An attractive young woman suits up in a tight mini skirt and a skimpy peekaboo blouse, paints her face like Irma la Douce, dons a flashy diamond necklace, sticks a wad of 100-dollar bills into each of her exposed garters, puts on a pair of four-inch stilettos, gets plastered out of her mind, and proceeds to take a midnight stroll on the South Side of Chicago, all by herself.
She ends up raped, strangled, and robbed.
Now, if—upon condemning this act of violence—you ever so gently offered for consideration the thesis that the young lady’s choices in the run-up to her demise may not have been among the most conducive to her personal welfare, chances are you’d be taken to the woodshed by every women’s and victim’s rights group under the sun for “blaming the victim” in a disgraceful bid to make excuses for her attacker(s), as if you were implying that on account of the victim’s conduct the crime committed was less severe than had she been stone sober, wrapped in a burlap blanket with a potato sack over her head, and assaulted en route to the grocery store in broad daylight with fifteen body guards and a pack of growling pit bulls at her side.
Some time ago, on The O’Reilly Factor, former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy emphatically put forth that “there’s only 100% of blame to go around”; hence, any allegation of wrongdoing (or dumbdoing) on the part of the victim “by definition” reduced the culpability of the perpetrator.
Not sure whence Ms. Murphy obtains her definitions, but this one smacks of Monty Python’s Flying Circus rather than the Academy of Common Sense.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked that the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. Another excellent mind test is the ability to tell truly contradictory ideas from those that merely seem contradictory to lazy thinkers or crazed activists like Ms. Murphy—although I’m sure the good counselor does lots of valuable work in her spare time, i.e., when she isn’t busy spouting half-witted arithmetics into a television camera.
Even lower-rated minds should easily be able to erect a solid wall of separation between the culpability of a perpetrator and his or her victim’s hare-brained behavior, as there is absolutely no contradiction between a criminal being 100% guilty and the victim having acted like a dunce. Given that the units don’t even match up, subtracting one person’s imprudence from another’s culpability makes about as much sense as subtracting your dentist’s hat size from the number of your fillings, or the height of the Empire State Building from the temperature in Midtown.
As per the American Heritage Dictionary—seconded by Webster’s—anytime something bad happens to us, we are victims. We may be victims of our genes, of our own behavior (perchance occasioned by our genetic proclivities), of the actions of others, or of the latter in concert with the previous. Yet although legitimate questions about a victim’s judgment may be raised for having conveniently painted a bright red target on her forehead and worn a “Shoot Me” T-shirt, such questions hardly qualify as mitigating factors regarding the guilt of her assassin. Apples and oranges.
Of course, especially in cases of rape and sexual molestation where the occurrence of the act and its non-consensuality have been established, the defendant and his dream team will play the provocation card in an attempt to wangle a reduced sentence. After all, doesn’t the victim share some blame because she “asked for it” by walking around drunk and half naked?
Such a defense certainly ought to be taken into account, to wit by ordering the perpetrator to serving his time in a zoo instead of a conventional correctional facility. Clearly, his reasoning combined with such paltry impulse control capabilities put him more on par with a mountain lion than an evolved human being.
A few years back, on NBC’s Judge Joe Brown, a guy stood accused of having totaled another guy’s motorized go-cart. The defendant admitted to being responsible for half the damage. Judge Brown inquired what made him think—given that he had wrecked the entire vehicle all by himself—he should pay for only half. The defendant opined that because the go-cart-owning plaintiff had provided the booze, and because being loaded was deemed a factor in the crash, the responsibility ought to be shared. In the end, not only was the defendant held liable for the entire damage, but the judge slapped on an extra fine for the sheer nerve to present such a dimwitted defense. In fact, he jacked up that extra fine after the defendant repeated his excuse, and then hiked it some more in reaction to yet another repetition thereof.
I’d have ruled the same way, except that the plaintiff—because he had furnished the liquor—would have received only part of the money, and the rest would have been donated to charity, thereby holding the perpetrator 100% liable while simultaneously acknowledging the injured party’s complicity in upping the odds for disaster and thus divesting the victim of some of the sympathy he would otherwise have been entitled to.
