Vulnerability, Victim Blaming, and The Just World Fallacy

Trigger Warning: What follows are speculations about the implicit philosophies and psychologies underpinning victim blaming.

Years ago I read an article by a rape survivor who talked about how after she was raped she would obsess over what she should have done differently to prevent the attack. By beating herself up over what was done to her she was engaging in a bit of victim blaming. One of the most heartbreaking things about vicim blaming is that survivors themselves engage in it, both by blaming themselves and other survivors. But why? Why compound the grievous violation with a blame-ridden guilty conscience for what was done to you? Why not at least have the clear conscience you deserve?

The author of the article I read suggested that the reason she blamed herself was because admitting she did nothing wrong would be to admit that she could do everything right and still not be powerful to prevent being violated. And what the rape took from her most of all was her sense of power, her sense of safety and ability to protect herself from violence in the world. Ironically, blaming herself, perversely taking responsibility for what happened to her, was tragically more tolerable on some deep psychological level than what felt like the only alternative: feeling powerless, feeling vulnerable, feeling like it could happen again.

There are a lot of reasons that others besides survivors themselves blame survivors. Sometimes it is because the consequences to perpetrators are severe and so if there is a way to conceive of whatever happened as not really such a bad thing after all then maybe the victim wasn’t a victim and can get over it with proper perspective and spare the alleged perpetrator all sorts of misery. Or the perpetrator was acting within iniquitously accepted social norms and people are defensive about those norms or the victim violated an iniquitous social norm and so is being judged unfairly by an unjust rule. Or the victim blamers might identify with alleged perpetrators’ actions in some key ways and so they defend the perpetrators as proxies for themselves.

But one key reason that I think that people reflexively victim blame as a first resort in so many cases (and it’s not just rape survivors who get victim blamed, people blamed me for being burglarized because my door was jamming open and I didn’t have time to get it fixed and then forgot to deliberately and carefully close it as was necessary before leaving for a vacation). I think the reason goes back to the rape survivor’s mindset I talked about above. I think two things are first and foremost on a lot of people’s minds when they get told about something terrible. The first priority is to convince themselves everything will be okay. The second priority is to fix the situation.

So, the victim explains what happened. And people’s minds spring into action to convince themselves that (a) this can be prevented and (b) this person can be spared in the future if they are only smarter about things. So, instead of thinking, “Holy shit, that’s heinous someone would do that to you”, they are more concerned with, “Okay, there are ways to stop this from happening. Let’s go over them.”

So they give horrible advice. “That’s what you get for get for going to a party where you knew people would be drinking.” What this says is, “In principle, no one who is 100% committed to not getting raped has to get raped. They could have just not gone to a party with alcohol.” In this way, the world can still be fair. “You got raped because you did something risky. You knew the risks. The world didn’t jump out and assault someone totally innocent here.”

Plus, there’s another terrible habit people have. It frequently feels impossible to express a negative emotion in general without someone trying to fix it for you. This is pretty frustrating for me. I am a really expressive person. I compulsively want to express my feelings and frustrations to others. But a lot of people don’t know how to simply say “I love you, here’s a hug, let me know if there’s anything you want to talk about.” Instead they hear a negative emotion or about a negative situation and, usually despite having bare minimum knowledge of any of the complications of my situation, they start offering boilerplate advice. Even were their advice good (and I am someone willing to seek and eager to give advice myself on plenty of occasions) not every expression of an emotion or complaint about a frustration is a request for advice. Sometimes someone is just in the mood to express an emotion. Working past it may not be something they can handle at that moment. I try to avoid presumption at all costs. I can offer to give advice should someone want it. But their simply expressing the emotion or frustration is not itself an invitation.

But the problem is that for many of us we feel really awkward and helpless to just stand there and inertly say, “That sucks, I love you, let me know what you need” and hug them. It seems like that’s not enough. We feel a yearning to help. Maybe because we don’t want to feel so powerless when empathizing with someone and wanting their pain to just go away. Maybe also there is a feeling of duty to be able to help eradicate suffering. When talking to people in pain, and especially survivors of traumatic violations, we have to be less selfish than that. It’s not about our awkward feelings of powerlessness.

We need to endure the reality that their suffering is real and durable and in many ways out of our power to stop. We need to accept that all we can offer to do is to be a source of extraordinarily patient love and support that lets them heal on their time schedule, lets them open up in their own ways, and lets them emotionally suffer in the ways they need to in order to process what happened to them. We need to be responsive to what they indicate they need.

And what they don’t need are our brains to be abuzz with what they should have done better and should do in the future. They don’t need our rationalizations for our sake that try to explain how the world is really a just and a safe place for “smart” “good” people who don’t do oh so avoidably foolish things.

