My experiences at the receiving end of victim blaming manifested through different levels of society – from my ex-husband, to religions leaders; and from professionals to the family courts. This is a reflection of how deep rooted this negative principle is across England and the world at large.
In too many cases, victim blaming has actually become the ‘convenient’ way of addressing Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) cases at all levels of society, including the media. In the courts however, where true justice ought to manifest, there should be no victim blaming. How can true justice prevail where victims are blamed by default?
The writer, Julie Schoellkopf, explains that victim-blaming occurs when a victim of abuse and violence or crime is ‘held partly or entirely accountable for the actions committed against them’. Victims are held responsible for the inhumane treatment that has been carried out against them or they have been subjected to. The main reason society victim blames is for the justification of abuse or social injustice.
The perpetrators on the other hand usually enjoys a privileged social status, their victim would be systemically deprived of. According to Schoellkopf, it is not only perpetrators who participate in the victim-blaming. Onlookers, the society, and even the affected victims themselves participate in their own victim-blaming.
The term “victim blaming” was coined by William J Ryan, an American sociologist, in his 1971 book, ”Blaming the Victim”. He wrote this book in response to years of oppression against blacks in America, and the civil rights movement linked to that. William described victim blaming as a manner to “preserve the interest of the privileged group in power”.
In his book, William also responded to Daniel Moynihan’s book, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” written in 1965 – which asserted that it was the fault of black people to be underprivileged – disregarding the slavery and exploitation they had endured under white governments.
William therefore advocated against the justification of inequality by finding “defects” (faults) in the victims of inequality. He also boldly spoke against the tendency to blame poor people for their own plight. He declared that the “the war on poverty was doing all the wrong things – following all the formulas for blaming the victim so precisely that it was downright eerie”.
The New York Times in 2002, noted that William’s work “had a profound impact not only on social welfare professionals, but, more broadly, on the thinking of those who were concerned with racial injustice, social inequality and the many inherent biases in the delivery of human services”.
This literature shows us that victim blaming has been a historical predicament over many years. It also reveals an example of what we can do today to eradicate it and its consequences, in the wide ranging levels of society it exists in – even in our courts. It takes a concerted effort by organisations and individuals alike.
William’s work is highly inspirational and it indeed guides us to understand that it is possible. One of his other views was that victim blaming was a major weapon for deliberately slowing down progress towards equality. In DVA victim blaming can be viewed as a major weapon for deliberately slowing down progress to true justice for both adult and child victims.
Social justice for victims of DVA beings at individual level – between you and me. If we fail to live in justice, then we move to the community level, in my case it was to relatives and the church community. But then if that fails the formal justice system takes over. Still within that system there are hierarchies for executing justice.
It is gravely unfortunate that at all these levels victim blaming is used as the recourse to the perceived justice. I have lived through all these levels of ‘injustice’ and I know how devastating it is for both adult and child victims. Let us take responsibility, no matter which level of authority we are, to defeat victim blaming.
If we do claim to live in a truly just society, and yet do not participate in executing true justice for victims of DVA, in our varying levels of authority, then we deceive ourselves. Let us always remember that in the ideal context, justice in itself is a process that seeks for the truth, and makes judgement based on that truth. Justice is not for facilitating privileges that are made exclusive.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2013. All Rights Reserved.