Similarly, any molester/rapist who cites his victim’s “provocative attire” or “lascivious demeanor” or whatnot as an extenuating circumstance for his transgression ought to receive an extra year in the zoo, plus an additional six months for every time he or his lawyer have the gall to ditto their risible rationale.
That said, if the victim acted injudiciously, such as walking around drunk and half-naked, her behavior increased the likelihood of the outcome she suffered. Am I “blaming the victim”? Absolutely. However, I am blaming her separately from blaming the perpetrator, as one has zilch to do with the other. A person who smashed a shop window doesn’t get a reduced sentence because the golden watch on display looked particularly appealing and easy to snatch, even though the store owner should have installed thicker glass and had a better security system in place. Why should a crook get time off for having had an accomplice, even if the accomplice was, in fact, the victim by way of facilitating the felony?
There are no guarantees in life. We weave our way through the Red Dust shrouded a probability cloud in which our individual choices either increase or decrease the odds for particular outcomes. The question arises to what extent a victim should be “blamed” by recognizing or—Heaven forbid!—even pointing out that by acting differently he or she may reasonably have averted a particularly infelicitous occurrence. Emphasis on reasonably; after all—to remain with our flagship example of rape—by leaving her house a woman increases her chances of getting raped by a stranger, and by staying home she boosts her chances of getting raped by her spouse, her boyfriend, or the milkman. Strictly speaking, a woman increases her chances of getting raped simply by refusing to commit suicide, yet she can hardly be blamed for electing life over death, nor for either staying home or going out.
Wardrobe choices may offer some opportunity for protection, although this is a murky area. Although many predators will become overly excited at the sight of a girl in a mini and tank top, others may snap at the sight of a fully burqa-ed female, irresistibly intrigued by the mystery of what may lie beneath. As a general rule, though, the tighter the wrapping, the more skin lies exposed, and/or the more closely a woman’s get-up resembles that of an odalisque, the more she’ll attract the attention of everyman, including those she may not wish to attract. Of course, I confess to being rather partial to scantily clad females, and far be it from my European mores and sensibilities to demur to exposure of any degree. Provocative attire and flirtatious demeanor alone certainly do not warrant excessive harrumphing in case a person with a shoe addiction (= a woman) runs into trouble with some troglodyte who can’t keep his appendages properly stowed (such as his hands in his pockets).
I am, however, open to “blaming the victim” for precarious situations which occur in the context of getting lushed up in public while dressed like Pretty Woman on the clock, pole-dancing in a room full of drunk guys, or entering into romantic relationships with men who wear their abusive tendencies on their sleeves. Once again, this line of judgment is entirely separate from locking up the perps in a zoo and tossing the keys into the crater of Mount Vesuvius.
For the sake of political correctness, it shall be stated that men, too, are liable to getting raped, molested, or physically abused by women. And sometimes dogs gets bitten by the mailman. (I don’t mean to suggest that, on balance, women are less powerful, or even less cruel and ruthless, than men; only that, by necessity, footwear addicts are more disposed to causing pain and destruction by resorting to methods other than brute physical force.)
Given that there appears to exist some sort of non-random action-consequence dynamic in this probability cloud called life—the more often we play Russian Roulette the more likely we will end up with a bullet in our head, even though it could happen anyway—is it possible that some people will take actions specifically so as to increase their chances of bad things happening to them? Is it conceivable that, say, a rape victim was indeed “asking for it”?
Sure it is. Two reasons: (1) Some individuals have a guilt complex and feel they deserve to be punished, so they are drawn to situations where pain is likely to occur, or (2) because they feel that the best way to come by genuine affection is to be a genuine victim.
We’ve all experienced that people are generally nicer to us when we’re sick or hurt. And how many hearts had gone out to Haiti prior to the earthquake versus afterwards? Having been on the receiving end of a disaster, a crime, or any type of malice (such as having been lied to) is a surefire way to attract increased amounts of loving attention. (Some people will become very angry reading this, primarily those prone to applying this particular strategy to harvest affection.)
