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The Problem With Victim Blaming

Victim blaming: A devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.

In light of recent events (Harvey Weinstein’s predatory actions surfacing and a fraternity member at Louisiana State University dying as a result of hazing) it has become increasingly evident just how deeply rooted our culture is in victim blaming. Victim blaming comes in many forms, and it seems no crime leaves its victims free of blame. We blame victims of rape for being intoxicated, we blame victims of domestic abuse for staying with their abuser, and we blame victims of hazing for putting themselves in that situation in the first place – and the biggest problem with victim blaming is not even the stress put on the victims, but the fact that it creates this idea that the offender is not fully at fault. Sometimes, it even creates the idea that the offender may have even been justified in their crime.

For some reason, our society struggles to place full blame on the offender. Perhaps we place blame on victims because we believe that if it were us, we would have been more careful. Or perhaps, we have a hard time understanding how bad things can happen to good people. Either way, we must all come to understand that blaming victims of abuse will only promote the cycle of abuse.

Would we ever say to a victim of Hurricane Maria: “Yeah, that hurricane was rough… But what material was your house made of? Should you even be living in Puerto Rico? Those areas are prone to bad weather, you know.”

No, we wouldn’t say that, and for good reason. The fact of the matter is – sure, we all could make safer choices. We could all be so careful that nothing bad could ever happen to any of us. But if we did that, we’d probably have to be stuck in underground bunkers hiding from the world. We shouldn’t be expected to hide from every potential danger, but we should, however, be expected not to create situations that put people in danger.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe this would never happen to you, because you’re smart. Maybe you’re a good person, so you believe you won’t become the victim of a crime. But it’s worth knowing the facts. According to RAINN, which is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, 23.1% of undergraduate females and 5.4% of undergraduate males are victims of sexual assault or rape through force. And according to Stophazing.org, three out of five college students have been subjected to hazing. So maybe this hasn’t happened to you, but you probably know someone it has happened to.

Victim blaming is part of a dangerous rhetoric that encourages violence, and puts further trauma onto the victim. We must be better, and to be better, we must change the dialog around victims of crimes. So, stand with victims or stand out of their way – and call someone out the next time you hear them say, “They were asking for it.”

Brittany Sherman is a junior at Penn State, majoring in Criminology with minors in Psychology and Political Science. She is a workaholic, avid TedTalk watcher, and Leslie Knope wannabe. She also makes bomb banana bread, and dreams of casually running into Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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