Monthly Archives: July 2011

Blaming the Abused


I couldn’t sleep last night. I was in turmoil as I thought of all the articles I’d been reading recently about abused women and children. I’m reading Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, A STOLEN LIFE, so that probably got me started on this train of thought. But that wasn’t what kept me awake.

It struck me how often the victims of abusers were blamed. Some examples:

*The book SUPERFREAKONOMICS discusses the economics of prostitution. One thing quickly becomes clear – the risk is all on the part of the prostitutes. Rarely are their customers prosecuted, nor – for the most part – are they condemned for their actions.

*In Cameroon, many young girls have their breasts “ironed” – flattened with burning hot pestles. This is done in order to make them less desirable to boys, as if by the very act of having breasts the girls are tempting boys beyond their control.

*In Kenya, the rape of young girls – some as young as six – is sanctioned under a horrendous process called “beading.” A close relative will place a necklace of beads around the victim’s neck, giving him permission to have sex with her until she is old enough to marry. Pregnancy is not allowed but no care is taken to prevent it; should it happen, the babies are often killed. The father of one victim says “beading is aimed at stopping promiscuity among young girls.”

*In Somali, a 13-year-old girl was stoned to death for adultery after being raped.

*In India, a 15-year-old rape victim was burned alive for refusing to withdraw the accusation against her rapist.

*In Pakistan, a 16-year-old rape victim was executed for bringing shame to her village.

*Here in the United States, I’ve noticed an increasing number of cases of sexual abuse and incest where the common refrain was that the child was to blame for somehow tempting the abuser. A report by Mary Witham Armsworth, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Houston noted that in treating adult survivors, “the most helpful categories of interventions included (1) validation; (2) advocacy; (3) empathic understanding; and (4) absence of derision or contempt. Practices or attitudes considered harmful were (1) blaming the victim; (2) lack of validation; (3) negative or rejecting responses; and (4) exploitation or victimization of the client.” It infuriated me to read that “reliving experiences, revictimization dynamics, and dissociative processes” related to therapy frequently resulted in further victimization: “Sexual involvement with the person in the helping role was reported by 23% of the sample; an additional 23% reported other forms of exploitation or victimization.”

Why discuss this on a blog mainly aimed at romance readers and writers? Because I know of several women who starting writing in this genre as a way to reclaim their sexuality after abuse such as rape, incest or domestic brutality. As I grow older and less concerned about rocking the boat, I am constantly reminded of those who have confided in me about abuse. Many of them still feel shame, and despite assurances to the contrary, feel they are somehow to blame. Not one of these people – even the ones who confronted their abusers – ever received an apology, or even an admittance of guilt.

Across the globe, innocents are punished for the actions of their abusers through death and torture, or expressing doubt at the veracity of their accusations. When we allow victims to be blamed, we as a society are inflicting continuing psychological and emotional abuse on those least able to protect themselves.

And we call ourselves “civilized.”