We non-survivors need to take a deep hard look at the heinous nightmarish things that really happen to people who didn’t in any way whatsoever have it coming to them and repeat to ourselves over and over and over one simple truth that has been traumatized deep into survivors’ psyches: violence and violation happen to people who don’t deserve it and could not have reasonably done anything shrewder to prevent it. We ourselves and everyone we love is vulnerable at any hour of any day to immense, cruel, random, traumatizing pain. We are all just a physical accident or malady away from it. We are all the potential prey of murderers, rapists, torturers, thieves, con men, malevolent governmental forces, faceless merciless corporate bureaucrats, and numerous other kinds of betrayers who can destroy our lives, our bodies, our senses of self.

We do not live in a just world. We need to stop lying to ourselves that every violated person is responsible for what happens to them to the degree that risks are publicized. That’s deeply immoral. And it perversely tries to justify all immorality people suffer at others’ hands as in a certain light really deserved, in order to preserve a self-serving delusion that if only you are smart and good you can personally be invincible to acts of injustice.

It’s a lie. It’s selfish. It compounds the violation done to innocent people and makes them feel alienated, guilty, and even more worthless than they unjustly already felt.

And it does absolutely nothing to change the terrifying facts. You are utterly vulnerable. Heinous things can unstoppably happen to you and those you love. For no good reason. And some of them will be incapable of being fixed. And no amount of cleverness, moral rectitude, or common sense can protect you.

My guess is that one of the reasons the public is traumatized over and over again by mass public shootings despite hearing about a steady stream of domestic murders and death totals in foreign wars on a daily basis is that many people live with the delusion that violence is something you can keep out of your life by just being smart and good. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with and your responsible life choices. Only foolish people get themselves mixed up in circumstances that lead to violence. Not me, I make good decisions. I’ll be safe. The random public violence is traumatizing because it says that anybody can be randomly selected to be terrorized and/or murdered. Such events strip that ugly truth unavoidably and unbearably naked.

One last time. To those of us trying to live hidden away in the mental fortress of the Just World Fallacy. Every day, the immense sufferings of others you try to rationalize away could any day be your suffering. You are always vulnerable. And you are far more likely to be violated and victimized in the ways that the people whose abuse you consider “avoidable” are than you are to be the victim of some rare, headline making, randomized mass shooting.

We’re all vulnerable. We’re all in this together. Show some compassion. Stop trying to fix the victims. Start trying to fix the world. It’s not just. It needs to be changed.

For more speculation on the nature of victim blaming and how moral reasoning can become regularly illogical read this follow up post that spring boards off some social psychology research and this earlier post about why people who complain about unjust social structures that victimize people are at a social disadvantage in arguments.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Ace_of_Sevens

    Your point about shootings is on the nose. I think this why a lot of people start immediately deciding who in the vicinity should have had a gun. If there’s some easy solution, it makes these things seem controllable.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Ah yes, I forgot to include the myth of the completely safe responsible gun owner.

    • BobbyStruck

      “…the myth of the completely safe responsible gun owner.”

      I’m your huckleberry if you ever want to have this belief challenged. Unless you’re setting up an impossible standard –that there needs to be a perfect 0% chance of a mishap or negative event– I’m pretty sure the center of your argument will not hold.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      The numbers of accidents involving children, of suicide, of gun owners themselves being victims of gun violence, of dubiously ethical stand your ground killings, etc. are, at least from eyeballing, not just a matter of a tiny percent imperfection.

    • BobbyStruck

      Of course you’re right, and that’s all true. It’s true because there are an incredible amount of people who own guns but are incompetent. These are the people who have accidents, become involved in ethically dubious “self defense” scenarios, and just generally increase the total level of suffering for themselves and others by virtue of their gun ownership. This is why you see statistics like “You are more likely to be killed by your own gun…”, etc. Clearly it’s too easy to get a gun, and the process should be made much more stringent.

      But I don’t see what any of that has to do with me. I feel fully rational in deciding that those statistics don’t apply to me and need not enter my decision making calculus (same for many many other competent owners). This is because the “completely safe responsible gun owner” is not a myth. “Completely safe and responsible” may not describe every gun owner or even the majority, but that doesn’t make it a myth.

    • John Alexander Harman

      I would like to see an insurance requirement for gun ownership similar to the ones we have in all fifty states for vehicle ownership/operation. Let the insurance companies’ actuaries figure out what factors constitute safe and responsible gun ownership — they’re good at that sort of thing — and make the cost of irresponsible ownership prohibitive. Things like taking a gun safety course, keeping a gun safe in the home and storing all your guns inside it, etc. would lower your premium or might even be mandatory prerequisites for getting your gun insurance policy, which would in turn be a mandatory prerequisite for the legal purchase and ownership of firearms.

    • Marco J Perez

      “But I don’t see how any of this has to do with me.” Responsible gun owners and veichle owners and swimming pool owners and so on, will apply the stats to themselves. The assumption that you are above the human standard because you have prepared and proceduralized away any chance of grave error, and the belief that those who have not atained your level of proficency are incompetent, are both statements that strengthen the authors point. This has raised some interesting questions that I will include in a separate post. However, I do wan’t to say that most gun violence happens because the weapon was accessible when it shouldn’t have been. The argument here is that the weapon is of little use if it is too hard to get to. This results in a weapon ready for violent action; and to often that action is neither warrented nor wanted by any party. Plainly said, if you are not focusing most of your practiced training and preparation on removing the weapon from the equation, then you are not training for the most realistic circumstance of gun violence occurring in your life.

