The Fallacies of Victim Blaming in Domestic Violence Cases - A Op-Ed

By Jolene Marz (@JoleneMarz)

Photo Credit: AP

Picture this: Janay Rice, only weeks earlier knocked out cold and dragged (DRAGGED!) out of a public elevator, now standing eyes cast down and shameful in front of millions, to explain why her keeper should not be held accountable for brutality of the elevator video. A majority cheered because they wouldn't be bothered with it anymore--there's a football season ahead! Most looked at her like, "damn, that's a good woman standing by her man." A majority agreed that we should shift focus onto how effectively the NFL handled the situation and somehow expect the league take accountability in his actions?! We allowed, entitled, and gave to him because American football is worshiped and idolized the way we should have passion for raising our children. A majority agreed we should finish our beer and move on to important things, like player stats and what team he'll grace. 

Only a tiny minority saw what I saw: someone said enough to Janay to effectively shift blame to her shoulders. One could visibly see the weight pressing down on her frame during that press conference. Someone reinforced every reason her abuser has ever given her to stay and endure the chaos. Someone told her she deserved it...Someone asked "why?" 

I went through several weeks of training for a volunteer position with victims of domestic violence and if I could summarize the entire syllabus: it taught us "why don't you just leave," is an impossible, insurmountable, blaming, shaming, question for a victim. To someone who has not been there, or even someone who is very near a victim, it is so hard to understand why anyone would put up with any abuse. There're statistics like the fact that it takes an average of 8 police encounters before the victim attempts to leave and it makes everyone who's never been there say, "what in the actual fuck?! That's INSANITY!" 

I recall a woman during training that didn't want the women to be called "victims" because she saw it as a weak, broken person. Unfortunately, it's more common to judge victims in this exact way, and for that reason, it's even easier to ask that "why question" of them without forethought. We face this same problem with rape (not coincidentally a crime committed primarily against females) where the victim is seen as weak and shamed by "why's," as if they had any role in the occurrence of their abuse. In 2012, it was found that the second leading cause of death in the U.S., for women under 50, is domestic violence. However, we live in a nation lacking awareness of these statistics and instead place value on media enabled celebrities. I believe that if we can build a society that knows how to handle it, we can build a society that no longer engages in it.  

It's not always being slapped in the kitchen for making a burnt meal and because power and control has many different shapes, its important we all know why we should never ask why. In my volunteer training, we played a role playing game where you choose your ending like those Goosebumps books. It was the most gut wrenching, aggravating game I've ever played and I grew up in this type home. Basically, every choice was the wrong choice because when you're in an abusive relationship, its about power and control and these men find ways to have power over and control every aspect of their victim's lives. 

I heard a story about a woman that stayed with her abuser until she was finally able to free herself of the fear that he was actually going to shoot her with the gun that cleaned and pointed at her, every night, for forty years. He didn't hit her, he didn't do all the things we see on TV. He just threatened her life every night and made sure she was indoctrinated into the idea that he had the power to shoot her at anytime. Understand that when a person is entirely powerless and under another's control, the last thing they know the answer to, is why they don't just choose to leave. They've been trained to know it's not their choice to make in that situation. 

This would be terrible advice if I didn't also have a solution. What a person needs in a time like this, is their power back. They don't need you to tell them what they "should do." They need someone to help them find their choices because there's power and control in having choices. Questions like, "what is keeping you from getting away right now," or "how can I help remove these barriers with you" will help the victim begin to negotiate the actual obstacles that they fear and also help show them that they do have power in their lives. Not only do those types of questions show support of them making their own choices, but you are also showing that you are not blaming the person for being abused. 

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