Sunday, 7 July 2013

Blaming the victim. 07.07.13

This blog is gonna to enrage so many people, I ought to apply for a gun license now.  Please promise me that if you are going to get angry it will be at what I am saying, not what you think I am saying.  I am not subtle and I am not complicated – there are not subtexts or hidden messages here. 

Imagine we are at a supermarket.  We are casually strolling down the aisle when a heavy box falls off a high shelf and lands on my head.  I am on the floor, hurting.  What is your immediate response?  Do you make sure I get first aid?  Do you check for other dangerous loads, so we don’t get hit again?  Do you scream hysterically because you just can’t stand the sight of blood?  Do you scream hysterically at the shop manager, or even just the workers there, because it’s got to be their fault?  Do you try and remember the number of those injury lawyers who advertise on the television?

Let’s think of another scenario.  We are strolling around the supermarket and I see something on a high shelf.  Being a tiny person I can’t reach it, so I climb up the shelf to get it and I end up on the floor with a heavy box on my head.  Now, I don’t know you, but I’m willing to bet that you will have a different outlook on this incident as compared to the previous one.  This time, my injuries are at least partly the result of my actions, would you agree?

Now, how about this.  I’m going around the shop and I see something in an employee-only area.  I enter the area to get it and I have an accident.  My fault?  What about, though, if the restricted area isn’t properly marked out?  What if I am a child or just unable to read the warning signs?

There are a number of ways I can come a cropper in a supermarket.  The results of the accident are the same.  How we react to them, however, tends to change depending on how we dish out the responsibility for the event.  It is often difficult to apportion 100% of the blame to one party.  On many occasions our point of view is not neutral, either.  We can be affected by prior events, our belief system, our conditioning, the mood we are in on that particular day, and so on.  I don’t know anyone who is a completely impartial examiner of reality.

However, if we manage to calm ourselves down and discuss the situation rationally, we can generally come to some sort of compromise as to “what happened”, which, humans being monkeys, often translates to “whose fault it is”.  It might not be a straightforward process, though, and we’re talking about the sort of incident which, for most people, would not carry much of an emotional load.

When we get into situations with a huge emotional component, it seems to me that the plot just gets lost.  We get so drawn into the blame game that we seem to forget to actually resolve the situation.  Think about it coolly: someone just got hurt here.  Our priorities should be to treat the casualty and avoid further casualties.  The more emotionally charged the situation is, however, the more we seem to stray away from those priorities.

I’m thinking of something in particular here.  I’m thinking about sexual predation, because it is a subject that is crucially important to me.  When I was growing up, it was all around me.  I have seen it break lives, so I take it very seriously.  Now I’m old and live a far safer life so it does not affect me directly so much, but I know a lot of young girls.  I remember what I saw at their age and it chills me.  I am conflicted by my hypocrisy.  I have enjoyed my life immensely, warts and all, so I would not want to stop them from enjoying theirs.  At the same time, I don’t want them to see half of what I’ve seen.  The world is full of teeth and sharp corners.

I am finding myself turning into the Unofficial Fount Of All Knowledge, which annoys me hugely.  However, sorry and all that, but some things are just so bloody obvious that I can’t see how they don’t see it.  So you got a temporary tattoo on your boob, and went clubbing in a low-cut top, and everyone was staring at your cleavage?  Erm, surprise surprise.  I wonder why that could be.  Let me smack your head repeatedly into the wall until you can figure it out[1].  You went out with a friend and she disappeared and left you surrounded by a gaggle of guys, with no money to get a cab home?  That is not a friend; that is an untrustworthy rat, and incidentally if you go out with her again, and/or without enough money to get back safely, I will kneecap you.  A man said something really rude and offensive that really upset you, so you want to give him your number so he can apologise some more tomorrow?  Eh WHAT?

No, seriously, someone said that last sentence to me last week.  This sort of stuff makes my blood boil, because I can see where it could go and it scares me rigid.  I see these girls and they are beautiful, precious and innocent.  And I know that the last element is unlikely to last forever, but I don’t want anyone taking it from them against their will.  I don’t want them to go blundering into a situation which is going to turn ugly because they haven’t seen enough ugliness to recognise it.  So I rant and rage and threaten them with all manner of physical retribution.  They listen to some bits and ignore others, which comes as such a shock to me because, obviously, at their age I was so disposed to take advice from my elders, not.

