Our Search for the Perfect Victim
Here in the United States, we live with the illusion of equality: legal equality. Women have the same legal rights as men: they can own a business, vote, go to work, raise their children, divorce, have affairs. They can have their own bank accounts, file taxes, own property, sell property, and a woman is a whole person in the eyes of the law.
Public opinion on women being equal and a whole person seems to shift when they become a victim of the most personal crimes: domestic violence and sexual violence. We speak of these things, at first, in hushed tones. It is often considered a private matter, but we talk about all the wrong things. We go on to discuss the victim: we excuse victims of the past because of their lack of resources, but say women today should know better. Women today should always be cognizant of abuse red flags. Women today should dress in a way that does not attract attention — and yet, fashion centers on how sexy a woman should look and our focus is on how women should be attractive to men from the earliest of ages.
A pornified culture sets women up to fail.
Women today should know, from the moment they meet a man, whether or not he is capable of abuse. They should not drink — unless they are busy looking sexy and selling alcohol. Or a modern woman who can do as she pleases. Really, they just should not drink on nights they will be assaulted because if they do, they are asking for it.
They should not hang out in shady areas or with people they do not know. Why was she walking alone to her car? She met him in a bar, what did she expect?
They should always have a plan and when they are sexually assaulted, masturbated to in public, raped, or trapped in an abusive relationship… they must have done something to deserve it. They liked it. They wanted it. They should have known better.
This is where we are failing.
When we sit here from our arm chairs and judge the decisions, locations, and clothing choices a woman is making instead of supporting her and her children and helping them to be as safe as possible until she is both safe and stable enough (mentally, emotionally, physically, support-wise) to be able leave, then we are part of the problem. When we judge a sexual assault victim on many of these same things, we are part of the problem. When we are focused on the actions of the person that seems the easiest to control, we behave just as the abuser behaves.
The abuser’s actions are criminal, not the victim’s. There are many elements to abuse that we do not understand as outsiders. She is manipulated and coerced into a variety of behavior and her life hangs in the balance. Criminalizing her actions without intimate knowledge of what her life is like is dangerous. Talk about what he is doing wrong and ways to stop him instead of about the illusion of support you think she has.
There is no such thing as the perfect victim.
We will never find someone that the public eye will respect enough, that the law will support enough, or that we like enough. We can either continue to find ways to tear her apart and point out her flaws, or we can turn our focus to the criminal actions. What gave the perpetrator the right to hit her or threaten her? How dare he create violence in front of children that will haunt them for life? Why did he think that he could rape her? What can we do to prevent this act of sexual or physical violence from happening again?
Posted originally here, republished with author’s permission and edited for clarity.