    • BobbyStruck

      “The assumption that you are above the human standard because you have prepared and proceduralized away any chance of grave error, and the belief that those who have not atained your level of proficency are incompetent…”

      Not ANY chance, but close — look, when a statistic says something like “a gun owner is X times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder,” and someone repeats that statistic saying “YOU are X times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder,” they are completely wrong. There’s simply no way of telling where any single individual is on the bell curve of probability that constitutes that average percentage. Is it impossible that I will make a mistake? No, of course not. But it is extremely, extremely, unlikely (and you have no idea what about me makes that true).

      It’s not the just-world fallacy or anything remotely like it to understand that risk can be mitigated, though not fully eliminated.

    • Marco J Perez

      Wha? If you are X times more likely to die in a car accident than a plan crash then you are absolutely subject to the statistic if you engage in these activities and the “more likleys” apply to you. You as a gun owner are factored into the statistics because you own a gun. You lower the statistic because you have taken some precautions and have not yet had an occurrence of violence. How can you lower the statistic but not be subject to it? That, for sure, is erroneous logic. I don’t need to know anything about you, other than the fact that you own a gun, and I can apply the statistic to you.

    • BobbyStruck

      You cannot possibly think that makes sense. A simple thought experiment:

      Both Michael Phelps and my grandma (fictional) go swimming every day.

      Michael Phelps has X probability of drowning in a pool.
      My Grandma has Y probability of drowning in a pool.
      Overall, pool-swimmers (Phelps and my grandma) have Z probability of drowning in a pool.

      Both Michael Phelps and my grandma are factored into Z. Does that mean that Michael Phelps has Z probability of drowning in a pool? Of course not. What could be more obvious? Michael Phelps’ extremely low probability of drowning still remains Michael Phelps’ extremely low probability of drowning regardless of how likely my grandma is to drown in a pool.

      The most you could say is that ON AVERAGE, pool swimmers drown at this rate. You’ve still said nothing about any single individual’s probability of drowning.

      Similarly, you can’t “apply the statistic to me.” You can apply the statistic to gun-owners as a whole, which is why the statistic refers to the average likelihood of incident among all gun-owners. It says basically nothing about the probability that I will have an accident.

    • Marco J Perez

      I do not know where you will fall on the bell curve but your place is not set till your gun owning days are done. There seems to be a sense of confidence you have in regards to your ability but what about others? Does a partner have access to the weapon? Is the weapon hidden, locked or both when it is not in your direct possession? Do you have children? Do they have friends? Are they ever alone in the house? What about your friends, do you let them handle your weapon? Do you carry? Concealed or open? What type of protection does your holster have? What level of weapons retention training do you have? What is the failure rate of your firearm’s safeties? What is the failure rate of your ammunition? Owning a firearm is never a statistic for an individual. All of these people and more that have access to you and/or the place that the weapon is stored are part of the dreaded statistic. Michael Phelps has a probability of drowning, especially if grandma panics and tries to hold on to him; ALWAYS factor in other people. The best advice I ever got concerning firearms was this: Your weapon is not yours unless it is under YOUR direct control or in a secure place that only YOU have access to, if that is not the case then it is only “a weapon” and a weapon is very dangerous indeed. You are trying to exempt yourself from a generalized statistic in which you and those around you are factored, well Pvt. Murphy, can’t be done. I absolutely agree that training and preparation reduce risk; this is the reason we make statistics, so we can change them. However, as I said before: if you are are not preparing for the statistic then you are not prepared. Regarding your level of training; there is most definitely a failure standard and some poor soul(s) have set it. Regarding the just-world fallacy this is the meaning I received from your statement: You have reduced your level of failure so you cannot be counted among those “people”, they are “incompetent” and that incompetence got them what they deserved. I promise you someone like you is part of that statistic. His name was Huckleberry and he did not deserve to be shot.

    • BobbyStruck

      Your reply is essentially a long concession of the point about statistics that we were previously discussing, followed by a long series of questions implying that I may not actually be in the low-probability group. I feel no need to get into that with you.

      Your last point is that I am committing the just-world fallacy because I “have reduced your level of failure so you cannot be counted among those ‘people’, they are ‘incompetent’ and that incompetence got them what they deserved.”

      The just-world fallacy is a fallacy because some bad event is blamed on incompetence when the incompetence of the victim is not actually what caused the event or where the responsibility properly lies, or because the victim was not actually being incompetent. Or, in other words, if you weren’t doing something wrong, this wouldn’t have happened.

