Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 59: "What Is Victim-Blaming and Why Does It Matter?"

May 13, 2021 Ask Ava Season 1 Episode 59
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 59: "What Is Victim-Blaming and Why Does It Matter?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 59: "What Is Victim-Blaming and Why Does It Matter?"

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Today, we’re answering questions from local teens about what victim-blaming looks like.

This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic violence response organization, providing services at no charge for survivors of dating and domestic abuse for over 40 years.  

Today's question from local teens is: “What is victim-blaming and why does it matter?”

Victim-blaming is when someone blames a target or victim for someone else’s abusive or bullying behavior or violence. Unfortunately, this is a common way that people respond to a victim when someone else is abusive. In 2021, this way of thinking is still ingrained in our worldwide culture, through movies, TV, music, and our own biases and thoughts.

Here are some examples of victim-blaming:

  • If someone is being bullied, someone might say, “What did you do first?” This makes it sound like the person who is bullied did something to provoke the bully. 
  • An abusive partner in a relationship might say something like, “It’s your fault I have to treat you this way.” 
  • Or, “You deserve this – it’s for your own good.”
  • If a sexual assault happened, you might hear something like, “They were asking for it if they were wearing that.” 
  • Or, “Was there alcohol involved?” 
  • Or, “If you didn’t want to have sex with someone, you shouldn’t have gone home with them.” 
  • Or, “Why didn’t you leave or get help right away?” This last one especially ignores how difficult it can be for someone to reach out for services or to report.
  • Survivors of intimate partner violence (no matter what the age) might hear someone say, “Well, why did you stay with them anyway, if you knew how they act?” 
  • Or, “You should have known better.” 
  • Or, “You’re too sensitive. It can’t really be that bad.”

Why does victim-blaming matter? Abuse and violence are never the victim’s fault. Abusive behaviors are a choice, and the person who uses these behaviors made the choice to act that way. Even if alcohol or drugs are involved and make the person’s behavior worse, choosing to drink or engage with substances is also a choice.

The culture of victim-blaming in our world today is one reason why it can be hard to talk about abuse and violence. If a friend tells you they’re a survivor or that they’re currently dealing with an abusive relationship, think about how you respond. It’s not our job in the moment to fact find and decide whether or not something actually happened, or whether our friend acted the right way when the abuse happened (plus, there is no right way to act!). Our job is to believe our friend and listen, hold space for their feelings, and get them help if needed. You should always report something on your own, though, if your friend is in immediate danger.

The stigma or judgement of speaking up about abuse is real, and so harmful. If we want more people to recover from trauma and feel empowered in their lives, we have to stop blaming victims. Believe survivors of abuse, and challenge and change victim-blaming phrases when you hear them from others.

To speak with an expert about dating violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential hotline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. 

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