When is it helpful and when is it victim blaming?

Yesterday I read about the controversy over Serena William’s comments in Rolling Stone Magazine. She did not articulate her thoughts in the most productive way — but the gist of what she said was that a 16 year old girl put herself in harms way by getting drunk with people that she did not know. She further asserted that the girls parents should have been more involved. Granted, I am not sure why Rolling Stone was asking a tennis player her opinions on the topic of a rape case in Ohio, but she chose to answer the question honestly. Helpful or victim blaming?

I remember going to see Sister Souljah speak one night while in college at the University of Tennessee.  It was right after a woman accused Mike Tyson of raping her in his hotel room. I was fascinated to hear her say from her podium “No always means no. No matter what, you have the right to change your mind and choose not to have sex. However, if you do go up to a man’s hotel room at 2:30 in the morning, what do you think he is thinking you want to do? Not a lot of Monopoly playing that time of the morning.  Be smart. Don’t put yourself in the position to have to fight someone off.” Helpful or victim blaming?

As you can imagine, there is always a high sensitivity about victim blaming in the DV community. While I do agree that it is NEVER appropriate to use violence, is it irresponsible to tell a victim of abuse “it is not your fault” “there is nothing you could have done”. I think it is… By telling someone that all actions contrary to what they want is out of their control is very disempowering. It’s patting them on the head, calling them pretty and the setting them aside.

Instead, I do think that each person plays a role in their situation. There are, of course, situations that are out of one’s control, but it also needs to be pointed out when a victim does make the decision to empower herself. Someone throws a phone against the wall — leave. Someone raises their voice and belittles you — leave.  You have choices. One choice is staying and by doing so, you are putting yourself in harms way. But that is a choice.

There are many reasons why someone would choose to stay in a violence situation — that has been studies for years (financial, threats — real or perceived. scarce resources, etc) but it needs to be said that it is a choice. When stated as such, that means that there is an alternative.

So, Serina might not have stated her thoughts in a perfect manner, but I do think that it is helpful to let women know that they have power and control in situations. And that they have the choice not to put themselves “in the position to have to fight someone off.” Helpful or victim blaming?



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