Speaking The Truth In Love Is Not Victim Shaming

I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. But we in the church have picked up the verbiage and values of our culture, and it shows itself in the most ugly way.

First, the problem. In patriarchal societies, sinful men will act sinfully and they often sin against women. That’s a fact, and it has been since Adam first blamed Eve for his own disobedience.

In contemporary western culture, however, we have taken a strange turn. When men sin against women, to counsel women how they can protect themselves, is “victim shaming” and ought not to be done.

Here’s where all this is coming from. On Monday someone in a writers’ Facebook group drew our attention to a Publisher’s Weekly article about four Christian writers’ conference presenters who have been accused of and/or investigated for sexual misconduct.

One of the many people who commented said this:

The code of conduct [which conference directors are beginning to include for their staff] should apply to everyone–male and female, attendees or staff. Some of the clothing I’ve seen is really questionable, especially at a Christian conference. Not that it gives the other person any rights, but get a clue, folks. Don’t wear suggestive clothing!

Well, this opened the floodgates to the “victim shaming” accusation:
* What a sad, victim-shaming comment.
* I would love to think we’ve gotten past this way of thinking. Wow.
* that you think clothing choices lead to (and excuse) male misconduct is both shaming to women and insulting to men. [Never mind that the commenter specifically said: “Not that it gives the other person any rights.”]
* when I see someone implying that a woman brought abuse on herself because of how she dressed or what she did all my niceness goes out the window. It is never ever the victim’s fault.

And on the comments went, most taking the stance that any word to women was victim shaming. I admit, the comment was blunt and in my opinion should have carried a tone of compassion and love, but it caused me to think.

As a result, in another discussion of the PW article, I made this comment:

One thing that has dismayed me is that when someone says women can be discerning and can do something to shut down predators, their comments are considered “victim shaming.” How are we to have a conversation that will help young women if we can’t say anything about what they should do in response or as a precaution or to enhance discernment?

A friend of mine took the time to give a thoughtful answer:

The time to tell women how to protect themselves is not when we are discussing predators. It makes it seem as if we’re shifting blame. That comes during other discussions, not during the focus on predators.

It’s like when someone’s kid dies drunk driving. You don’t start lecturing on how bad it is to drink and drive to the grievers. You grieve with them and comfort them. Later, another time, another forum, you can be active in speaking against intoxicated operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.

But when women are talking about their pain and abuse is not the time to say, “Well, don’t stand so close, don’t be alone in their room or in an elevator, don’t sit next to them at a table if you know they tell racy jokes or touch a lot, don’t smile when you feel uncomfortable, speak up, etc.”

But . . . the comment that drew such ire was not directed to the victims. It specified that the men had no right to do what they did. And if not when the incident surfaces, then when?

I’d make this comparison. What if a serial rapist was on a university campus and had not been caught. This has actually happened. It isn’t a pretend scenario. On the news there will often be careful instructions about how women on that campus should call security if they must walk alone at night, stay in groups, even carry mace. Is that victim shaming? Of course not. That’s giving sensible instruction about how a woman can discourage an attack on her person from the rapist.

So I have to wonder, why are a clear warning and some helpful insights considered victim shaming? Why can’t we talk to women who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation about what they can and should do to protect themselves?

I think of Joseph, and one of the PW commenters actually mentioned him, when he was propositioned day after day by his boss’s wife. It wasn’t his fault, the commenter pointed out. So very true. But what did Joseph do? He ran!

Clearly that woman had power over him, but Joseph didn’t “go with the flow” or decide that she was just harmlessly flirting with him or that he could get further ahead if he let her have her way. He made a decision that what she was pressing him to do was wrong before God, and he left.

Reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18a—“Flee immorality.”

Today we talk about having boundaries, and in my opinion, that’s just another way of saying flee. Keep an inappropriate relationship at arm’s distance, or further, if necessary.

I know when I was young, I would have appreciated some wise counsel in this area. Because I was naive and stupid. I actually faced a couple scary situations, largely of my own making. Well, sure, not that the guys involved were free to have their way, but because I gave them the wrong impression—that I was available and willing. I was just goofing around, having fun, and these were strangers who I never saw again, but the situation could have had a very different ending, but for the grace of God.

Reminds me of a time I was taking a neighbor’s son home from school. He kept flashing gang signs out the window. I finally pulled over and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing could get us killed. Not that a real gang member (my neighbor’s son was not) would have the right to attack someone flashing signs at him. But the end result would be the same: we’d be innocent, and dead.

That may sound extreme, but listen to women who have faced abuse or harassment. They will say how much it has affected their lives, their marriages. We’re talking about something dangerous, so to basically say, Don’t tell women how to keep this man who wants to exert his power over you from doing so because that is victim shaming, in my opinion simply perpetuates the problem.

I get that the women who are suffering, who are dealing with confrontation and with forgiveness, and what all that means, don’t need to hear what they could have done in the past. That isn’t helpful to them. But it would be greatly helpful for the women coming along behind them to know that they don’t have to expect the same to happen. There are boundaries that the can draw, even if it means they lose something temporarily, as Joseph did. Sometimes there’s a cost, and that can be intimidating. Which is why we should talk about these things instead of hiding them under cover of the world’s “victim shaming” accusation.

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have heard tips that we can avoid being robbed if we don’t flash a bunch of dollar bills around in public. By the above mentioned mindset, giving this tip is “shaming” victims of robbery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point, Rachel. Yes. Those who used this line should apply their reasoning across the board.

