If you read about people in trouble, or victims of violence or political circumstances… do you find reasons why such things wouldn’t happen to you? “I would have done differently in such a situation”, “If I was her, I would’ve tried to escape”, “It’s their mentality, why don’t they fight against oppression?”, or, in a New Age way, “He probably attracted this by his negative attitude!”
Victim blaming is a common, automatic defense mechanism – an attempt to conquer our fears and achieve a feeling that we are not at the mercy of chance. Feeling out of control of our lives is very frightening and it’s natural to try to defend against it, even if it means employing a very subjective logic.
Unfortunately, this often results in subtle or less subtle blaming of victims of violence, while the responsibility of victimizers can be ignored or diminished. In our need to avoid fear, we don’t want to give much power or attention to a victimizer; we don’t want to feel that we would become just another victim in similar circumstances. We want to feel that we would have been stronger, more special, and so we search for explanations how a victim could have avoided the trouble, but failed because of some mistake (s)he made.
However, even if a victim did make a mistake, who of us doesn’t sometimes? Can you think of situations in which you could have been hurt if people you trusted turned out to be dishonest, or if just a little detail was different? How many times did you take risks knowing that you were taking risks? Can you really live life without ever taking any chance? Even if we consider avoidable violence such as domestic violence, there are often circumstances that are easy to ignore, such as upbringing and family brainwashing. How many of us did really get rid of our own family traditions and old beliefs? For a person who grew up in abusive circumstances, abuse can feel normal and unavoidable.
So, out of a need to avoid our own fears, we can inflict pain on people who already hurt enough, or even indirectly allow violence. We can look down at and be arrogant to people who experienced betrayal, injustice or pain. “Weren’t there any warning signals?” Of course there were, but do you respond to every potential warning signal you feel? If that was so, most people would just avoid each other. Even suspicion has to be treated with suspicion sometimes.
We cannot avoid using this defense mechanism, but we can recognize it and remind ourselves of what it is. We can consciously employ parts of ourselves that are compassionate and responsible. Perhaps we can not only avoid saying such things aloud, but do something that would make unfortunate people hurt less. Victim blaming is easy. Compassion takes maturity.