Leibee: There are different kinds of victim blaming

Katrina Leibee

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

For many victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault, specifically women, the response they get to this traumatic event is, “Was she flirting? What was she wearing? Was she drunk?” These questions are asked as if their answers will somehow give a reason or explanation to why a woman was assaulted.

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The only true, real answer will be that someone chose to sexually assault them.

Victim blaming is something we do without even realizing it, and there are different kinds of it. We try to justify things and to come to an answer of what led to the situation of someone getting hurt. The only truth, however, will always be that the reason someone got hurt was because someone else decided to hurt them.

The book “Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyondby Marc Lamont Hill discusses something interesting. He said that when a person of color is shot by a cop, we always say: “Well he would not have been shot if he had stayed in the car. He would not have been shot if he had not moved his hands.”

In reality, he would not have been shot if the officer had not decided to shoot him.

This felt like it paralleled the line “Don’t get raped” versus “Don’t rape.” We spend so much time figuring out how to not be the victims of something, but we don’t spend nearly as much time trying to figure out how to stop the perpetrators. This comes in the form of incidents of police brutality, of sexual assault, of gun violence, of hate crimes and of so many other incidents.

We all victim blame every day in all different ways, but the problem is that it manifests itself into the worst situations.

If someone insults you or says something mean, another person might turn it back on you with, “Did you say anything to them that caused them to say that?” That is victim blaming.

Victim blaming is trying to find a reason for what may have caused the situation, when the only thing that caused the situation is the perpetrator.

Maybe you’re pickpocketed in a foreign country, and when you tell a friend about it they say, “How secure was your wallet? Was it in an easy opening bag?” This is also victim blaming.

We all victim blame every day in different ways, but the problem is that it manifests itself into the worst situations.

Eventually we blame the victims of sexual assault, of murder, of acts of racism or sexism. We might attribute this to something called the just-world hypothesis. In social psychology, this hypothesis says that, in general, people get what is fair in the world. People get what they deserve.

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If everything comes with a consequence, then victims of crime must have done something to incite the crime against them. This is mentally easier to process than the actuality of the world: the world where bad things happen to good people and vice versa. If that is the truth, then there is no way to blame victims. 

Victim blaming might be part of the reason some people believe the solution to gun violence is arming teachers in schools. The victims don’t have any way to protect themselves in the shooting, so of course they will be shot. 

A lot of issues could be better discussed and worked through if we could always get ourselves out of the victim blaming mindset, which psychologically comes naturally to us. Victim blaming is social, but it can clearly become very political. We should recognize it and work daily to reverse our mindsets.

The next time someone says they were the victim of something, just listen — there’s no need to ask anything more.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @KatrinaLeibee.