      Becky

      Like

  2. You did well, Becky! This is a sticky wicket indeed, so a hard issue to discuss. I like your friend’s comment, too.

    Something I find interesting, nobody can shame you without your permission, so the whole idea of “victim shaming” itself is built on a flawed premise. We really aren’t supposed to be seeking people favor or defining ourselves and our morality based on other people’s shaming tactics. So the whole concept of “victim shaming” actually disempowers women, teaches us that the opinions of others define us, and falsely leads us to conclude we are emotionally vulnerable and that others have this mysterious “victim shaming” power over us.

    In our faith especially, Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, shamed and violated in horrible ways, and yet His identity, who He was, all came from His heavenly Father. He told us many times, “Who do you say I am?”

    So whether women have been victimzed or not, they really need to know who they are and Whose they are. If you really know Whose you are, and understand the investment He made in you, then “victim blaming” will have no affect on you anyway. And of course if you did put yourself in danger then you actually just need grace, forgiveness, and repentance, not the approval of other people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So helpful, IB. Yes, yes, yes. Who we are in Christ matters and outweighs who others see us as. You’ve said it so clearly, explained it so well. Thank you!

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love what you said about timing! Yes, there is a right time and a wrong time to address the issue of prevention. In my opinion, one time for this is in school’s sex education classes, instead of the rubbish they’re getting that (IMO) is contributing to the problem. Of course, ideally girls should be taught these things at home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Victim Shaming.” To shame a victim? It almost seems like a misnomer…almost. I Understand the concept. The victim is shamed for his/her own victimization by another.

    If there is, indeed, a victim then there is a perpetrator. Of course. It’s like 1+1=2. Simple enough.

    Where does the victim fit in? I dunno. If I take the principle of “Victim” and apply my empathy to the problem (empathy is ok, right?), I can say that when ever I have been a victim of something (Anyone living a human life knows what it is to be a “Victim”) then I know how much shame is involved…the consequence of being the victim. Having to report is a terrible journey. Oh Lord help me: Getting someone in enough trouble to send them to prison or loose a job…OR the very real possibility of the retaliation by the perpetrator…his/her word against mine…who has the most prestige…who is most “Perceived” above reproach…who works better…makes more money…has more authority…who’s done the most…how much time will it take from my life, my joy…my money. What is the agenda of the company and what degree of integrity do they have with regards to the principles and laws of fair employment…who’s in charge, and what do they feel they need to do to protect their own interests (honesty or denial with subversion).

    Yes…Oh yes…there is a lot of fear (terror) and shame wrapped up in being the victim already, and there is a lot of real consequences of which MOST are completely out of the hands of the victim. It’s real! The laws and rules that exists to prevent and protect from victimization are just laws and rules; words on paper. Add to that real human nature (above and beyond our high ideals)…and we get a big scary monster of terrorizing shame making from both sides of these situations.

    Adding insult to injury: The victims worst fears come true when she/he reports which often come up if the victim actually wasn’t as innocent as he/she projects.

    My father worked for a state agency that investigated work place harassment and discrimination. He was an investigator. When I turned 18, he sat me down and had a heart to heart about many things. His most importantly stressed point was essentially this: Be above reproach if you ever find yourself in situation like being a victim in the work place (specifically).

    I do not mean to belittle or marginalize the importance of this topic or the venue or person from which it is expressed. That is not my aim at all. I seek to bring to light a truth I’ve observed through my many years on the Earth (which is NOT to be perceived as me being more or less wise than someone whose lived a shorter harder life or a longer harder life then myself…Honor yourself as I honor and validate my own perspective. I’m contributing…not subverting).

    About Christianity: I was raised Cooneyite. A principle of that sect is modesty for women. Humility. Now…don’t get all upset with me. the Bibl,e before any human in perception and free, will can interprate what ever they want from any “Word” regardless of what was intended 2000+ years ago. That’s fine. And here we are in 2018…in America where every one gets to be who he/she is for what ever reason they want with a founding principle of “Freedom and the right to the pursuit of happiness.”

    How shall we interpret Humility? I recently heard from a spiritual teacher I adore (Catholic) that Humility is a very powerful shield. Indeed.

    If a Christian woman is provocative; not entirely in line with the principles of her faith (lets assume this is also true for Christian men so no one gets upset, for indeed…these principles ARE universal to either gender)…is it enough to assume that the rules of man will protect her from Man’s nature if it should be of a baser level? Would remembering the principles of modesty and humility add just one more degree of safety? OR…being an American Woman…is she excused from modesty and humility? Is she excused from all physical and spiritual consequences of NOT being in alignment with the professions of her (or his) faith?

    By asking the question, based on for real human nature…Am I victim shaming for bringing it up? Am I compassionately bringing forward something, or am I creating an excuse for perpetrators to use…”That woman was not modest and I couldn’t control myself. It’s her fault even though the laws and rules are in place (and my real nature is not bound by simple words…[he.she is] a pervert and an evil doer, and in any given free will action, above the law despite consequences “if” it can be proven.

    Are immodest Christian Woman above reproach? Are immodest Christian woman taking all steps, in alignment with Christian principles, to…indeed…protect themselves?

    It’s a very hard question. I don’t mind asking these sorts of questions. In my own line of work, I have to ask a lot of questions about a person’s death…I have to identify real problems that are causing a great deal of suffering so that the death is as peaceful as possible and the family suffers the least (though suffering still exists). I have to say hard facts about objective observations…and evaluate a response…and then adjusts…rephrase…recontextualize until acceptances is eventually reached (to some degree so as to reduce suffering). It’s not easy. It’s actually very uncomfortable…but rather ask the question then create more victimhood which is, by far…much much much more uncomfortable in the long run.

    Peace. God Bless you. I admire that you bring this up…and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is very well said, on truly a difficult topic to discuss. The right timing, the proper compassion, the helpful advice–all are needed, and too many people seem determined to keep them from happening. J.

    Liked by 1 person


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