You had just finished buying groceries at a store near your condominium and are about to head home when you realize that you have no change left for a tricycle. It’s eight in the evening and stores have already started to close for the night. The way to your condominium is a bit dark but it’s just a few minutes walk, so you head down to the alley that leads to your building. As you pass, a drunk guy comes at you and tells you to hand him your groceries and your wallet. He threatens to hurt you if you don’t comply. Paralyzed by fear, you give it to him and run in panic as he leaves. You arrive at your condominium, shaken. Your roommate turns the lights on and sees you shivering from fear.
“What happened?” she asks you, concern evident in her voice. You tell her about the man back in the alley who threatened to hurt you. You’re looking for comfort coming from the fact that you almost got hurt and could’ve lost your life. Your roommate, however, changes to an annoyed and disappointed tone. She tells you to never walk down that alley again, “You put yourself in trouble. Ikaw kasi eh.”
(It’s your fault.)
Being blamed for our misfortunes is nothing new for most of us. You yourself may have felt a hint of annoyance toward friends or family members who experienced an unfortunate incident, instinctively thinking that they are partly to blame for their fate. Most people surely do not want to get hurt, yet why is it that we often hear people say that the reason why so-and-so was raped was because her skirt was too short or that she got herself too drunk to “repeatedly say no”? How many men were shamed for not “being strong enough” to ward off a female abuser? At this rate, you could be innocently walking down a street with your groceries, wearing long pants and a jacket, acting aloof, yet still be abused and, worse, blamed for it. Why is it that the immediate assumption with victims is that they should be the ones held responsible?
Victim-blaming is thought to come from a well-intentioned belief that justice prevails in the world; people who victim-blame believe that good deeds will be rewarded and evil will be punished. As optimistic as it sounds, this can create hurdles for victims as it will be harder for people to accept that the world is not always “fair”—that some people who are punished and hurt are not evil and are, in fact, innocent. Additionally, people with this worldview are hardwired to look for details that may “justify” a victim’s misfortune. Some look for flaws in a person’s personal background, in the person’s actions during the incident—even the smallest unrelated detail. This can come from the fear that if they accept that the victim is innocent, then anyone—including themselves and their loved ones—can become victims.
Some believe that they are warning others from danger when they point out victims’ mistakes. This, however, can do more harm than good. For one, it can slow down a victim’s healing process from trauma by worsening the guilt and shame they commonly feel after an incident. A lot of cases already go unreported out of victims’ fear of “embarrassment.” Victim-blaming can perpetuate the toxic practice of putting the weight of a crime on the victims instead of the perpetrators.
Knowing that victim-blaming is counterproductive, what can be done to refrain from it? If you find yourself falling into the trap of victim-blaming, it may be helpful to pause and remind yourself that the people to blame for crimes are always those who commit it. While you may believe it was partly the victim’s choices that led to the unfortunate event, no crime will have consummated without the actions of a perpetrator. Ask yourself, “Is this person really to blame? Or am I just scared of accepting that it can happen to me, too?” No matter how much we want to believe in a just world, it will not always be fair. Let us not subject victims to the additional ordeal of shame and guilt brought about by our fears and misconceptions.