Victim Shaming

By Kersley Fitzgerald

"Victim shaming" is when an observer finds some way in which the victim of a crime was responsible for being victimized. It's fairly common, very often in situations of sexual assault and other forms of violence. If the victim hadn't gone to that party or drunk so much or worn those clothes...But it's also patently unbiblical.

In any given crime, people relate the victim more than the perpetrator because they don't want to believe they could ever be capable of the crime. But identifying with the victim makes them feel insecure and vulnerable. So they come up with "should-haves" that, if the victim had followed, would have prevented the victimization — and which will prevent the shamer from being victimized in the same manner. Conversely, if the outside observer is prone to violence, they'd want to find an excuse for the criminal behavior.

The foundational problem with this is that it takes the focus off the perpetrator, the victim, and even the crime, and puts it on the emotional well-being of the observer. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the situation. It is a fearful, self-centered act that turns one person's crime and another person's tragedy into an artificial comfort for someone who isn't even involved.

Some victim-shaming lessons don't even apply to the observer, but to someone the observer knows, but it's the same effect. "I would feel discomfort if this thing happened to you, so you need to not do what she did."

Victim shaming is often engrained into the social culture. It would disrupt the social order if a certain class of people were found guilty of crime and punished, and therefore potential victims must act in a way that ensures they are not victimized by this class. And, often, it would cause more discomfort for the observer if the perpetrator were punished than if the crime was ignored. Finding some way to blame the victim for the crime absolves the observer from prosecuting the criminal.

We jealously, zealously, violently protect our own status quo. We've gone to war over it! And if we have to distance ourselves from the victim ("We would have done this, not that!"), it's a small price to pay.

There are some obvious problems with victim-shaming that we glaze over in an attempt to protect ourselves from discomfort:
It's judgmental: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5);

It's incredibly self-centered: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4);

It's unkind: "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds...The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground" (Psalm 147:3, 6);

It's unjust: "Whoever says to the wicked, 'you are in the right,' will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them" (Proverbs 24:24-25);

It's very often ignorant of the facts: "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame" (Proverbs 18:13)
God has given us very few actual rights in this life. Despite the lovers of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, He never said the government had to let us have a gun or speak our mind or live a fulfilled life. But His established law infers that we have the God-given right to not be a victim of a crime. He (and we) know that in this fallen world, that right will be trampled upon viciously. But it is our right, nonetheless.

Every victim you hear about, whether it be someone who was raped, murdered, or stolen from, had the God-given right to have lived untouched by that crime. To blame that crime on something the victim did is to contradict God's point of view.

So what about common sense practicalities? What about learning how to avoid being the victim of a crime? There's nothing wrong with that in the proper context. There's nothing wrong with a parent teaching their child guidelines on how to stay safe from sinful assailants. Nor is it wrong to join with friends in brain-storming and watching out for each other.

It is not okay to publically (or privately) cluck like an old, irritated hen about how a victim should have done XYZ instead of ABC. It is not okay to emphasize the foolishness that led to vulnerability instead of the sin of the perpetrator and the needs of the victim. In part because how far do you go? You blame a rape victim for how she dressed or how much she drank, but what does that say to the woman "safe" in her locked house who is attacked by someone who broke through a window? At what point on the continuum do you release the victim from responsibility?

The next time you have the urge to victim-shame, consider a few things. How much do you actually know about the situation? How are you qualified to judge? Are you acting because you're afraid that a similar situation could affect you? Why on earth is shaming the victim the first thought that comes to mind? Why is it that you see the victim and, instead of wondering how you can help, you automatically go to blame?

Then ask yourself, when exactly did Jesus look at the woman caught in the act of adultery and tell her, "You know, you wouldn't be out here, naked on the street, if you hadn't hooked up with that guy."

Image Credit: Marc-Andre-Lariviere; "Day 003 - Shame"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Hardships  | Sin-Evil

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Published 6-13-16