An Analysis On Victim Blaming In Domestic Violence Cases
Why didn’t she leave? Why did she marry him? She must have instigated it. She chose to have his kids and stick around. All of these are the repeated questions and statements one hears when bringing up the topic of domestic violence. Instead, the question should have been, “Why did he do that?”, “Why didn’t he show any empathy?” “What is wrong with him?” This is known as victim blaming and it is all too common in our society. Domestic violence is treated like a taboo topic that no one wants to talk about, but until we do, this act will continue to be overlooked and not taken as serious as it needs to be.
For the most part, abusers get a slap on the wrist. They may or may not be arrested. They may have to go to domestic violence classes or do community service. Law enforcement may or may not be empathetic towards the victim or take them seriously. Perpetrators should be prosecuted. Perpetrators should have a consequence, not the victim. There should be a protocol followed by society, law enforcement, prosecutors, and employers so that the seriousness of the offense is understood by all. A slap on the wrist is not enough to show the serious negative impacts domestic violence can have such as trauma and self-destructive behavior. If our law enforcement and courts do not take it seriously, how can anyone else? This lack of consistency helps to justify the victim blaming mentality that almost everyone has in some way or another. In order to change this, we must look domestic violence right in the eye and shed light on the topic, not treating it as some dirty little secret.
In order to get one step closer to ending society’s stigma against domestic violence and the victims of the act, one must learn about the topic. Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behaviors that are used by the perpetrator to maintain control and power over their intimate partner. It is reported that “Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation” (Abuse Defined). It is important to note that these forms of abuse can happen to any gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or religious group and does not discriminate. Some signs of abuse include a partner using put downs or insults, acting jealous or possessive, trying to control how a partner spends their money, what they wear, and where they go, or blames them for their own violent behavior (Mayo Clinic Staff). After briefly understanding the surface of domestic violence and abuse, one can start learning about victim-blaming.
So, what is victim blaming? Well, victim blaming has been described as the attitude or thought process that the victim of a crime or act is at fault and bears responsibility rather than the perpetrator themselves. Although victim blaming can occur when any crime or act is brought up, it commonly makes itself known during sexual or domestic violence cases. It is explained that people would rather believe that someone caused their own fate to be sealed in order to keep themselves at ease or to look at the world as a better place (Harvard Law School HALT). Although this may seem like a harmless thought process, it has actually discouraged victims of abuse and sexual assault to report their own experiences. After already having so much guilt and shame that comes with holding in their attack, for some, it seems useless to report their case and only get more shame and guilt through the act of blaming the victim. Some common examples of victim blaming include asking what the victim was wearing, if they were intoxicated during the attack, or if they were previously consensually involved with the perpetrator. All these questions can place deep psychological triggers and thoughts into the survivor’s brains, affecting them for life.
Along with constantly feeling guilty and ashamed of their experience, many survivors of intimate partner violence go through the daily effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both of these can be debilitating symptoms and triggers may strike at any moment, causing it to disrupt a victim’s daily activities. Domestic violence can also lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and changes in behavior due to the experience a person had with their abuser. Domestic violence not only affects the victim, but according to the NCDAV, boys who are exposed to domestic violence while growing up are twice as likely to abuse their intimate partners and children when they grow up (GoodTherapy). It is also important to note that 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to the violence (NCADV). The effects of domestic violence spread and burry themselves into every aspect of the victim’s life, whether that be family or work life. If it didn’t sound bad harming one person, try imagining how much it effects everyone around that person and how they may take the news.
On top of the effects caused by being emotionally or physically abused, the impacts of victim blaming can be very dangerous as well. Dr. Anju Hurria, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California-Irvine explains victim blaming to be considered secondary trauma or secondary assault. In her experience, those who are blamed report greater distress, an increased amount of depression, complications with PTSD, and an increase in suicidal ideation. It is also reported that because of the fear that they will not be believed and will be blamed once again, people’s chances of reporting future abuse often decrease (Schroeder). In order to move forward with their recovery, individuals who have come out about their abuse must feel safe, validated, heard, respected, and appreciated for doing so. In order to do this, society must change their language when domestic violence is brought up in conversations.
Many questions asked when bringing up domestic violence follow something along the lines of ‘Why didn’t they leave?’ While this is a valid question to ask, it shouldn’t be the first thing to arise in this topic of discussion. There are so many reasons a victim of domestic abuse may not be able to “just leave” the relationship. Often times, the abuser and victim have a life together and may live together. They might share finances together and one might not know where to start when attempting to leave. Another reason is the low self-esteem that is often a symptom of domestic violence. If someone is constantly blaming the victim and putting them down, one might believe that they deserve the abuse or are responsible for it themselves. Other times victims don’t even realize they are being abused in the first place.
Unfortunately, one of the most common reasons a person doesn’t leave an abusive relationship is out of fear. Statistics show that 75% of serious injuries in domestic violence cases occur after the victim has decided to leave the relationship. This is called escalation and often occurs when the abuser feels that they are losing power and control in the relationship. They abuser can suddenly or gradually escalate the abuse in order to try and gain back what they feel like they have lost (R. Arias). A tragic example of escalation turning lethal is the death of Maria Flores and her 17-year-old daughter. In June of 2013, Flores decided she was going to leave her abusive boyfriend of three years and notified a friend. Soon after, Maria and her daughter were shot dead while her 4-year-old daughter was badly wounded (DomesticShelters.org). Leaving an abusive partner is never as easy as it seems, especially if one has never experienced abuse themselves. It is much easier to ask the question rather than leaving the relationship.
From factors such as fear of escalation to attachment to the abuser financially, there are so many reasons why a person wouldn’t leave their abuser. Not only is it our job to change the conversation around domestic violence, but we also need to make sure that these victims get the justice that they deserve. We must make sure that these abusers receive the correct punishment and the appropriate procedures are followed in order to ensure this. Abusers can no longer just get a slap on the risk and be required to take a few anger management classes. No, abusers must face the consequences of their actions and that is up to both the people and law enforcement to properly deal with the perpetrators of these horrible crimes.
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