions Matter?


Recently I wrote a piece titled “Let’s Agree to Stop Victim Blaming”. That post included examples of victim-blaming statements from a social media thread about Ravi Zacharias’ victims. I included the actual statements not to shame anyone, but in order to illustrate what victim blaming looks and sounds like.


Now, let’s flip the script a bit and look at what Victim-Blaming is not.


One common defense of those that victim-blame is that they could not possibly do such a thing because they would never want to shame or harm a victim.


They assume that victim-blaming is an intentional action done with self-awareness, and if that is true, then victim-blamers are bad people. And, since they are not bad people with intentions to shame and harm, then they could not have said anything that blames the victim. The logic is sound, but the assumptions behind it are false.


The truth is that my intentions, and/or your intentions, do not determine whether or not victim-blaming has occurred.


What I mean is that victim-blaming is objective and observable. Victim-Blaming is any communication by attitude, word, or action that displaces responsibility, completely or by degrees, from the abuser to the victim.


One's (unknown or known) feelings, intentions, or motivations do not factor into whether or not something is victim-blaming. Likewise, one's emotions, intentions, motivations, do not mitigate the victim-blaming one does. Victim-Blaming is destructive no matter how good a person you are, no matter how much you love Jesus, and no matter how filled with “grace and love” your words are.


So while we may not intentionally harm anyone, and/or intentionally shame or blame anyone, we may harm, shame, and blame them anyway.


Consider these statements from the social media thread mentioned above:


“I would never intentionally hurt anyone.”


“I would never shame or blame someone who has been abused by someone else.”


While each of these statements sound nice, and I hope we all agree that these are good interrelation goals to have, they were followed by the victim-blaming statements.


Like this woman, our intentions may be to treat others with grace and to love them. Yet, if we do or say things that do not harmonize with healing and empowering victims, or with holding abusers accountable for their decisions to abuse, then we are, in fact, harming both victims and abusers, as well as endangering potential victims, and triggering survivors. And these results are neither loving or graceful.


Another common assumption about victim-blaming is that one must have negative feelings towards the victim(s) in order for victim-blaming to occur. This popped up in the social media thread in ways that looked like this:


“I have no anger towards her [the victim].”


In other words, if I am angry with the victim(s) then obviously I would have no problem hurting, shaming, or blaming the victim. If I am not angry -- or experiencing some other negative emotion -- then I could not possibly engage in blaming the victim.


Before anyone asks “why would anyone be angry with a victim?”, let’s recall the vitriolic responses Lori Anne Thompson endured when she disclosed the spiritual and sexual abuse she experienced in her relationship with Ravi. Many Christians that were positively influenced by Ravi attacked her with rage and attempted to slander, shame, and silence her. Unfortunately, anger and attacks are a common response to victims that disclose.


So, yes, many times anger is a motivation for blaming a victim. But, and this is an important “but”, anger is not necessary. Many that are sincerely loving, and kind Christians can victim-blame without any negative emotions as a catalyst.


An absence of anger does not mean one cannot, or is not, victim-blaming.


Again, victim-blaming is not determined by one's feelings or their motivations, but by anything that communicates a victim is responsible for their own abuse, and/or that an abuser is not 100% responsible.


For Reflection:


There are some complex reasons why we victim-blame. What reasons do you think make it more comfortable for us to blame victims rather than to support them?


What examples of victim-blaming have you heard, experienced, or believed?


What are some suggestions for how to shift our church cultures to supporting victims instead of blaming them?


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