I blame the victim blamers

Don’t blame the victim and don’t blame the perpetrator.

I call out victim blaming wherever I see it. Obviously in rape culture the phrase denotes people who offer reasons that women should expect to be raped (what they’re wearing, what time they walk home, whether they were flirtatious, etcecrable). Then it pops up in something like the Adam Goodes affair where people are like, “Well I agree with him but he goes about spreading his opinion the wrong way” as though he was asking for racist treatment by being too forthright in pointing out, well, racism. And then — I might lose a few here — the victim blaming that occurs when cartoonists get shot for drawing cartoons. “They shouldn’t have provoked extremists, the cartoons were racist, it wasn’t even satire, I’m not even a person I’m just this sentence, etc.we did a whole thing on it. Or there are the African-American victims of police brutality who were urged to be more respectful to the police officers who beat the shit out of them.

To me they’re all structurally the same: take a victim of violence or discrimination and focus, not on the perpetrator’s motives or lack of ethics, but on the victim’s complicity in doing things likely to result in unethical treatment. This could be seen as akin to chiding someone for leaving their car unlocked and having something stolen from inside;  we might call the person naive or foolish, which is actually victim blaming. In the case of the car, it seems OK, common sense really, to criticise the victim because we live in a world where there manifestly are thieves and we doubt thieves will ever completely disappear. We don’t say that someone’s basic freedom to have their car unlocked is being abrogated by a culture of theft (although it certainly is and country people might disagree with the inevitability of theft).

In the mild case of theft a liberal commentator may well point out the culture of poverty or social dysfunction which leads many people to petty crime. Our legal system in such cases in fact seems too focused on blaming the perpetrator, over and above their rehabilitation or their chances of recidivism. A better legal system — I think — would admit that people are not fully autonomous beings with the god-given spark of “free will”, but are organisms whose basic life courses are largely predetermined by the family, culture, location and century into which they’re born. And their genome. And cognitive bias. And other factors we can’t detect. So it seems barbaric to expect people to make autonomous decisions when they’re a jumble of geodesics in a spacetime bulk of a deterministic universe.

So, blaming the victim makes no sense; blaming the perpetrator makes some sense; but blaming the circumstances which impelled the perpetrator is more useful in terms of preventing future offences1)What of the case of the ISIS-inspired attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices? Should we avoid blaming the gunmen and instead indict the US government, whose incompetent invasions and Israel-backing has fostered resentment among Arab populations? That’s certainly part of the problem. But of course the largest portion of blame should go to the culture of fanaticism that pressgangs young men into such zealous actions. The influence of fundamentalist religion is clearly the primary motivation; not coincidentally, this is the same religious heritage that still informs our outworn ideas of free will and retribution. Aha! Did you see that coming?.

Using the most inflammatory example2)This is the internet after all. of rape culture, blaming the victim is a knee-jerk for any jerk, but maybe blaming the perpetrator perpetuates the idea that the legal system is for people responding rationally to sanctions and bootstrapping themselves up like some kid called Junior in a 1950s TV show being taught a moral lesson by a stern father who probably raped a girl once when he was in the army in Korea. Blaming a culture that objectifies women or gives the lie that women are there to be won, taken, possessed, or achieved is probably the real culprit, in terms of what must be addressed to prevent future rapes3)This is not a free pass for rapists who should be gaoled & rehabilitated until they are unlikely to re-offend; if this never happens then they are gaoled for life.. Interestingly, the culture of blaming rape victims for their own suffering is part of that wider context in which rapists are launched 4)Again, being the Internet, I have to turn to a hot button issue involving attitudes towards Islam and rape culture because I know that’s what you crave: the Cologne assaults. Two cultures are relevant. First the “background rate” of sexual assault in Germany, i.e. the constant flow of cases of sexual assault and rape perpetrated by German men, albeit in distributed, isolated cases. The reasons for this prevalence go to the attitudes towards women thing mentioned above. The other one is the related but different attitude towards women in North African and Middle Eastern cultures. Is there more of a rape-inducing culture of misogyny in Germany or Morocco? In Belgium or Turkey? France or Syria? Fair questions. Will rapes diminish in Germany if they stop taking refugees from the Middle East? Presumably, partly because of the reduction in population it would represent (fewer men = fewer rapists, one assumes) and partly because there is obviously a more restrictive image of what women can be in countries where religion dominates, compared to secular Germany. Does that literally mean there are more rapes in Syria than Germany, or indeed that Syrian man, transplanted to Germany, is more likely than a German-born man to commit rape? I don’t know. But the results either way would not tell us that blaming the perpetrator is the way forward. Systems, structures, traditions, custom and all that shit is what has to be grappled with..

Ok, so who can we blame? That’s the fun bit. Well, round up the usual suspects. Pop-culture, the media, religion, legal systems5)Exemplary is Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, who digs into outsize rates of black-on-black violence in the US, showing that it’s not so much a case of racist treatment from police officers and ludicrous incarceration for minor offences, although they don’t exactly help; but it’s more to do with a system that has inherited a tendency to consider black victims as less important, regardless of the ethnicity of their killer. parenting styles, corporations, legislatures. These are things that need to be reformed if we are to produce fewer victimisers and fewer victim blamers. This might strike some as disrespectful to the victims, but I speak pragmatically, interested only in what will reduce acts of violence. The retributive goal of justice is a sweet, sweet dessert covered in a rich glaze that we’re evolutionarily predisposed to enjoy, but we need the savoury, nutritious, well seasoned main course of minimising recidivism.

Footnotes

1. What of the case of the ISIS-inspired attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices? Should we avoid blaming the gunmen and instead indict the US government, whose incompetent invasions and Israel-backing has fostered resentment among Arab populations? That’s certainly part of the problem. But of course the largest portion of blame should go to the culture of fanaticism that pressgangs young men into such zealous actions. The influence of fundamentalist religion is clearly the primary motivation; not coincidentally, this is the same religious heritage that still informs our outworn ideas of free will and retribution. Aha! Did you see that coming?
2. This is the internet after all.
3. This is not a free pass for rapists who should be gaoled & rehabilitated until they are unlikely to re-offend; if this never happens then they are gaoled for life.
4. Again, being the Internet, I have to turn to a hot button issue involving attitudes towards Islam and rape culture because I know that’s what you crave: the Cologne assaults. Two cultures are relevant. First the “background rate” of sexual assault in Germany, i.e. the constant flow of cases of sexual assault and rape perpetrated by German men, albeit in distributed, isolated cases. The reasons for this prevalence go to the attitudes towards women thing mentioned above. The other one is the related but different attitude towards women in North African and Middle Eastern cultures. Is there more of a rape-inducing culture of misogyny in Germany or Morocco? In Belgium or Turkey? France or Syria? Fair questions. Will rapes diminish in Germany if they stop taking refugees from the Middle East? Presumably, partly because of the reduction in population it would represent (fewer men = fewer rapists, one assumes) and partly because there is obviously a more restrictive image of what women can be in countries where religion dominates, compared to secular Germany. Does that literally mean there are more rapes in Syria than Germany, or indeed that Syrian man, transplanted to Germany, is more likely than a German-born man to commit rape? I don’t know. But the results either way would not tell us that blaming the perpetrator is the way forward. Systems, structures, traditions, custom and all that shit is what has to be grappled with.
5. Exemplary is Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, who digs into outsize rates of black-on-black violence in the US, showing that it’s not so much a case of racist treatment from police officers and ludicrous incarceration for minor offences, although they don’t exactly help; but it’s more to do with a system that has inherited a tendency to consider black victims as less important, regardless of the ethnicity of their killer.