by: Nicole Trudeau
As people blame refugees for world events that they in fact have no control over, we see these same patterns repeating on a smaller scale, worldwide. Understanding the psychological influences of victim-blaming must be a part of the conversation as we look to change the narrative for refugees. Changing the narrative means not making statements that make the victim or family of the victim accountable for a crime against them. This is a story about why we blame.
We sat, four of us, in a training aimed at teaching others about methods for reducing sexual violence within our community. The potential perpetrators were not strangers or unknown villains, but rather they were the very people who were supposed to offer safety. The perpetrators of sexual abuse were fathers, uncles, police officers, pastors and friends. In the middle of the training, a girl stated that it was her mother’s boyfriend who raped her. The conversation continued. The sentence had become so normal that it barely warranted a pause. The girl expressed her anger, not at the man who had raped her, but rather at the women who did not defend her. Her mother had turned a blind eye. Other women had judged her, even blatantly told her it was a result of the clothes she had worn and the fact that she had the shapely body of a normal teenage girl. She asked the group “Why must women blame each other for the crimes of men”? We talked about ‘blame the victim mentality’ that is all too common. The need to blame other women, in order to make yourself feel protected from the same fate of being sexually assaulted.
Victim-blaming stems from a core need to feel safe. It is a belief that if tragedy can be even partially blamed on the victim, then there is hope for avoiding the same fate for yourself. It is a thought process that stems from the idea that good things happen to good people, so that if something bad happens to someone then they must at some level deserve it.
One lady explained that incest was known as a ‘generational curse’ among the Caribbean-born audience. Incest was viewed as something that should not be spoken about, but something that must be accepted and endured. She expressed that she was grateful to not be ‘born into a cursed family’. There is a basic belief system among many cultures and religions that everything is God’s will, so if something bad happens then it must be the will of God. If you were born into a ‘cursed family’ then you carry the burden of your birth. The ‘blame the victim’ mentality helps alleviate guilt, minimizes the criminal acts of others and encourages silence about negative life events. We use these thought patterns to justify violence against others. We minimize their suffering in order to make ourselves feel safer. We place the blame on them, so that we can escape placing any blame on ourselves. It is so subtle at times, that we might not even notice. Comments such as, “I heard that she likes to drink a bit too much, so that is probably why the rapist went after her”, “Everyone in her family gets breast early, so her mother should of dressed her better to avoid getting the attention of men”, “If I were in that country, I would have just stayed inside my house” all contribute to victim-blaming.
Refugees are blamed for events such as war, corruption or targeted group violence or even genocide. People blame them because they want to feel safe in their own communities and their own countries. They want to believe that their country is protected from the possibilities of war. People want to believe that they are not a member of a group that could be subject to mass killings. If they can blame refugees for their situation, then they themselves can feel protected against such atrocities. Remember, real safety is accomplished through holding those who are committing violence accountable, not by blaming victims.