Today I want to tackle a problem that seems to be often talked about but rarely if ever analysed in detail.
The starting point is this: something tragic happened and it’s all over the news. Someone got raped, beaten up badly, a child kidnapped or murdered or whatever. Stuff that reflects the darkest human to human violence.
So what happens? We all know under every story online detailing events like this there will always be the one person who is oh so smart to proclaim what could have been done to prevent this tragic event: a longer skirt, no alcohol, watch your children better, do not trust strangers, leave your abusive spouse, all sort of really smartypants no kidding advice. This is my response to people claiming the victim could have prevented the incident:
Even if we stay in our houses, devoid of booze, wearing three burkas, watching our children non stop and being locked up like fort knox: if people really want to hurt us or our loved ones they will find a way. Period. All this advice is only asking for one thing: succumb to your fears. Do not go out, become super paranoid, do not live life, do not express yourself, do not make experiences.
This is so hard to rebuke because partially they are right. If you get raped the fifth time when you drunkenly followed a random stranger to their car the fifth time you might want to reconsider your actions and change your habits to the sixth rape. But there is a difference between stupidly engaging in risk seeking behaviour and living. We all need to make mistakes to learn from them.
Hiding your children in fear they will be kidnapped for example will lead to these kids growing into adults woefully unequipped to deal with the world. Being that hidden away is not how we were meant to live. Hiding and being defensive because something might happen drastically seeps away any reason to live whatsoever. You need to go out and meet new people, make new experiences. It will be one of your finest hours when you go out and kick that fear of heights of yours in the butt or finally worked up the courage to show your carefully but quietly developed hobby to someone you respect. Confronting our fears is probably the single most effective way to grow as a person.
All these people sagely proclaiming the short skirt was the reason someone got raped would likely be rather discombobulated indeed if people actually heeded their advice. Imagine a world where we still cover up like the Victorians. Happy now? Not? And guess what? Rape still happens! Skirts have nothing to do with men unable to control their sex drive.
The reason why we still like to blame the skirt I believe is a well silenced one: we do not want to empathise with the victim/survivor. We want to believe we are somehow smarter, better, more prepared, such things happen only to other, stupider people.
By doing so we also conveniently do not need to confront ourselves with the fact that there are evil people out there. It was the victims mistake, so whoever, raped, murdered, beat, kidnapped, criminalled around does not need looking into. Obviously it’s not like they would need a pathological lack of empathy exacerbated by an extreme lack of socialisation and criminally lowered inhibitions. We are humans, the criminals are humans too, and yet we do not want to be made aware of that. We lock them away and recast them as monsters, as sub-human. In movies the villians will always need to look deranged, dangerous, villified. Because all the people we interact with thus they could never be so evil. Until they are.
By blaming the victim we evaporate the guilt of the criminal. The society gives them a collective amnesia because everyone is uncomfortable with the idea that some of the problems the criminal had may be present in their lives, in their neighbours live, in their family members live, in the lives of the adults who daily take care of our children. We do not wish to work on these problems, it is very hard work for individuals to overcome past patterns of solving problems with violence, of getting what they want, when they want it, how they want it, of overcoming impulsive behaviour and in some cases maybe it’s not only hard work, it may even be impossible. Some humans are that vile and we how some synapses connecting the wrong way could turn us all into .
But in our mind humans in general and everyone we know in particular need to be good and trustworthy. We need to cling to this belief so badly that we outright disbelieve accounts of human to human violence even when the person telling the story has absolutely no history of lying or exaggerating things. We never saw it coming, we never expected anything to be wrong. Really? What did you look for?
Blaming the short skirt is a cowards deed in more than one way and it reveals profound shortcomings in character. It was NOT the short skirt, it was someone who decided it was a great idea to just satisfy their sexual hunger without any consideration for anyone but themselves. The same is true for all the other mentioned crimes. The blame lies squarely with the criminal with only a very limited amount of blame which could possibly be placed on the victim/survivor for risk taking behaviour. However going out when young, partying and learning what is safe and what is not in general are not risk taking behaviour. We as a society need to condemn this twisted views.
We need to know how to spot troubled people, we need to not make excuses any more and we may need to force some people to get help. We need to be paranoid in a healthy way. Looking out for signs of actual trouble. If we know someone who has a history of crossing boundaries we really need to consider what we can do to prevent such a person from doing harm to the people who are confronted with them. Even if we ourselves might not be in danger.
Most of all we need to understand emotions and desires better. To me this is so fundamentally important it should be taught in school. It is important to make the very young understand what is healthy and unhealthy behaviour and yet we somehow expect this all to work itself out magically in the schoolyard and in parental homes. This is dangerous. If the preventable suffering of people does not matter at all to you (you are a bad person!) it is also costly, because people growing up with such poor emotional regulation toolkits will get into all sorts of interpersonal trouble which then becomes a healthcare cost for everyone to carry if nothing else.
The young people growing up broken like me might have otherwise have shining careers, I am a highly intelligent university graduate and yet I am to psychologically broken to manage eating meals regularly or have proper personal hygiene. I could be someone making groundbreaking research happen and yet I need to pick up the pieces of my personality, broken by my own parents. Every teacher looked away, 5 psychologists looked away, 2 psychiatrists looked away, one of them opting instead to attempt to kill me with their cocktail of psychodrugs, 3 priests looked away.
Of course no one saw anything coming, it’s not like I walked around in way to large hand me downs and flinched at every sudden movement or how I was severely depressed at an age so young I can’t remember ever not being depressed. I first began thinking about the possibility to end my life when I was 8. I never showed any happiness upon seeing my parents or claimed that I missed them or how I never talked about my emotions or did not ever show any emotions. Such a nice child, no work at all. Why didn’t I say anything indeed. I did.
I screamed at the top of my lungs and no one was there to listen. Many other children do the same. Not all of them are as passive as I am, some may become aggressive, hostile, frustrated. They never learn how to get things in a healthy way, so eventually they naturally resort to criminal means. Punishing them, vilifying them, locking them away will certainly not lead to a healthier society. Many of this is preventable. It’s on all of us to make it happen.