Victim Blaming: It’s Not About ‘Weakness’

There’s yet another elephant in rooms around Northwestern these days, now that instances of racial and other harassment (and even bullying) have come to the forefront.

That untamed animal? Victim blaming and shaming.

It’s pretty self explanatory. X commits a crime by bullying or Harrassing Y. While X is the offender, Y gets all or part of the blame for what X did. And that’s regardless of whether or not Y has any kind of responsibility for what happened.
In that frame of mind, it’s the victim’s fault. Victims get the blame, mockery and scorn of onlookers and observers, effectively taking attention away from the perpetrators, the situation at hand, and any attempts at reconciliation or seeking justice.

And there’s too much victim blaming going on at NU, if recent events aren’t a prime example.
Woman gets raped on campus? She brought it on herself. I’ve heard too many conversations over the past four years among men about a woman subject to assault or rape, and how it’s her fault if she’s dressed “too provocatively” or “too much of a tease.”

Get racially harassed? They’re making too big a deal out of it or made it all up.

That’s what some fellow students expressed last quarter following reports that a Latina student was racially harassed while walking home, and again this quarter when two asian students were egged and called “fucking asians.”

One online commenter at North by Northwestern even said people were making a “mountain out of a molehill.’ As stated, “the oddly-described details of the events several times and I believe his “incident” either didn’t occur at all or was a setup inside job.” The same commenter said that racism was a “fad issue” on NU’s campus.

It’s one comment, but it’s indicative of many comments left on campus media websites every time a similar incident happens. It’s not about the perpetrators, but almost all about how the victim is fraudulent, making too much of a fuss, whining or idiotic in some way.

Get bullied? You make a “weak” decision if you take your own life. That’s what fellow student Chester “Chet Haze” Hanks received criticism, some of it by me, for saying.

As reported by Gawker, Chet sent a tweet a couple days ago saying “Ayo I don’t condone bullying but anyone who offs themselves cuz they got picked on is weak.” Those words were deeply troubling to me, as a survivor of incessant bullying and harassment in my formative years because of my perceived (and actual) sexual orientation. So I wrote an open letter to him and he issued an apology on Thursday.

But in that apology, he acknowledges his poor choice of words and the hurtful nature of his comments, and then clarifies his statement saying, “By taking one’s own life, an individual takes their personal pain and transfers that pain unto their loved ones. For this reason, I intended to express my view that suicide is a “weak” decision rather than challenge the personal character of an individual who made that decision.”

It’s still all about the victim, not about what they endured or the actions of the offender. While a suicide isn’t an optimal outcome following being bullied or harassed, calling the decision “weak” continues casting apersions on the victim. Weakness, by definition, is about lacking the power to perform demanding tasks, physical or emotional. Yet victims of bullying try their darndest to be strong, sometimes for too long, and it’s especially harder when there’s no support from friends or loved ones. At any rate, the victim’s strength is continually underminded by the discursive and physical acts of violence from their perpetrators.

Again, these discussions do not center on the perpetrators and the problematic nature of their actions. Instead, it’s all about the response of the victim or who the victim is. The victim gets the blame and shame. At the same time, more often than not, it’s people and communities affected by situations like these who go out on a limb and say they don’t wish to shame the perpetrators. That’s what students from the nuAsian project said in a statement regarding this week’s egging incident, saying, “We do not want the attack to push two people in our community towards shame. We want the two students, and any other students who have ever been made to feel ashamed of their identity, to know that Northwestern is a space where we should feel proud of who we are.”

That’s what this is all about. Whether it’s racial harassment, gay bullying, violence against women, and other instances poorly reflecting individuals or communities, all of our grievances, our calls to action and spirited discussions are all with the intent of creating a safer space for all here at NU.

And, really, though the concept is called “victim blaming,” it’s not even necessarily about being a victim in these cases. It’s about being a survivor.

It’s about having the strength and resolve to overcome adversity and seek justice where possible. And when that isn’t a possibility, a community or individual finds a way to progress past what happened, whether it be through therapy, prayer, friends or other avenues. Sometimes the hurt is too much to bear, especially when it appears fellow community members could care less. Some choose to leave the community. Some choose not to even enter it. Some may take their lives as an escape, as suicides on and off campus in the past evidence.

Victim blaming doesn’t create a safer space, nor does it contribute to productive discussions. Instead, let’s keep the focus on the issue at hand and how we can develop a negative into a positive picture.

Originally published in the 5/11 edition of The Daily Northwestern. Image Credit: Tumblr

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One thought on “Victim Blaming: It’s Not About ‘Weakness’

  1. Pingback: Changing the Discourse on Abuse and Abortion «

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