An Old Friend’s Very Revealing Statement

Even the people that you think are your allies often turn out to be as much a part of the problem as the people who show it overtly by their words, deeds, or their votes.

Today I was confronted by a statement from a man that I have known and respected for more than three decades. With his statement, he showed that he, too, blames the victims and completely fails to understand the real problem.

Here is what he said (via a comment on social media):

Women say “I want justice as a victim of sexual assault…but I don’t trust the police or the courts to do that so I don’t report the crime.” So, what does this person want? [It’s] unclear. A lynching? Mob justice? Anonymous denunciation? Public shaming? If you are a victim of a crime – any crime – then you have a duty as a citizen and a human being to report it to the police if for no other reason than to protect society at large.
Grow up and take some responsibility as a citizen.

Wow. How can someone get it all so very wrong? Are men and women incapable of defining this situation in the same terms?

Here’s my response:

Old Friend, I know you mean well, but I think you have missed the mark with your statement. Perhaps it is because it comes from a nice comfortable place of white male privilege where the justice system (and society in general) believes you and protects you. But that is not everyone’s experience.

To answer your question: I think that what women want is Justice in the larger sense: a just world where women who are abused are actually believed and where they are not subjected to more trauma or blame or further victimization; a world where the accused is not protected and promoted, or elected or confirmed; and where the behavior is not excused with trite phrases like “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” or “it was a long time ago.”

Yes, theoretically every victim has a duty to report crimes in the hopes of preventing something similar from happening to someone else. But that assumes that in so reporting, the perpetrator will be prevented from doing it again. The one does not necessarily follow from the other.

And to tell women that we should just “grow up” fails to take into account the very real and very painful trauma that women are subjected to when they do come forward. Not only from the process itself (have you ever talked to survivors about what they have to go through when they do report??), and from defenders of the attacker, mutual friends, and compete strangers, but also often from friends and family members of the victim herself. Our society still places a lot of stigma on being the victim of a sexual crime, and women are often not believed, or they are blamed, told that they asked for it, wanted it, didn’t fight hard enough, shouldn’t have been there, shouldn’t have been drinking, shouldn’t have been wearing what she was wearing, shouldn’t have been walking where she was walking, or sitting alone minding her own business, or being in a relationship with that guy, or a million other things that are not, in fact HER fault.

What happens when the attack comes from a family member — from a brother, uncle, father, step father? Should a 12 year old girl “grow up” and charge forward, knowing that her accusation will more than likely rip her family apart and potentially ostracize her forever? What happens when it’s a boss, or a well-respected member of her community? Or a young man who is the star of the high school football team or the college swim team? Do you have the right to tell her that she should just grow up and take whatever comes? Do you even have ANY idea what will come?

What gives you the right to decide that a 15 year old girl, or a 12 year old girl or a 50 year old woman or anyone else who has been brutally attacked in the most personal, horrible way possible has to subject herself to that? What do you know about her emotional state? What do you know about the support system around her or whether her family will rally behind her or blame her. What do you know about any of it?

I think it is incumbent on ALL of us, not only the survivors of crimes, to work to create a society and a system where there is real justice. And that starts with not passing judgment on the victims themselves. And then we need to do a better job teaching our sons to look on girls and women as truly equal. We need to take expressions like “throws like a girl” and “overly emotional” and “bitchy” and “bossy” out of our collective vocabulary. We need to take a good hard look at the messages that we are sending to our young men through our entertainment, music, commerce, justice system, political system. It includes demanding equal pay for equal work, fair hiring, and so much more. Why don’t the men in our society GROW UP and start taking some responsibility for a change?

Until you have lived a lifetime in a woman’s skin and been subjected to the daily outrages and injustices that we confront, you really have no business passing judgment on how any woman should feel or behave.

Do you think I was right? Or wrong?

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