By Claire Bernstein, JCADA Intern
Last August, a high school girl from Steubenville, Ohio was raped by two boys from her high school’s football team at a party. Not only did these boys violate her body, but many people at the party took pictures of the incident and posted them on social media sites. In response to this case, many people shared their opinions about the girl and her actions that night. One person on Twitter said, “I’m not saying she asked for it, but why did she consume so much alcohol in the first place?”
Are they making excuses for the football players? How do you think statements like this affect the victim? Whether the Twitter user meant to or not, this person is blaming the victim for what happened.
Victim-blaming occurs when someone blames a victim of violence for what has happened to him/her. Just like in this Twitter post, victim-blaming can take on many forms and we often see people in the media blaming victims for violence, or having a bias against the victim. To go back to another case that was all over the media -- many people blamed Rihanna when Chris Brown physically assaulted her. Following the incident, some people claimed that Rihanna provoked Chris Brown to hit her and that she deserved to be hit by him. In addition, people continued to say the abuse was Rihanna’s fault because she chose to get back together with Chris Brown.
If a friend is in an abusive relationship, we may try to come up with reasons why they are experiencing an unhealthy relationship in order to try to make sense of what we are seeing. We may even begin thinking of things that our friend has done to justify his/her partner’s bad behaviors. This is called victim-blaming.
The fear of being blamed can make victims even more scared to tell other people about the abuse. If a friend hears us victim-blaming someone in a news story (i.e. girl from Steubenville), they may be hesitant to talk to us because they are worried we will accuse them of causing the abuse. In addition, when we blame a victim for abuse, s/he may begin to blame themselves and feel responsible for their unhealthy relationship. They may also feel that they have to change their behaviors to please the abuser.
Victim-blaming lets the abusive partner off the hook and minimizes their role in the abuse. The culture of victim-blaming also does not empower friends of the abusive partner to speak up when they are worried. Abusers need to realize that they are not treating their partner right and it is never okay to hurt another person.
It is important to understand that abuse is never the victim’s fault. Abuse and violence are always the fault of the person who is being violent or abusive. It is important to reassure our friend that the abuse is not their fault and that they do not deserve to be treated poorly by a partner.
There are many positive ways to help a friend who is in an abusive relationship including the following:
- Listen and believe what they tell you.
- Acknowledge your friend’s feelings. Don’t tell them how they should feel.
- Let them know if you are concerned for their safety.
- Do not judge or make victim-blaming statement like, “You’re stupid to stay with him,” or, “Why do you let them treat you like this?”