Saturday, January 27, 2018

How society teaches us that sympathy towards victims is conditional

'You were very young and inexperienced', my psychiatrist said, after I'd told him someone had made me feel guilty for the sexual violence I'd experienced at the hands of my partner. He said it to help me. At that moment, I didn't know why this remark bothered me. Now that I've figured it out, I see things much more clearly. In a society where victims constantly get blamed, it's seen as a positive response when someone implies you may have responded in the wrong way, but that you're forgiven. However, this indirectly contributes to the idea that victims share the blame for the violence inflicted on them. This has to change.

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The other day, I came to the conclusion that I, when it comes to my experiences with sexual violence, often have two voices in my head. One is shaped by society, this voice is punishing and will always find a way to blame me for the abuse. Then there's another voice that wants to stick up for 18-year-old me. Society has taught me that victims can only be absolved from blame, when everything they did can be explained. So, for example, a victim didn't fight back, but she froze because she was afraid. That's instinct. She couldn't have fought him because of that. 

That's how I feel about my experiences. Everything I did and didn't do that played a part in him being able to continue abusing me, must be examined. And I have to have a very good reason for it. The one voice, the punishing one, tells me everything I did wrong. The other voice tries to come up with reasons why I did what I did, in order to shut the first voice up. This has been going on for ten years now. And I'm so tired of it. It's bullshit. It is. The very idea that I have to have a scientifically proven explanation for everything I did that didn't help me get away from him is bullshit. It's only meant to blame me. It's only meant to keep the focus on me. And that's unfair. 

You see, it doesn't matter if the things I did and didn't do can't be explained, not when it comes to figuring out who's to blame. I mean, it's interesting in the sense that I can learn from it. But really, after ten years, I'm well aware of what I should do differently next time something like this happens to me. And almost everyone participates in this. They all tell me I was young, I was inexperienced, and so it's okay I acted the way I did. I have an excuse for it. But even this actually implies that there are certain conditions attached to being granted sympathy. I didn't know any better. I'm forgiven.

I, and with me every other survivor, deserve sympathy because I was hurt by someone who didn't care about what I wanted or felt. What does it matter how I dealt with it? Does that change that fact? Instead of looking at my (in)actions through a magnifying glass, to establish if I deserve sympathy, isn't it better to focus on the fact that someone used violence against me? And to acknowledge that's bad in itself, apart from the way I dealt with it? To me, the so-called helpful: 'You didn't know any better', 'You were still so young', 'You didn't have a lot of life experience', 'You didn't have any control over your freeze response', can immediately be replaced by: 'It doesn't matter what you did or didn't do. He was the one to blame. He was the one creating this situation. And he should never have done that.'

Written by: Fenna Vlekke
Country: The Netherlands
Social media:
Twitter: @FennaVlekke

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