Victim-Blaming

Question:

I don’t know if the reader who sent you that comment about reporting attempted assault ever followed up, because you responded and said you didn’t understand why she felt like the scene was victim-blaming.  I think I understand what the reader meant.

The statement you made is that many girls don’t report because of their own feelings about their assault, and then other girls end up getting assaulted by the same guy.  This makes it sound like the victim was selfish for attending to her own feelings about the situation and like it’s HER FAULT that other women get assaulted.

I know you meant to be encouraging, and maybe you do believe that the victim should take that kind of responsibility even if it is hard for her.  In my case, I didn’t have the strength to talk to police on my own because I was assaulted by an authority figure and didn’t have supportive people to help me get through it, when I first tried to talk to my parents about it they sort of didn’t believe me and swept it under the rug, so I tried to do the same and move on.  Police and other people often don’t believe victims and can make it into a really big ordeal of proving that you were really victimised and weren’t “asking for it” or just slandering the guy, and if you feel ashamed and confused yourself that can be really hard to defend yourself against. Maybe that story will help you make sense of why someone would be hurt at the idea that they should have taken more responsibility to report after being assaulted.

Thank you for everything!

Phyllis replied:

You made a really good point.  I think I was trying to convey that if you need an extra push to get you to report it, think of the girls you might be saving by getting the guy off the street.  But yes, a girl is so traumatized, especially if the offender was an authority figure, that I can well understand why she would feel she didn’t have the strength to go through the whole reporting process.

On a much smaller scale, when I was in high school and a student was at the blackboard working out some physics problem, our teacher used to come to the empty chairs at the back and sit behind us while the student was up front.  And he would often reach out and flip the bra strap of one of us girls.  We were so nervous in that class that whenever he headed to the back of the room, we all leaned forward so it wouldn’t be us he fooled around with.  If we ever had to talk to him after class about a problem, we had another girl go with us.  And sometimes in the lab, working at a lab table, he would come up of us and sort of rub himself against us, obviously with an erection.  Then move on.  Or we would.  AND, WE NEVER REPORTED HIM. WE NEVER TOLD OUR PARENTS.  I’ve often had this discussion with friends of mine our own age.  Why?  My parents would have been alarmed.  But I also think, their first question might be, “What did you do to provoke that?”  Or “Did you do anything to provoke it?”  If I assured them I hadn’t, I think they would have believed me, but then they would question whether I was sure.  Could I possibly have imagined something that was innocent as something seductive. Etc. etc.  And they would have been VERY reluctant to report it if we could simply stay out of this guy’s way.  He probably would have had to actually assault us before they would take action.

To go back even farther than this, in my parents’ day, I often remember adults saying things like, “If we got a whipping at school, you could be sure we’d get another one when we got home.”  Meaning that a kid didn’t even get a hearing back then.  The teacher was always right, and the kid got punished twice.  So all generations, it seems, have a battle of how to deal with authority when authority is the offender.  Thank you so much for your thoughts on this problem.  I’m so sorry that no one was in your corner when you needed it.

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