By and large, however, it seems to work.  They have a vague awareness that my knowledge comes from experience and a concern for their safety, not from a moral agenda or a belief system, so they begrudgingly half listen to me.  I point out large icebergs coming up ahead.  Occasionally they still smack into them, but often it’s not as hard as it would have been without prior warning.  All in all, it seems to work.  I am reducing the number and severity of casualties.  ‘tis all relatively good, and works on a small scale.

If I tried to do it on a larger scale, though, I’d get lynched.  This isn’t because you can’t threaten the general public with kneecappings, but because these days if you say “if you do this, that is likely to happen” you are, apparently, blaming the victims.  As, unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who DO blame the victims, this has become a field where everyone is so emotionally charged that reason has just left the building.

I don’t get it.  Actually, I do get it – whenever someone says something like “she had it coming”, I feel such rage welling inside me that I know I am not thinking straight.  So yeah, I get how people get raging mad at victim-blamers.  However, I can’t see how that has come to translate into “we can’t give girls good advice that could keep them safer”.

I know that if you go to a bus or train station late at night there tend to be unsavoury people there, for the simple fact that as a teenager I spent more nights in stations than in my own bed.  I want the girls I care about to be aware of the situation, so that they don’t run into problems.  I am not saying that if you go to a station at night whatever happens to you is your fault for being there – I am saying that by going, you are increasing your chances of something nasty happening.  Yes, you have the right to be there.  Yes, what these people may try to do is both culturally unacceptable and illegal.  Yes, I have done far stupider things for shits and giggles, and you don’t want to stay home because it’s boring, and I get that.  However, none of this changes a thing.  You are walking into a potential situation; I just want you to be aware that you’re doing so, because forewarned is forearmed.

I guess I’m just not clever enough.  I’ve determined a long time ago that I lacked the knowledge and moral fibre to get involved in ethical debates.  My pragmatism seems to be increasing as I get older, too.  I’ve done a lot of first aid and informal counselling to people who got smashed up by life.  I don’t want to need to do either, really, so I’d like to avoid casualties.  The best way to avoid casualties is to lock people in their rooms forever, but that isn’t much fun.  The second best way I can think of is to go and slaughter all the nasty people, but apparently that’s illegal.  The third best way, in my mind, is to make people aware of the risks, so they can make an informed decision.  Yes, it would be lovely and great if the nasty stuff just wasn’t out there, but hey, I can’t make that happen.  Until the world changes to fit my ideals, I just gotta live with what I’ve got.  I can work towards those ideals on the side, but if I blundered about as if the world was what I want it to be, that could result in a lot of unnecessary pain.

Maybe we’re far too clever for our own good, these days.  We have access to all this “information” which, really, by and large is just opinion or even propaganda.  In the olden days, I like to think that things were simpler.  I am probably dead wrong on this, but I still like to think it.  Think of all the fairy tales: children walk into the woods and terrible things happen.  Yes, there was a “moral” to the story, but was it really a moral in the “blame” sense?  If you go into the woods (the late-night bars, the train station at night, the underpass where all the prostitutes and addicts hang out at night, etc) bad things can happen.  Is it right, is it wrong?  Is it the just consequence of your stupidity, or is it a terrible breach of your rights?  Personally, I couldn’t care less about any of that.  I just want children not to experience terrible things. 

I don’t want innocent people to blunder into the woods without knowing what's in there, because that’s really dangerous.  I know that by and large they will still go into the woods, regardless of my warnings, because it's exciting and fun.  But if they go into them with their eyes open, and ideally carrying a metaphorical glock in their handbag, that makes me a lot happier.  Will I blame them if they come out of the woods with a boo-boo?  No, and if you try to stick the blame on them I’ll seriously rupture you.  I’ll still give them an earful, though, because they should have bloody listened yadda yadda, and because seeing them hurt will upset me.  After we’ve cleaned up all the blood and gore I’ll do everything in my powers to make sure that this was a positive formative experience.  Yes, this will involve looking at what they could have done differently, so that they avoid doing it again.  And I’m sorry, I will carry on doing this, regardless of how against the current culture this may go.  I will do it because I just can’t see why this is a problem, but mostly I will do it because knowledge gives you the power to make informed choices.  Informed choices give you the power to reduce your chances of getting hurt.  And that’s all I can hope for.

[1] I don’t actually do that.  I’m far too lazy to want to clean the mess up.

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