Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Victim Blaming: What's It Good For?

Before my just-completed vacation I saw the first reactions to the Jennifer Moore murder and only had time to comment on Crooked Timber: She Wasn't Asking For It

Media Matters

O'REILLY: So anyway, these two girls come in from the suburbs and they get bombed, and their car is towed because they're moronic girls and, you know, they don't have a car. So they're standing there in the middle of the night with no car. And then they separate because they're drunk. They separate, which you never do. All right.
Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college.

She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She's walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she's out of her mind, drunk.

And the thug takes her over to New Jersey in the cab and kills her and rapes her and does all these terrible things to her. And the thug is so stupid, he uses her cell phone, and the cops trace it back to him and they -- and they arrest him and charge him with murder. He had a prostitute girlfriend with him, and she's charged as an accessory to murder. But Jennifer Moore is in the ground. She's dead.

I bolded what Bill O'Reilly highlights about the victim and put into italics what he highlights about the rapist/murderer. Just in this section it's a ratio of 8 to 1. Notice that the only stupid thing the thug did was use his victim's cell phone. In O'Reilly's world a rape/murder victim becomes too stupid to live and the criminal becomes nothing more than an anonymous tool that brings about the inevitable.

This sort of victim blaming allows people to:

1) Feel immune to horrific crimes.

Many people want the illusion of their own safety so badly that they will make those victims who disprove that illusion into people who are just asking for what they got. They want to say, "I'm still safe because I'm not moronic or foolish."

This is more than needing a sense of personal safety, it goes into the need to differentiate ourselves from the victims so we don't have to feel even a smidgen of pain when something horrific happens. Empathy with rape/murder victims is painful and many people will do anything to avoid that pain or the prospect of their own deaths -- even if that means adding to the pain and loss of others.

2) Disguise inaction as action.

Because those who want to feel immune to horrific crimes can't completely ignore crimes when they hit the news, they need to be able to tell themselves and others that they are doing something helpful. If you've invested in a vision where victims of certain crimes bring their crimes upon themselves, you can disguise lecturing victims -- and those who share attributes with victims -- by saying you are doing so to help prevent future crimes.

The raw truth is that it's easier to lecture victims than it is to deal with all the true complexities that contribute to people choosing to commit crimes like rape and murder. Effective prevention is more than victim blaming and it is more than a blanket "get tough on crime" stance that paints rapists and murderers as born monsters.

3) Provide an excuse to rant about how girls and women are misusing their freedoms and hard-earned equality and are paying the price when they become victims.

Rapes and rape/murders become handy springboards for those who think girls and women have gotten out of line. Rapists and murderers become nothing more than ever-present bogeymen who punish bad girls and women. These rants sometimes come right out and blame feminism for rape. The ranters either don't know or don't care that rape pre-dates modern feminism.

Bill O'Reilly isn't alone in his rantings and in his omission of the elements of this case that don't fit his vision of rape victims as causing their own rapes and murders. If he were alone, he'd lose all of his listeners. But he serves as their authority figure who reinforces their stereotypes.

Most who listen to those who put all the responsibility on victims will only scorn victims, but there are some who will use this sort of talk as rationalization for creating victims. They will tell themselves that their victims truly did ask for it and they were only doing as requested.

Instead of victim blaming preventing crime, it nourishes it by turning the victims into the cause of crime.

Victim blaming may have short-term payoffs, but it is always short sighted. Effective prevention means not being seperate from this dangerous world we live in and never dismissing victims as asking for it and never dismissing criminals as thugs just doing what comes naturally.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:31 AM   1 comments links to this post


At August 08, 2006 12:08 PM, Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Another intelligent post. Thank you for all the awareness you raise!


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