      But notice that there actually ARE cases where this is true — where if you don’t do something wrong, nothing bad will happen. Noticing this does not mean that one has committed the just-world fallacy. Let’s say a person is handling a firearm, and accidentally shoots himself. In this scenario, “if you weren’t doing something wrong, this wouldn’t have happened” is fully accurate.

      Now, would I say that this person “got what he deserved?” No, I never said anything like that — you just made that up and imputed that to me. What I would say is that effects have causes and he is the cause of the bad effect. He clearly did not CHOOSE to be the cause of the bad effect in that he did not intend to shoot himself, and therefore it doesn’t make sense to say he “got what he deserved.” It is, after all, possible to be a victim of one’s own incompetence. I would not be so cruel to say it was deserved.

    • Marco J Perez

      Nope. The point of that list was this: “You are trying to exempt yourself from a generalized statistic in which you and those around you are factored… Whatever your answer may be you are still a part of the statistic. Surely you can see that your responsible ownership is part of the metric. If we only took statistics of careless gun owners we wouldn’t have much a bell curve. As much as your ability helps prevent a tragedy, you must concede that your behavior has already been accounted for in the data. “But I don’t see what any of that has to do with me. I feel fully rational in deciding that those statistics don’t apply to me and need not enter my decision making calculus (same for many many other competent owners).” At the heart of my challenge to you is this: One could only exempt themselves from this data if 1) they do not have access to a firearm or 2) no negative occurrences of responsible, proficient, competent gun owners exist. You cannot be absent from the statistic, you can merely improve upon it. I am confident that I myself have have mitigated the chance of a motorcycle related accident but every time I ride I must concede that I am contributing to the data and if I do not continuously heed the data I am more likely to contribute to the negative input. Mitigation yes, exemption no; and mitigation can only be awarded to those that are abiding by the data and have taken actions against it… I will give you the last word, I have been to careless with my time concerning this discussion, thanks for the challenge.

    • BobbyStruck

      Dude you’re killing me. OBVIOUSLY I contributed and am continuing to contribute to the statistics in question. I was criticizing people who framed those statistics as “YOU are X times more probable…” You disagreed, got shown to be wrong, and then shifted the goal posts. I’m done here.

    • Marco J Perez

      In my defense:

      Post one:
      “Plainly said, if you are not focusing most of your practiced training and preparation on removing the weapon from the equation, then you are not training for the most realistic circumstance of gun violence occurring in your life.”

      Post two:
      “You as a gun owner are factored into the statistics because you own a gun. You lower the statistic because you have taken some precautions and have not yet had an occurrence of violence. How can you lower the statistic but not be subject to it?”

      Post three:
      “I do not know where you will fall on the bell curve but your place is not set till your gun owning days are done… You are trying to exempt yourself from a generalized statistic in which you and those around you are factored,… I absolutely agree that training and preparation reduce risk; this is the reason we make statistics, so we can change them. However, as I said before: if you are are not preparing for the statistic then you are not prepared.”

      And all of post four.

      Sorry to have upset you but I think I have been saying the same thing the whole time.

    • BobbyStruck

      You’re still saying over and over that I am “subject” to a statistic, whatever that means. This is patently absurd. The relationship between the probability that I will have an accident with a firearm and the overall average probability of all gun-owners having accidents is unidirectional. There is only a one directional causal connection. My individual probability contributes to the average probability, but the average does not contribute to my individual probability!

      Come with me on a thought experiment. Imagine that we have nearly perfect data, nearly unlimited computing power, and an ingenious piece of probability-calculating software.

      It looks at all relevant factors and determines that I have a 0.5% chance of having a self-inflicted accident with a firearm sometime in the next 20 years.

      The machine does this for all other firearms owners in the country and determines that on average, firearms owners have a 7% chance of having a self-inflicted accident.

      My probability of having an accident is clearly still 0.5%. My data has contributed to the average but the average does not go backwards in time and contribute to my individual probability.

      Now imagine that all else being equal, the machine had instead calculated that firearms owners on average have a massive 75% chance of having a self-inflicted injury. Remember, we kept all else equal except the overall probability and therefore the rest of the firearms owners’ probabilities. My probability, my input to the overall average, was still a meager 0.5%.

      Am I any more likely in this alternate universe to injure myself with a firearm? NO. My probability of injury remains exactly the same because the relationship between my individual probability and the average probability is unidirectional.

      Other people’s self-inflicted injuries due to the improper handling of firearms are completely causally disconnected with and have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not I will make a firearms’ handling mistake.

      In the same way, for statistics that are based on how many incidents there are relative to how many gun owners there are (the way almost all of these numbers are generated), they say nothing about my particular chances of having an accident. Yes, I am in a group for which it has been determined that members on average have X percentage chance of having an accident. My probability of making a mistake is still the same, no matter what anyone else does. At best you could argue that my probability of making a mistake is probably far higher than I think it is based on the overall average. But that’s not what you’ve been arguing.

      Please either explain why this is wrong or concede the point.

