I attended a couple of parties recently, where the conversations turned to some recent high profile criminal cases that had been in the news. One, case was about a bright young woman who was raped and murdered. Instead of focusing on the murderer’s terrible crime, or how unbelievably, bystanders saw her lifeless body and did absolutely nothing, or about the horror of a young woman being sexually assaulted and murdered, the victim blaming comments began. “She should have known better than to go to his apartment.” Later on another conversation veered toward an abduction case of a teenager who was held for nine months by her captor. Comments like, “There is something she’s not telling about this,” and, "She must have willingly gone along with it, at least for a while,” were made.
I think when people jump to victim blame, and when media coverage subtly or not so subtly implicates the victim, it serves to make everyone feel a bit less uneasy, it distances us a bit from the fear. This kind justification takes away a little bit from the horror and injustice of the crimes. It also speaks to the entrenched oppression of women that is still alive and well in 2014.
Just prior to that conversation, the recent abduction and sexual assault of two Amish girls from their family farm stand in upstate New York came up. Unlike in the other discussions I heard that evening about victims, In this case, the girls were “completely innocent.” Comments like this automatically imply that there are good victims of crime, who deserve our complete support, and that there are tarnished victims, who deserve a bit less.
Feeling discouraged during these interactions, I nearly backed away, slinking toward the buffet table. “It’s the weekend,” I told myself. Will they think I’m a harpy, too obsessed with my job, a party pooper if I say how I feel? I decided I didn’t care if I made others uncomfortable. I spoke my mind, perpetrators are to blame, and that victims, regardless of anything they did or did not do, do not cause their rape, their strangulation or their murder.
We all need to work to turn the conversations around. We all need to make people realize that we don’t tolerate putting the onus of crimes on victims anymore. Rapists are to blame. Abusers are to blame. Stalkers are to blame and murderers are to blame. Once the accountability is there, and society as a whole unequivocally says NO MORE, the tide will turn and people will focus not on blaming victims, but on healing them instead.
Karin Ashton is the Community Relations Coordinator at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.