Of course, it would be beyond preposterous to suggest that the victims in Haiti were using any sort of conscious or subconscious ploy to draw the world’s attention by allowing themselves to be buried alive by the millions. And clearly, bestowing loving attention on people who are hurting is a good thing, even though in some cases we may not appreciate the psychological complexity of the situation, i.e., we may not be aware that we’re being played. Moreover, the overall number of those deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way with the express objective of receiving hugs in the wake of their victimhood is probably fairly small. Besides, these individuals are victims nonetheless, albeit victims of something else, something much deeper and more painful than the immediate source of their injury.
Some will argue that perpetrators themselves are victims, as they suffer from an uncontrollable urge to do bad things, hence it isn’t really their fault. On some level it makes sense that all so-called “evil” ultimately reduces to limited functionality in certain areas of the brain, e.g., the inability to feel empathy. So then how can we “blame” a rapist if he simply couldn’t help himself due to a medical condition?
This line of reasoning entails the inevitable conclusion that there are no perpetrators, no criminals, and no bad people (except Republicans), because everybody is a victim of sorts. We’re all sinners, because we’re all victims. Enlightened and compassionate—perhaps even imbued with a hue of ultimate truth—as this conclusion may be in theory, in practice it is rather worthless. If free will doesn’t exist, then those arguing in favor of holding people accountable for their own actions aren’t accountable for their personal-responsibility fetish, either, as they simply can’t help espousing the concept of a free will. In a world filled with Manchurian Candidates, the whole concept of blaming anybody for anything would be moot.
In the comment section of my previous post, one of my honorable interlocutors alleged that I was a victim of “the blame the victim mentality that is so rampant in protestant, capitalist society” which is allegedly loath to give “a person willing to work a chance to earn a full-time salary.” In the course of attempting to convince me that I ought to count myself among the plaintiffs in the class-action case of Penniless v. Society, the claimant kindly provided a link to a Wikipedia article titled Victim Blaming.
By Wikipedia’s very nature, the content of their entries is subject to change. At the time of this writing, however, the first paragraph of the entry in question contains the following sentence:
Victim blaming is a typical fascist trait, infamously expressed in arguments like “a raped woman in a short skirt was asking for it.”
It was this statement which prompted me to go off on a lenghty prelude expanding upon victimhood and rape, although my actual point today is to explain why our “protestant, capitalist society” is exactly as responsible for my personal failure to make a living in this world as it is responsible for my cavities and the climate on Venus.
Strikingly, the aforementioned interlocutor dragged society into a debate about the perennial void in my wallet as if society by default were to blame for the existential face plants of its members, without possessing any real knowledge of my personal history and the series of quietly disastrous choices I may have made over the course of my life that would have sufficed to do me in irrespective of society’s attitude at large.
For instance, I grew up in a part of the world where university education is free of charge. Getting a PhD or a Master’s, even several of these, wouldn’t have cost me or my parents a dime. Did I avail myself of this opportunity? No. I politely declined all higher education, confident that I would manage to slide by and succeed in life on my natural smarts and talents.
And now, having worn myself out hopscotching from one menial job to the next on both sides of the Atlantic for close to two decades, I’m feeling too drained, too tired, too listless, and too broke to once again pack my bags and “start over,” whatever that may mean. Next stop Brooklyn Bridge. That’s too bad, but what’s “society” got to do with it? By way of unemployment compensation, the state of New York has been keeping me afloat for almost a year now. Indeed, society is paying my bills. What else does society owe me? Free manicures?
Am I, the victim, to “blame” for all this? Sure, just like I am to blame for my cavities. As I recall, no one has ever put a Glock to my temple and forced me to dig my teeth into a Hershey’s bar. On the flip side, this protestant, capitalist society has never applied force to prevent me from doing damage to my enamel, either.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Well, freedom has rung. Freedom, alas, includes the freedom to take a bath.
Of course, one may adopt the notion that individuals like myself aren’t really “free” but are genetically wired to make cataclysmal choices in life, just as the lady at the top of this post may have been genetically wired to dress up like a hooker, get fried, and take a solo walk on the South Side of Chicago in the middle of the night.
Who knows. But society? Nah.
Perhaps it’s all just a matter of luck. In the immortal words of Jake Blues:
I ran out of gas. I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN’T MY FAULT! I SWEAR TO GOD!!!