    • BobbyStruck

      All of those questions you asked, by the way, actually bolster my point, not yours. The statistic that you thought applied to me accounts only for gun-ownership — a blanket criteria for entry into the data pool. My whole point was that it does not account for all of the criteria and questions that you’ve just brought up. If all of my answers to your questions are good ones, then clearly I’m less likely than the average to have an incident. Do you see how your post is actually supporting my point?

    • BobbyStruck

      And your car / airplane crash thought experiment has no point of contact with what we are discussing. That is comparing the average probability of incident for one activity against the average probability of incident for another activity. What we’re discussing is the distribution of probabilities of incident for individuals within an average.

    • smrnda

      I think the issue would be, is there a way to actually effectively screen for totally safe gun owners?

      There are other rarities as well, like drivers who will never get a ticket, but I’m not sure we have an effective means of finding out who they are after a written and road test at the DMV. Perhaps psychological profiling and some other factors could identify totally safe gun owners, just I don’t know if we have the means to see who is that way yet. Not that it isn’t possible; if we do more research, we might find ways to identify them.

  • wombat

    Thank you. This makes sense of something that never made sense to me before.

  • Stephen Walski

    While i don’t disagree that its nice to try and approach someone as a feeler first, you seem to be asking people to modify their base personalities to suit someone else s feelings.

    Some of us have fixer personalities and some of us are less then capable of empathetic first responses to anything especially with people we are not closely tied to. Admittedly if i know a person and they have found it necessary to share their trauma with me i will take into account past experience with them and their ability to deal with directness. But that doesn’t change my initial personality and my gut response to their sharing.

    I disagree with your assessment that being blunt with someone is rationalizing for ourselves. Sometimes its simply pointing out that they are humans who make mistakes. In my view its even more dehumanizing to that person to ignore the humanity of their follies and treat them like they had no chance of avoiding such trauma.By doing so you give them the idea that no matter what they do they can be a victim. Your setting someone up to be scared of their shadows and helping to keep them a victim.

    If i walk down a dark known drug alley with money hanging out of my back pocket and i get mugged i should hope someone would call me a dumb ass first and then comfort me because the reminder that i did something stupid reinforces that i am a human being who makes mistakes, that i’m not a special target that deserved to have this happen, but that i was just foolish in that moment. We do not learn from doing things we do right we learn from our fuck ups and from examining them.

    To claim some behaviors of people who have been traumatized in some way are somehow immune to criticism because it might happen to even someone who is cautious is ludicrous.Your creating the special snowflake rule. Its saying well you were just special that you got chosen for something awful to happen. It negates all responsibility for the person to engage in behavior that protects them from being preyed upon and creates victims. You want to know why people are repeatedly victimized? Because most people do say oh you poor thing first instead of preparing that person to be aware of predators. What you end up with is people walking about with victim stamped on their forehead oblivious to it because everyone said it wasn’t anything about them they were special and unlucky. If you haven’t seen these people whose very presence screams victim you haven’t been looking hard enough or might be one yourself.

    Not everyone wears their heart on the sleeve for every single person on earth and its unfair to expect it and can be in my experience more departmental to a person .

    • Plutosdad

      Well first of all, yes, maybe we should change our personalities. My wife certainly taught me that there are times I should keep my big mouth shut rather than tell her what she did wrong. Later is the time to talk about how we can improve processes. But first is consoling and empathy. If I said “that’s my personality, I’m going to fix you” she would have never married me, nor would anyone else.

      So, yeah, fixing OURSELVES is just as important, if not more, than fixing others. And that means analyzing and stopping behavior that is counterproductive, such as determining if I’m hurting someone rather than helping them.

      “By doing so you give them the idea that no matter what they do they can
      be a victim. Your setting someone up to be scared of their shadows and
      helping to keep them a victim.”

      I think it is the opposite. If we tell women “don’t drink, don’t go out at night, don’t go out alone, don’t put your drink down” then THAT is turning them into fearful people who are afraid of everyone and constantly second guessing their actions. Acknowledging that you have no control frees you from the worry of constantly controlling your environment. I guess you’d call that Epicurean?

      Also it’s one of the founding principles of buddhism, that bad things happen to everyone. Accepting that frees you to dispassionately analyze cost/benefits of precautions. Refusing to accept it means taking more and more precautions and paying more and more cost, thinking you can someday be safe.

      Secondly, reading Gavin DeBecker and other books on rape survival, I learned rape victims are constantly asking themselves “i was so stupid, I shouldn’t have done this or that”. They don’t need you or me to point out to them what they could have done. They are doing it already to themselves.Certainly all crimes bring a sense of violation, but rape (of men or women) is special in that victims particularly beat themselves over the head thinking “if only”, and the rest of us often join in with those voices.

      Finally, I don’t think Dan is saying “don’t learn from experience or others’ experiences”, or “don’t take precautions”. But there is a time and place for words. I don’t think he’s saying not to advise our daughters to avoid getting drunk or not be in unlit areas alone, those could apply to both boys and girls, and is just advice. But advice should given before an attack, not directly afterwards. Later, in an environment with someone with whom they feel safe (like a counselor), they can think about reasonable changes to behavior they could make, if any.

