By Rachel Miller, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Blame: to assign responsibility for a fault or a wrong.
You would think when it comes to domestic violence everyone would know where the blame lies, wouldn’t you? The abuser is the only person responsible for the abuse he or she chooses to inflict, right? Yet this very simple and seemingly obvious fact is far from obvious to many, including victims themselves.
Our society likes to perpetuate the problem of abuse through a tactic called victim-blaming. You may have heard the term before, but let me give you a scenario of victim blaming in action, so you can better understand how and why it works and how oblivious people can be to the part they play in the larger picture of the problem.
This particular incident happened just the other day on Facebook. The topic was George Zimmerman’s most recent arrest and his new girlfriend. I saw this woman called immoral for dating a still married man; I saw someone say she was embarrassed by her gender because of this woman’s willingness to date Mr. Zimmerman; I saw this woman called stupid, dumb and an idiot, while another person said she should have known better.
As a survivor, and someone who understands the abuse cycle and how someone like Mr. Zimmerman functions, I was neither surprised that he was, again, in trouble with the law, nor that he had managed to find himself a new victim. Saddened, yes, but not surprised. What does continually surprise me is the lack of understanding and empathy from the general public towards victims and how willing people are to immediately place the place on the victim rather than the abuser.
When I challenged this group of people, calling them out for victim-blaming, they stated that the abuse wasn’t her fault and of course she didn’t deserve it, but still, she should have known better. They couldn’t seem to equate their attitudes and chosen verbiage to victim-blaming. I decided to attempt to put their words into the context of my own situation, as not everyone on this particular thread knows me or my story.
My ex-husband had a very well-known, what I mistakenly believed was a temper problem when I started dating him. People had concerns about him and what would happen to me if I married him, yet I married him anyway. Was I stupid? Should I have known better? Was I to blame for my own abuse because I didn’t believe people about him and I loved him?
The consensus was no, I was not to blame and neither was Mr. Zimmerman’s new girlfriend. BUT, they reminded me, everyone in the country knows George Zimmerman’s history and she was responsible for putting herself in harm’s way.
This attitude is common and as a survivor I struggle, at times, not to take victim-blaming personally. I do speak up now days, call it how I see it and share my story in an attempt to provide a different perspective for people, but the piece I don’t often share is how much more difficult those types of interactions made my healing process, especially when it came from people I knew and who knew my history. Not that it’s easy to hear from strangers, but I understand that not everyone has personal context. It’s harder to have the same understanding for people who know me, they, after all, have a face and a story to put with the statistics. If this is really what they think about victims, what did and do they think and say about me?
Over the last few years I have been asked what I did to make him so angry. I have been asked what I did to push his buttons. I was told if I would have just done the things he wanted, he wouldn’t have behaved the way he did. If I could have kept better control of the kids, or kept the house clean he wouldn’t have been able to find so many things to yell and scream about. And of course the ever popular, why didn’t I leave sooner. I was told that at least when I lived with him my children had a home and that it takes two to destroy a relationship and to fight. All of this, on top of the blame and guilt I heaped upon my own shoulders was nearly crippling.
It has taken years of specialized therapy to get me to the place where I no longer hold myself responsible for what happened to me. I have only recently been able remove the guilt I carried for giving my children that man for a father and for not leaving sooner. To have strangers and loved ones alike, try to place that blame back on me is hurtful, regardless of the fact that I know that isn’t usually their intent.
The only person to blame for abuse is the abuser. The personal responsibility lies with the abuser, not his/her victim. The next time you see a story about domestic violence, check your immediate reaction. If your first response is not that the abuser needs to be held accountable for his/her actions, but instead goes straight to questioning the victim, in anyway, you are very likely coming from a victim blaming mentality.
Here is the very simple, very basic fact that people need to remember before judging victims and survivors of domestic violence: We do the very best we can with where we are and what we know at the time. While you might want believe you would do better were you in our shoes, the statistics show that you probably wouldn’t. Judging us, deciding what we should and shouldn’t have known, as if we have or had some kind of crystal ball, and blaming us for our abusers actions, even if you don’t think that is what you’re doing, does nothing to help stop domestic violence. It actually makes you part of the larger problem. You have no idea how or why we ended in the relationships we did and it is your kindness, understanding, empathy and acknowledgment that you have not walked in our shoes that will help survivors heal, victims feel that they can reach out for help and society in general learn how to better respond to domestic violence. Changing yourself really is the way to begin to change the world in this area.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take See the Triumph’s pledge to tell survivors, “It’s not your fault.” It’s a message that survivors can’t hear enough.