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Victim Blaming: The Damage it Causes

April 2, 2017 - April 8, 2017

Victims' Rights Awareness Month

"When a victim must defend themselves due to injustice in which they were violated, it reverberates throughout society sending the wrong message. Instead of uplifting the fallen and the broken, they are left to stay hidden behind the closed doors of shame and abuse." ~Marica Phipps

One of the things we discussed in my psychology victimology class a few weeks ago, was victim blaming and the damage it does to the person victimized. One of our assignments consisted of choosing a crime story (i.e rape, robbery, domestic violence, etc.) and the impact that it may have on the victim. Unfortunately, this assignment (written below) was easy for me, I didn't have to write about the impact it may have...I wrote about the impact it does have...

"This was not the first time he nearly took her life by beating her, the first time was five years prior. That time, he beat her and kicked her in her head so many times; she passed out from the pain. When she woke up, she was in the hospital and doctors discovered she had endured subdural hemorrhaging (bleeding) in her brain. Fortunately, she survived; unfortunately, she took him back.

May 12, 2008

"On average, it takes a woman seven times, before she leaves an abusive relationship for good."

It's not clear how many times she had left and come back. Many people judged her decision to stay and talked about how "crazy" and "dumb as hell" she was to take him back. She felt ashamed and confused. Even she couldn't explain why she took him back, the best she could do was describe how it felt to take him back. She said it "felt like a drug, addiction, even though she knew it was not healthy for her, it [the relationship], kept her bound. Unfortunately, not many people understand the layers and dynamics of the battered woman and why she stays, not even her. Honestly, they all have their truth as to why they remain. Sometimes it's because of their children, other times it's due to economic reasons, or perhaps they stay for the potential of what they want the relationships to be. None the less, it was another 5 ½ years before he beat her again physically, (although he had never stopped doing it mentally and emotionally).

December 6, 2013

This time around, the assault was just as brutal as the first, leaving her with blunt force trauma to her face and head. Thankfully, she escaped and this time...and she never returned. The prior history of abuse played a huge factor in how some people (even her family) perceived it. Some people blamed her for going back, therefore, “she deserved what she got”.

Does the fact the woman/man went back to the relationship minimize the crime or even worse the accountability of the perpetrator? Most people do not understand (or care) that victim blaming re-victimizes the victim even further; it keeps them from reaching out for resources and support they might need, due to shame and embarrassment. Domestic abuse and sexual assault victims are often asked “Why did you Stay?” or “Why did you wear that outfit?” in doing so, it takes the accountability and responsibility off the perpetrator and blames the victim.

"It's unfortunate that it is easier for society to believe I "did something" that warranted his behavior than it is to see his behavior as unacceptable. It’s easier to assume she did something to “deserve” it than to see he did something wrong."

Unfortunately, this crime story was not hypothetical, it real and it is mine. I have been extremely open and honest with my testimony of survival and redemption after abuse. It is the platform God gave for the non-profit organization Battered Not Broken, Inc., I founded to support and advocate for others that have (or still) walked in my shoes. In fact, when I found my voice to speak out on abuse and violence against women, I opened the doors and the gates to victim blaming. In a sense, I "invited" the very thing I had feared for years- judgment. I’ve had television interviews and articles published about the assaults; and as you can imagine, of course, there is always one or two comments that are "victim blaming" me for some reason or another. For instance, I once had a woman ask me “What did you do to make him beat you like that?”

"Instead of (society) asking her what did she do, we should be asking him, what has he done?"

To tell you the depths of pain those [victim blaming] words inflict on the victimized would be an understatement. They hurt far worse than the actual wounds themselves. To make matters worse, when the victim blaming comes from those closest to you, the words cut far deeper, sadly, I've had my brother make the statement: “She deserved to get her ass beat because she runs her mouth too damn much.”

Victim blaming is said to follow a three-stage thought process:

  1. "The assumption that they [victims] differ significantly from the unaffected majority in their attitudes and behaviors." (Karmen, 2016)

  2. "These presumed differences are thought to be the source of their[victims] plight. If they were like everyone else, they would not have been targeted”(Karmen, 2016)

  3. "Victims are warned that if they want to avoid trouble in the future, they must change how they act and think” (Karmen, 2016).

Unfortunately, this three-stage process is a societal issue and it is just as blatant in the courtroom. There is often a battle between the defense attorney and the prosecutor as they "tell the story" of the victim and the perpetrator. In fact, when it comes to the courtroom: “Just as criminals are condemned and punished for their wrongdoing, so, too, must victims answer for their behavior before, during, and after an incident. They can and should be faulted for errors in judgment that only made things worse.” (Karmen, 2016). However, the defense can often make it seem as though the roles of the crime were reversed, and the perpetrator is portrayed as the victimized party.

In fact, during the sentencing hearing of my perpetrator, the defense attorney painted a picture that was naturally less flattering to me and more flattering to him [perpetrator]. Instead, the felonious assault that occurred was portrayed to be my fault and a mere “accident” on his part, (despite the clear evidence of my life threatening injuries). This courtroom “drama” is a well-known defense tactic and occurs in courtrooms across the country.

In summary, when a victim must defend themselves due to injustice in which they were violated, it reverberates throughout society sending the wrong message. Instead of uplifting the fallen and the broken, they are left to stay hidden behind the closed doors of shame and abuse. It is up to society to change the way we view and defend perpetrators and criticize and blame the victim if we ever want victim blaming to stop."

Reference: Karmen, A. (2016). Crime victims: An introduction to victimology (9th ed.) Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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