Blaming the Victim - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity


Blaming the Victim

Scenario 1

Suppose that someone took his entire life savings, put it in a clear plastic bag, and left it on a bench in a public park. A few weeks later he comes back to check on his money and he is shocked to discover that it is gone! Someone has stolen it.

Would you be surprised that his money disappeared? I'm guessing not. Leaving his money readily visible in a public place like that would be an obvious temptation to anyone with the smallest trace of dishonesty, and the total lack of protection would make it easy for any dishonest person to take it. Does this mean that he deserved to be robbed? No. Does this mean that it is okay for someone to take his money? Of course not.

But he was awfully stupid to leave his money out like that. He could have avoided the whole problem if he had just found a more intelligent place to keep his money. Is this "blaming the victim"? Maybe. But if so, I don't apologize for it.

Scenario 2

Suppose a pretty woman put on revealing clothes, goes by herself to a seedy bar known to be frequented by gang members, gets drunk, and goes home with the meanest, toughest-looking man in the place. She is then shocked when she is assaulted.

Would you be surprised that she was assaulted? Seriously, I don't think you should be. She made herself a tempting target and put herself in a position where she had no protection. Does this mean that she deserved to be assaulted? No. Does this mean that it was okay for this man to assault her? Of course not.

But she was awfully stupid to put herself in this position. She could have avoided the whole problem if she had just found a more intelligent place to spend her free time. Is this "blaming the victim"? Maybe so. But if so, I don't apologize for it.

So what's the difference?

I've never heard of anyone keeping his life savings in a clear plastic bag on a bench in a park. I think people pretty readily recognize that that would be stupid. We recognize that people have a responsibility to find a safe place to keep their money, and if they don't, well, maybe they don't deserve to be robbed, but they certainly shouldn't be surprised when it happens.

But we often hear women insist that they should be able to go wherever they want and wear whatever they want and have no responsibility for what happens. And if anyone tells them that maybe they shouldn't do things that are obviously dangerous, that those people are not only "attacking women's rights" but "condoning sexual assault" and "promoting rape culture".

A salesman came to visit me a few months ago trying to sell me a home alarm system. I didn't scream, "How dare you tell me I should get an alarm system! Why aren't you out there telling the burglars and thieves not to rob people, huh? You are condoning robbery and promoting theft culture!" No, I actually bought an alarm system. Because plenty of people tell burglars and thieves not to rob people but, news flash, sometimes they don't listen. Of course we should do all we can to persuade people not to become criminals. But it is foolish to just pretend that such efforts will be 100% successful and then act as if this fantasy was true.

Encouraging people to take reasonable steps to protect themselves from crime is not condoning crime. It is condoning elementary intelligence.

© 2014 by Jay Johansen


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