      Because, for instance, if a woman lets a man carry her groceries and he pushes himself in, or gets in an elevator on the 1st floor with man who is already in it (yet not getting out), and then they get attacked, it doesn’t make them “stupid”. Especially after reading Dan’s articles on the word “stupid” I avoid that word. All they did was not assume the man was awful. Or trust their boyfriend, or trusted their friends they go to school with. Is that stupid? or even a mistake?

    • Rosie

      Plutosdad said a good deal of what I wanted to say here, but there’s a little something I have to add. What you say of perpetual victims is in some sense true. However, asking a person to change that way of being in the world is asking far more of them than asking a “fixer” to keep his mouth shut at times, and try to listen or empathize a bit. Even after the victim has realized that he/she is continually putting on this role and things need to change, it can take years or even decades with help and support from loved ones and trained therapists, to actually accomplish a visible change. It requires unlearning loads and loads of conditioning from very early childhood which was generally reinforced by family, church, and community, and in fact is still reinforced by many portions of the larger society. It requires changing most of their personality and gut responses to most situations. And if you’re not willing to do that kind of work on yourself, Mr. Walski, then don’t disparage those who are trying but haven’t completed the journey yet. And by all in this world that’s sacred or holy, don’t tell them it’s their own fault for getting assaulted in the meantime.

    • Stephen Walski

      Victim blaming isnt used to describe someone who says its your fault you should have been more careful. The person that does that is an asshole and i think you would be hard pressed to show a real life example of it. Thats a manufactured reaction of TV shows or a cheap defense trick that usually will get them fined in most courts. Usually the words victim blaming is used when any questioning at all occurs about the circumstances surrounding an assault on someone in a news article etc. In general these accusations of victim blaming are lobbed at people online/tv in 3rd party discussions where the victim isnt even involved or even aware of the discussion taking place.

      These are the appropriate places for societal lessons and thinking points to discuss precautions but we are so very afraid that we may offend someone in the audience of that discussion or it may trigger their PTSD or that its somehow minimizing the horribleness of the crime that those discussions are considered bad form and victim blaming.

      And yes its horrible if it does cause some flashbacks for a person reading that discussion.But its also important to prepare people for the reality that cautiousness while not always the answer does indeed help some people protect themselves and creates confidence for some in tough situations, Those discussions should not be suppressed as Victim Blaming.

    • Rosie

      Um, you didn’t hear a word I said, did you?

    • Stephen Walski

      Figured it fair to not comment on the majority of your post that was a thinly veiled attempt at a gotcha,since you overlooked the statement i made that i do sometimes take the feelings of the people i know and have learned how to deal with directly into consideration first.

  • wmdkitty

    “We non-survivors need to take a deep hard look at the heinous nightmarish things that really happen to people who didn’t in any way whatsoever have it coming to them and repeat to ourselves over and over and over one simple truth that has been traumatized deep into survivors’ psyches: violence and violation happen to people who don’t deserve it and could have reasonably done nothing shrewder to prevent it.”

    This needs to be repeated — in print, on the radio, on the television, everywhere — and repeated often.

  • Beth Clarkson

    I think Mr. Walenski has a point with

    If i walk down a dark known drug alley with money hanging out of my back pocket and i get mugged i should hope someone would call me a dumb ass first and then comfort me because the reminder that i did something stupid reinforces that i am a human being who makes mistakes, that i’m not a special target that deserved to have this happen, but that i was just foolish in that moment. We do not learn from doing things we do right we learn from our fuck ups and from examining them.

    Although I favor the comfort first, chastise later (and only if necessary and appropriate) approach – or at least I do if I can control my emotions after my child has done something both foolish and dangerous.

    Realizing that your vulnerability and risk varies with your own behavior is not inherently ‘victim-blaming’. Having been a victim of sexual assault, I will affirm that it made me feel better to think ‘doh – I did a really stupid thing. I’ll never do that again’. And I haven’t. In that way, I have had some control over the amount of risk I expose myself to with respect to violence. I doesn’t mean I think I deserved what happened to me. It only means I look back and can see warning signs that I ignored before it happened. Since then, I haven’t ignored such signs.

    I am privileged in being able to so far avoid any other assaults. That has come at a price. For example, I go to a professional conference once a year or so. I work in a male-dominated profession. I rarely go out with other conference attendees. Part of that was my natural shyness. Part of that was to minimize such risks. Another way was by limiting my companions for out-of-hotel excursions to people I already knew or groups with another female. That doesn’t mean I never took any risks. It was just one of the factors in play when I was considering an invitation to a conference outing or party.

    In my daily life, I rarely stray far from my relatively crime-free suburban neighborhood or university campus. I have the ability to limit my interactions with other people to primarily low-crime areas and situations.

