Sunday, 21 July 2013

Blaming the victim 2. 20.07.13

The single most precious experience in my whole life was watching my ex-stepdaughter break into completely inappropriate, spontaneous dancing.  She is, of course, the most gorgeous girl in the whole world.  She was three at the time, music was playing, so she just let rip and danced this mad little jig to herself, arms in the air, pigtails flying, completely taken by the moment.  I have never seen anything as beautiful.  It seemed to make sense of my entire life, past, present and future; it all made sense because everything contributed to creating that moment in time.  It just filled my entire being with a sense of miracle I don’t have the words to explain.  If I die reliving that moment in my mind, I will die happy.  And I know that there are people out there who’d feel the same sense of fulfilment and sheer joy by watching her cry and bleed and plead and piss herself in fear, pain and desperation.  I know they’re there, because I’ve met some of them.  I know I can’t do anything about it.  They don’t walk around with a 666 tattooed on their foreheads, and even if they did vigilante killings are illegal.

I personally knew 3 paedophiles (no, I’m FINE.  Now read on).  Two of them were family members. One of them was one of my teachers.  To this day, none of them got done[2].  May a thunderbolt strike me dead if I ever blame their victims.  I mean it.  If you ever catch me doing that, you have my permission to stone me to death, because I would class myself as worthless of being alive.

I would never think to blame an innocent child for falling prey to a predator.  At the same time, I know that there are things I can teach children to make them less vulnerable.  I can teach them to respect their gut feelings about people.  I can teach them to report those feelings to people they can trust, and to report them again if whomever they reported to did not take them seriously.  I can teach them to be aware of certain boundaries that people should not cross.  I can also teach them that they have the right to kick off an almighty stink if anyone should try to do or say anything that crosses those boundaries, because their safety is more important than any social convention.  And I can teach them that they have the right to fight as hard as they can to defend themselves. 

One of my favourite anti-bullying and anti-abduction programme, FAST Defence[3], does precisely that.  It feels my heart with joy to see children being given the skills to look after themselves as well as they are able.  If you read the feedback from parents, the courses don’t make the children more fearful or paranoid.  On the contrary, they seem to empower them and give them greater confidence in their everyday lives.  I can’t see a single thing wrong with that.  I only wish the programmes were part of every child’s education, taught in every school, rather than something parents have to seek out and pay for privately.

I want my ex-stepdaughter to have every resource possible available to her, because I can’t make evil disappear to protect her.  At the same time, I have no intention to stop her living the most fulfilling life she can have.  That doesn’t just rule out stopping her doing things she wants to do, but also ruining her enjoyment of what she is doing by filing her mind with paranoia.  I do not want her to live her life in fear, but I do want her to be aware of what’s out there.  I want her to be able to make her own decisions as to what risks she wants to take based on the knowledge of what the world is like.  I want her to be aware of her surroundings – not afraid of them, but aware of them.  Do you think this is a contradiction?  Well, I don’t.  I don’t believe fear comes from knowing that there’s evil out there.  I believe that it comes from thinking that we don’t have the resources to recognise it or deal with it when it comes our way. 

At the same time, I know that sometimes, regardless of our preparation, skills and awareness, terrible things will come our way.  It pains me to admit it, but I know that it’s true.  Sometimes evil just has your number.  However, to me that doesn’t mean that we should give up trying to avoid it.  In all this, I don’t think I am saying anything remotely controversial.

Little girls, however have a habit of growing up.  I personally believe that it shouldn’t be allowed, but they just do.  And if I tried to have the exact same discussion about teaching my not-so-little girl what’s what, because evil doesn’t go away just because you’re a grown-up, a whole shitstorm would come my way.  Teaching a young her to try and avoid a paedophile is fine.  Teaching an older her to try and avoid a sexual predator would be considered by many “blaming the victim”, almost regardless of the actual content all the teachings.

I’ve already written all I can bear to write about why I don’t understand this current controversy in self-defence for women.  It drains me to the point of despair that good, useful people seem at times to be using up more energy arguing with each other over this point than on fighting the actual issue.  I have to agree, though, that sexual assault is treated differently from most other crimes in our society.  Unlike other violent crimes, there is a huge amount of guilt and shame attached to the survivor.  The victim is examined for her/his[4] conduct and past morals.  The unspoken question in most people’s minds still seems to be “did the slut have it coming?”  And no, I’m not exaggerating.  I wish I was.

The reporting procedure is excruciating, both physically and psychologically.  If you decide not to report because you just can’t bear to go through it or because the circumstances were such as to render it pointless, chances are that you will be treated like utter shit.  You may find it hard to get medical help and you will almost certainly be blamed because your attacker is still at large – even if you have no chances whatsoever of getting him done through a legal process.  The only time I ever committed physical violence against a book was reading Geoff Thompson's "Dead or Alive", when he states that "every time a victim fails to report a rape or attempted rape, there is a possibility that somebody else will get attacked or raped as a direct or indirect consequence because the attacker is still at large." I threw the book at the wall so hard it dented the plaster.  This sort of stuff really triggers me, because I’ve seen it thrown at people at their most broken and vulnerable by the medical professionals who were supposed to be helping them[5].

I can appreciate how any hint of putting blame on sexual assault victims triggers people, because it triggers the shit out of me.  But the way in which the fight against it is stopping people from teaching women how to try and stay safe triggers me just as much.  When people insist that there is nothing that can be done against sexual predation, to me that means that I have no control, no power, no chance to stop the same things happening again and again and again.  It makes me feel powerless and hopeless, not innocent.  That's probably why I've always preferred it when people have called me bloody stupid than when they've said that I was "not to blame".  The truth probably sits in the middle – I’m bloody stupid and not to blame.

The fact is, and I can’t get away from it, that the victims in the Boston marathon bombing will never have to take the stand and testify how they could have avoided the violence or what they did that attracted the violence to them.  The same does not apply to the adult victims of sexual predators.  At the same time, at least some sexual predation could be avoided if women were taught some simple awareness and response techniques.  Personally, I can hold both facts in my head without it imploding.

Yes, some women may feel bad if they learn after the fact something that may have prevented the situation from taking place.  At the same time, if they had learnt those skills before the fact, the whole thing may not have taken place – isn’t that more important?  I understand sparing the feelings of the victims, but, to me, it’s still more important to prevent victims being created first.  Yes, we shouldn’t need to do this, but we do, because evil is still out there.

[1] Yeah, alright, I don’t learn.  But I feel like I could blog about this forever.
[2] Incidentally, the teacher never got done cos my own mother hushed it all up, because "it would ruin his career" and "I'm sure he didn't mean it" and "it would upset his family".  The woman did not, and still does not, have a clue.
[4] Yes, I know it happens to men too.  I just know a lot more about women, because I’m one and they tend to talk to me more.
[5] West Suffolk Hospital, United Kingdom, 2009.  I never thought I’d have reasons to want to thump a medical professional before, but I came very close.  May the nurse who works in the sexual health clinic rot in hell.

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