By: Sara McHaffie
At Amina MWRC, we are passionate about ending violence against women and girls, in all its forms. One of the most powerful tools at our disposal is our law, which firmly states that harassment, stalking, rape, sexual assault, ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage and FGM are all against the law. However, when it comes to prosecuting, there is a stigma that stops victims/survivors from speaking out. Sometimes we blame ourselves. Sometimes we, as victims, are blamed by others for what we’ve gone through.
There is a perception within the general public that victims/survivors might have done something to cause the violence.
This is totally wrong.
We recently conducted a survey of 124 people within Muslim and other Scottish communities, and one of the issues identified that we should tackle is victim-blaming.
One comment reads: “One of the biggest issues facing women from an African background is the impression by men that they need to conform strictly to African values which blames the women for everything that goes wrong in the home and asks her to be patient with the man for the sake of her children no matter what he does or how he behaves”.
Unfortunately, as well as supportive comments about how communities need to change, we also received comments from respondents who believed victim-blaming ideas. One reads “If a women pretends to be Muslim but do not understand what it means to be married, who your husband is to you, his importance to you, the good he wants for you, implementing your role as a wife will be so hard for you (because you didn’t know what you were signing for) that you will take it as abusive, ‘he is too hard on me’ etc”. This is typical and shows how much work is yet to be done.
Generally, the respondents to our survey strongly disagreed with victim-blaming attitudes. However, around 50% of respondents to our survey thought that the majority of people in their communities would agree that:
“If someone experiences domestic abuse, they might have done something to deserve that kind of treatment.”
“If a girl doesn’t physically resist sex – even if protesting verbally – it really can’t be considered rape.”
“When girls go to parties wearing revealing clothes they are asking for trouble”.
If we could all do one thing to challenge violence against women and girls, it would be to take a stand against this victim-blaming.
You can see it in popular culture, in the news, in the comments people make when they talk about others. “Why didn’t she just leave him” about a woman who was killed by an abusive husband. “Why didn’t she fight back” about a woman who was raped. It can take on an Islamophobic tinge too. “Why did she have to wear hijab” about a woman who experiences street harassment and assault because she’s visibly Muslim.
A psychiatrist named Judith Herman who specialises in trauma says in her work ‘Trauma and Recovery’:
It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering (1).
She’s right, of course. Blaming the victim is the easiest course of action. This is why these attitudes are so prevalent, and why we have to put our energies into fighting against them. It’s easy to say that someone who actually perpetrates violence against women and girls is in the wrong, but we are more reluctant to criticise those who are spreading views which create a conducive context within which this violence takes place.
There’s some more information about the psychology behind victim-blaming here.
One step you can take is to watch and share the video below:
(Videos available here)
Some people have an expectation of how victims of rape should behave, and if victims don’t conform to these expectations, this leads to victim-blaming. However, these videos explain why it’s sometimes a completely understandable reaction for somebody to freeze, rather than running away or fighting back.
In ongoing patterns of abuse, such as domestic abuse, victims might do their best to keep things ticking along as normal, and act friendly with their abuser. This doesn’t mean the abuse is acceptable or somehow non-existent. It just means someone is doing her best to stay safe.
It’s important to remember that if you’ve suffered abuse, it is not your fault, and you deserve support.
If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
If you’re finding it hard to support somebody because you find you’re struggling to understand and be empathetic, call our helpline and talk it through with somebody who can support you so you can be there for your loved one.
Our number is 0808 801 0301
Herman, Judith Lewis (1997) . Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 9780465087303.