    This social inhibition is both the price I have paid and the privilege I invoked to minimize risks of potential assaults. If a person can reduce their risk by altering their behavior, that seems like a good thing, not ‘victim-blaming’.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      What’s “victim-blaming” about it is the messaging that the onus is on you to think about how to rearrange your life to not be “stupid” instead of putting the onus on the rest of the world to change its norms so women do not have to live constrained lives just to protect themselves from assault. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the precautions to make yourself feel safe. I’m saying that you shouldn’t be blaming yourself for being stupid for expecting other people to be trustworthy, you should be blaming your assailant for assaulting you. Period. Protect yourself however necessary but put the criticism on the norms that say you’re partially responsible if you don’t live as constricted as you describe and wind up assaulted.

    • Stephen Walski

      Who ever said that we should find other people trustworthy that we don’t know?

      Your kind of making my point about the perpetual victim when you subscribe to the idea of expecting everyone else to be trustworthy instead of teaching a victim how to tell the difference. There will always be predators among the human species, ten percent of us are sociopaths and incapable of empathy in varying degrees, there are some down right vile human beings, uneducated selfish people and general predators on the lookout for victims and you somehow expect all that to go away someday? A positive outlook but not reality.

      Blaming someone for a crime doesn’t absolve you of examining how you got into a situation that made that crime possible. As long as we keep telling people that there is nothing they can do to prevent themselves from being victims ever we will continue to create perpetual victims ripe for the predators of the world to devour.

      We should be focusing on uplifting victims out of their fears and shame by letting them know yes your human and while it was a horrible thing and was wrong what happened to you taking precautions, learning to identify behaviors that leave you open to predators, and learning how to spot someone trustworthy vs assuming all is okay blindly as we skip through life will only create confident people with the tools to not be victims again.

    • Rosie

      But can we find people trustworthy that we do know? What about those who followed all the rules to the point of being afraid to live life and got raped anyway? What about those of us who were raped by people we thought we knew and trusted?

      Nobody told me it was my fault, but you’d better believe I spent years, decades, asking myself what I could have done differently to avoid the assault. My conclusions? The rules are a bunch of bullshit. Christianity normalizes abuse. Don’t trust anybody, ever.

      Stephen, you’re treating predators like they’re just a fact of life, a naturally occurring phenomenon, and they’re not. They are trained (probably not intentionally) that they can or should get their needs met at the expense of others. That the world somehow owes them the use of another’s body. And sometimes they’re just plain ignorant as to what constitutes rape (the Steubenville onlookers are a case in point). What we need is not more cautious women, but better educated men.

    • Stephen Walski

      Just something to note i dont believe i ever make reference to gender but i can see alot here see victims as only women. Thats a sad commentary on its own. I

      Predators are a fact currently in the human animal. Unless you have some sort of nobel prize winning research that shows nurture is definitively the only cause of predatory, psychopathic behavior its probably best to stick with the idea that they are indeed a part of our reality in this stage of human society no matter the cause. I speculate its likely a combination of the two (nature/nurture)but again that’s a question yet to be answered.

      Your right and i never said that we dont need to educate men to not be violent. Not sure what form that takes on as a society but thats an entirely different subject then the one at hand.

    • Rosie

      I’ll apologize for the gendering in that last sentence; it was linguistic laziness on my part.

      But the idea of educating potential rapists not to rape rather than asking potential victims to curtail their lives “for their own safety” is precisely the topic at hand.

    • Stephen Walski

      Oh no apology i think its a sad fact of society that we see things in terms of gender like that instead of as the violent crimes they are. Its part of what makes this such a divisive thing to discuss in an open way.

      Teaching people to be good caring people is a great thing. But it is off topic because we are discussing whether calling questioning of victims of violent acts is victim blaming or helping them gain awareness to the world around them.

      I don’t see it as a one or other thing both are needed to help correct this deep societal issue.

    • Dirty_Nerdy

      We see it in terms of gender because, for some crimes, women are overwhelmingly the victims and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Removing gender from the discussion would be absurd in the same way that removing race from a discussion about American slavery would be absurd.

    • John Alexander Harman

      The prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder (Stephen’s 10% estimate is probably high, but the studies I’m aware of do show at least 3-4% of people in American society have one of these disorders), and the way it accords with the predator theory of rape (the studies behind that theory suggest that about 3-4% of men are repeat offenders and, among them, are responsible for the great majority of rapes) makes me dubious about our ability to educate potential rapists not to rape. Most rapists rape because they want to; they’re not confused, they know what they’re doing is wrong, and they do it anyway because they enjoy it. Educating men and women who aren’t rapists about how to spot the rapists in their social groups and deny them the social license to operate seems like a much more fruitful approach — and educational campaigns aimed at that are not incompatible with ones that try to directly discourage rapists from acting on their predatory impulses. I suspect the success of the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign in Edmonton probably had more to do with reducing the social license to rape by increasing third-party awareness and disapproval of predatory interactions than with actually reducing potential rapists’ desire to rape.

