Society needs to break away from normalizing victim-blaming


Screenshot by Tania Ortiz

Victim-blaming questions the actions of the survivor and unfortunately has been normalized in our society.

Tania Ortiz, Opinion Editor

The #MeToo movement has mobilized the fight against sexual harassment, assault and everyday sexism that has been internalized in our society. 

The campaign has empowered many survivors of sexual assault and harassment to share their stories and report their abusers. While the movement has opened our eyes to the reality of sexual misconduct, there are still people who haven’t quite understood the movement’s message.

Those who do not wholly understand the #MeToo movement’s message continue to play into rape culture and victim-blaming.

When a survivor of sexual misconduct decides to share their story, there are one of two reactions: people show support for the survivor for sharing their experience or they react skeptically and do not believe anything.

The second reaction is what leads to victim-blaming. People on social media are quick to switch the situation’s narrative and somehow put the victim at fault for their abuser’s actions. 

Unfortunately, victim-blaming comes in many forms and is often subtle and unconscious. When the #MeToo movement garnered national and global attention, many men (and women too) were quick to mention that those who were accused were also getting their lives ruined.

 Questions like “Why didn’t you leave them?” or “If this was going on, why didn’t you go to the police and report it?” are common when it comes to victim-blaming. 

This problem is rooted in society’s normalization of rape culture and patriarchal norms. On top of that, many of those who victim-blame have not experienced being in these types of situations. 

This type of judgment can also re-traumatize the victim and dissect their actions, rather than on what the offender did to them. 

Patriarchal ideas have a massive influence on the normalization of victim-blaming. The double standards of gender give leeway for people to dismiss the victim’s story quickly.

In December, British musician FKA Twigs shared that she had allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, actor Shia LaBeouf. The singer provided painful details in an interview for ELLE magazine, where she attributes her survival to “pure luck.” Recently, Twigs sat down for an interview with CBS anchor Gayle King to further discuss her experience as a survivor of domestic violence.

Most of the interview was fairly standard until King decided to prod Twigs on the touchy subject and proceeded to say, “Nobody who’s been in this position likes this question, and I often wonder if it’s even appropriate to ask … why didn’t you leave?” to which FKA Twigs responded, “I’m not going to answer that question any more because the question should really be to the abuser, ‘Why are you holding someone hostage?”

King knew that her question was controversial and insensitive to ask but did so anyway. It brings up the important question that everyone should think about: why does society believe it’s still appropriate to interrogate the victim about why they stayed with their abuser? It’s even more ironic to see how King framed the question, even mentioning that she wonders if it’s appropriate to ask such a question but still proceeds to do so.

Twigs’ response brings up a good point too. Why don’t these questions get directed at the abusers? Survivors are tired of being asked why they didn’t act soon enough. Processing a traumatic experience is hard enough and sharing that experience is even more so.

Studies have shown that people are more likely to be sympathetic to victims that they know well and reading about crimes reported in the media can increase victim-blaming. The stories we hear in the media are purely strangers and can often trigger a cognitive dissonance between the belief in a just world and the clear evidence that life isn’t always fair.

 At the root, victim-blaming could stem from a combination of failure to empathize with victims and the mythologizing of rape that makes us believe that no average person can be a rapist. So, when it happens, people become shocked and horrified. 

We can learn how to move away from victim-blaming, because it is possible. 

The first step is to believe survivors. 

Tania Ortiz is the Opinion Editor for The Cougar Chronicle. She is a senior at CSUSM as a communication major. Tania plans to pursue a job in the media industry after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, going on runs and spending time with friends.