Victim-Blaming and Relationship Violence
When we hold victims partially or completely responsible for the violence done to them, we are victim- blaming. These actions, verbal or non-verbal, may influence the decisions that survivors make to keep themselves and/or their families safe.
Where does it come from?
People may blame the victim for what has happened as a way of understanding why bad things happen to people. If something bad happens to a woman she must have done something to deserve it. It is a way of distancing oneself from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirming one's own invulnerability. Or it can be a way of putting distance, or a wall, between you and the survivor. It happened to them because of something they did/didn’t do which doesn’t apply to you so you are safe. “I am not like her; this would never happen to me."
Why is it dangerous?
Victim-blaming attitudes make it more difficult to come forward and ask for help or report violence. If she knows that you or society blames her for the violence, she will not feel safe coming forward and talking to you.
Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what her abuser has been saying all along; that it is her fault this is happening to her. It is NOT her fault; it is the abuser's choice. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows the abuser to perpetrate violence against his/her partner and avoid accountability.
What does victim-blaming look like?
What did she do/or didn’t do to make him be violent? Why does she stay? Why doesn’t she leave?
Reality: These statements assume that the victim is equally to blame for the violence, when in reality, violence is a conscious choice made by the abuser. Abusers have a choice in how they react to their partner’s actions. Options instead of violence include; walking away, talking in the moment, breaking up, respectfully explaining why an action is frustrating, etc.
Additionally, the rules on what “provokes” the violence keep on changing. Violence is not about individual actions that incite the abuser to hurt his partner, but rather about the abuser’s feelings of entitlement and desire to control their partner.
When friends and family remain neutral about the violence, by saying that both people need to change, they are colluding with the abusive partner and make it less likely that the survivor will seek support.
What can I do about it?
- Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear them;
- Do not agree with abusers’ excuses for why they are violent;
- Let the survivor know that it is not her fault ;
- Hold abusers accountable for their actions;
- Acknowledge that the survivor is her own best expert and provide her with resources and support.
Remember, if you are aware of violent behavior and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place.
* Adapted from Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.