    • mikmik

      Have you seen the “Don’t be that girl” shit going on here the last two days?

    • Alex Harman

      Blech. No, I hadn’t, but I just googled it; I see the Mens “Rights” Assclowns are working very hard at reissuing the social license to rape.

    • Dirty_Nerdy

      “Predators are a fact currently in the human animal.”

      This goes back to Dan’s point in the piece that humans assaulting other humans is not a force of nature. It’s not like rapists are tornadoes or hurricanes. They are people. They are people who have made terrible decisions, yet somehow we don’t focus on their decisions (or how they get away with it), we focus on the victim’s decisions.

    • Beth Clarkson

      I don’t have a problem with trying to change social norms to create a better world. It is the idea that if you are the one that needs to change your behavior you must therefore be the one to blame that I find wrong.

      The onus IS on me to protect myself. I cannot change the rest of the world. I can only change myself. To recognize this fact is not to place the blame on myself rather than my assailant.

      You made a mistake in not properly securing your door before leaving on vacation. You can reduce your risk of future theft by making sure the door is secured when you leave. That doesn’t mean you are to blame for being robbed and not the person who committed the crime.

      Recommending that someone change their behavior to lower the risk of bad consequences should not be taken as a condemnation or blame of those who don’t as either deserving of or responsible for suffering those consequences when they occur.

    • Stephen Walski

      I’m truly sorry you had an awful experience and its effected you the way it has Ms. Clarkson.

      And thank you for understanding my clumsily made point.

      I do hope someday things get easier for you in your social interactions.

    • Dirty_Nerdy

      “I am privileged in being able to so far avoid any other assaults. That has come at a price.”

      Exactly. It comes at a price. It comes at a price of limiting our experiences because of fear. Fear that somebody will take advantage of us. Fear that we will experience assault again. You did not choose to be assaulted. That person chose to assault you.

      Here’s the thing: there is plenty of victim-blaming going around with regards to assault, murder and theft, however the victim-blaming that goes with sexual abuse and sexual assault is primarily aimed at women. We’re expected to “protect” ourselves by only going out with people we know really well, not trusting new people–ever, not fully participating in conferences, not going where there might be alcohol consumption, not wearing that dress or those shoes that you really like (but might be seen as slutty and/or hinder you if you need to run), not going out after dark, etc. In essence, these “protection” measures merely serve to limit the way women interact with the world.

  • gimpi1

    This is right on. We don’t want to accept the random nature of life. Disasters, crime, illness and death all can strike with no warning, and tear your life up. That knowledge is terrifying.

    We’ll do or believe almost anything to escape it. We’ll believe in a divinity that will run interference for us if we just pick the right God and phrase the appeal correctly. We’ll blame the victim and micro-analyze their behavior so we can avoid making their “mistakes.” We’ll slam the victim into a group of some sort, and assume the group somehow inferior. It’s all a way to try to negate the random unfairness of life.

    Accepting life’s random and unjust nature is one of the hardest parts of growing up. I, personally, don’t consider someone fully mature until they manage it.

  • Leng Nize

    In conservative communities, rape victims are usually the one being blame for what happened to him/her. I find it really unfair especially for the victims. They did not asked for it and nobody wants to go through such a traumatic experience.
    plexus slim

  • John Kruger

    A striking example of this kind of
    thinking for me has been jury selection in rape cases. We are in trigger
    warning area already, but I’ll warn again for the following defense attorney

    tend to engage in more victim blaming, because they are more invested in
    maintaining a just world fallacy for themselves in the case of sexual assault
    (very generally speaking, of course).

    point of avoiding victim blaming is not to imply that there is nothing that can
    be done at all to reduce risks, it is about care of those for whom the risk
    mitigation system has already failed. It is tempting to think of crime zones or
    assailants as forces of nature that can be controlled, but they are not
    completely controllable at all. Walking alone down a dark alley is in no
    way consent to be robbed or otherwise assaulted.

    someone gets grievously injured while negligently failing to wear a seat belt
    in a car, the lesson is already abundantly clear to them. It makes no sense to
    take time lecturing them at the hospital. They get the point now, likely better
    than most people ever will. They need care, not “sage advice” at that

  • mikmik

    Here, in the inner city, it is perfectly acceptable to con someone or rip them off if they trust you. I argue against this all the time, but never-the-less, in some cases, most people will chastise you if you get taken advantage of.
    It is a pretty far from fuckin’ just world around here, and that’s life. If you call it victim blaming – whatever – you face reality and take precautions.
    One of the best lessons I ever learned in life is that I always have some part in every event in my life. That doesn’t mean I could’ve foreseen everything, or prevented it, but just that theoretically I don’t have to take anything as a given.

  • Dirty_Nerdy

    This is why I’m one feminist who contends that we don’t necessarily live in a “rape culture” so much as we live in a “victim blaming” culture. I hear people blame the victim all the time irt: murder, assault, rape, theft, fraud…it’s maddening.