After #MeToo--The Cultural Value of Victim Blaming: Intimate Partner Violence in Faith Based Communities III

"American Gothic" by Grant Wood with digital reinterpretation by Rebecca Hull.
"American Gothic" by Grant Wood with digital reinterpretation by Rebecca Hull.

I am glad to see so much awareness against sexual assault, harassment, and intimate partner violence (IPV). The #MeToo campaign has been wonderful and drawn attention to a social ill as well as a sin (to use faith language). Having worked for 25 years in abuse prevention I realize that there is much much more awareness around these crimes than when I attended my first training. Yet, the statistics for sexual assault, harassment, and IPV continue to be the same as they were when I began this work. What has happened? Why have we continued to struggle with the same crimes/sins for millennia, even though there seems to be more awareness through social media, HR trainings, and school programs?

It seems that the underlying cultural values in our world will rear their ugly heads by the time #MeToo is only a memory (but I hope it doesn’t become only a memory). What are the cultural values that keep assault, harassment, and IPV alive?

Normally I would take this opportunity to write about misogyny, although it is a major cause in this sin against humans. Yet this time I would rather focus on another cultural value. It is a value and practice deeply ingrained within us, growing in the best and the worst of times.

Victim Blaming

Victim Blaming is a cultural value that so many Americans practice and hold deeply in their hearts. Victim Blaming happens when we accuse the one suffering from a violent act, abuse, or harassment as if the crime is their fault. Victim Blaming happens when we:

1. Ask the victim why they wore certain clothes...

2. Assume that a victim wants the attention of being a victim...

3. Indicate that a victim chose to be attacked...

4. Claim that the victim is responsible for being in the wrong place at the wrong time...

5. Continue to use victimizing language (”Mary was raped by Steve,” rather than, “Steve raped Mary.”)

6. Do not hold offenders accountable for their actions, but hold victims accountable for theirs as well as the offender’s behavior.

Not only does victim blaming mean we confront the victim, but it also means that we refuse to acknowledge the existence of, presence of, or rights of one who is a victim.

Victim Blaming also happens when we neglect to help those who suffer injustice. I see, in our country, a negative view of “victims.” How?

9-11—Are We Not Victims?

I remember the tragic events of 9-11. The horrible sight of both airliners crashing into the Twin Towers, followed by the collapse of these magnificent buildings. The reports of the other sites such as the Pentagon and the downed airplane. It was awful. We, as a country, were reminded that we were always vulnerable. We needed to mourn and come together for support. However the response was to go to war, find the culprits, and enact justice. We were encouraged to buy into the economy and pray for victory. We mourned for only a short time.

Later there was a lengthy discussion concerning memorials. While the men and women first responders gave their lives to save others, those inside the towers were victims. However we resisted calling them victims. The responders were heroes and strong words were expressed if we weren’t willing to call those in the towers the same. Men, women, and children went about their daily business the morning of 9-11. They went to work, into day care, or on tours. They didn’t expect to die, they were vulnerable. While the first responders entered knowing they might die, the ones entering previously just came to work.

I think it is acceptable to suggest that there were heroes and victims murdered on 9-11.

Is There Something Wrong With Being a Victim?

For some reason we hesitate to use the term “victims.” Our resistance to use the term “victim” expresses how we feel about “victims.” Even in the world of IPV “Survivor” is the preferred term over “Victim.” Why?

Our resistance to use the term “victim” expresses how we feel about “victims.” Even in the world of IPV “Survivor” is the preferred term over “Victim.” Why?

It seems that no one wants to be a victim, no one wants to admit to being a victim, or no one wants to help victims. Victims represent, to many, weakness, vulnerability, and suffering. Others suggest that we can either choose to be a victim or a victor. It seems that the term is used to express disgust, shame, and immorality.

It’s almost as if we believe that victims choose their lot in life.

This, in my opinion, is victim blaming. It is also why we ignore victims.

The God that I serve did not feel the same way about victims. In the story of the Exodus, Pharoah tried to get into a pissing match with God. Pharaoh oppressed and ignored victims while Yahweh heard their cries and defended them. God did not tell them to get thicker skin, suck it up, or make a different choice. God confronted the oppressor.

I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and am concerned about their suffering. I have come down to rescue them... (Exodus 3:7)

The cry of the Israelites has reached my ears, and I have seen the way that the Egyptians are oppressing them... (Exodus 3:9)

When they heard that Yahweh was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed and worshiped... (Exodus 4:31)

Not only did Yahweh suggest that they were victims, but they worshiped this God when they realized that their suffering was validated.

The God that I serve also advocated for victims in Galilee. He was homeless, came from a lower class construction family, and must have seen his mom evicted from her home as a widow. He lived among the marginalized and advocated for them. In the end, he became a victim through the humiliation of crucifixion.

Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross (for the joy set in front of him), rejecting its shame...(Hebrews 12:2)

Faith communities should always advocate for the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, and victims. I have listened to leaders often make cases for offenders. Some suggest that we don’t know the whole story, or that we need to “major” in grace and forgiveness, or that we shouldn’t believe victims. Yet when I read my Bible, it is the oppressors who lie, cheat, hide, and manipulate—not the oppressed. Even more, Jesus never stands on the side of the powerful, but the powerless. He came to free the oppressed not the oppressors.

How can we become a culture that supports victims rather than blames them?

Leaders must realize that victims typically are silent/silenced. They have been silenced by their oppressor and community. They believe that no one will listen to or believe their story. Most don’t fabricate truths, they want the experience to simply go away. They need a voice, a community to walk with them, and to know they can be safe and that it’s not their fault. They need to know that the resurrection offers them hope.

Second, offenders need to repent, make amends, and stop their abusive, controlling, and manipulative behavior. They need the cross (not the victims). They need to kneel before the cross and realize that how they treat the one on the cross is a reflection of how they have treated others.

Finally, we have all been victims in some form. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s what happens when we trust, love, and live in community. We are all vulnerable. It’s not our fault that some take advantage of our vulnerability. I serve a God whose greatest strength is vulnerability as a human. The Apostle Paul called this the humiliation of the incarnation (Philippians 2:8). We need to band together in our vulnerability and as victims (or potential victims) and claim who we are with pride rather than shame.

It’s time to stop blaming victims and admit solidarity.

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