Picture the following:
Your local news station reports an armed robbery at a nearby bank. Anchors diligently depict how law enforcement officers arrived at the crime scene to seize the culprits—and later release them, issuing citations. Despite this outcome, an investigation was still completed. During the investigation, detectives carefully reviewed the bank’s security camera footage and confirmed that the robbers physically and emotionally battered the terrified tellers. They also witnessed the 3 tellers—frozen with fear—comply with forceful demands and surrender nearly $500,000 in cash to the culprits. After the footage review, law enforcement officers returned to the bank and arrested the tellers. The tellers were later indicted and faced up to a total of 60 years in prison. On the day of the trial, the 3 tellers entered the courthouse after passing by a crowd of spectators who spewed poisonous profanities at them. The armed robbers were summoned for jury duty for the trials, and the grand juries found the 3 tellers guilty without even deliberating. The indictment charges were never determined, but the tellers pled guilty prior to the verdict and were prohibited from hiring attorneys.
Now, feel free to take a moment to reflect on the above scenario and the following questions:
- Is the scenario realistic or likely to occur?
- Are the outcomes logical?
Ultimately, these are all intended to be rhetorical questions, and the given answer to each one is no. However, similar circumstances replay daily in the lives of trauma victims and survivors—leaving many feeling devastated, helpless, and hesitant to disclose their trauma to anyone in the foreseeable future.
The star of the show in the above scenario—the antagonist, actually— is victim-blaming. Victim-blaming entails disparaging and subjective perspectives, remarks, or behaviors that are directed at a crime or abuse victim—as opposed to the offender; it leads to the victim either assuming partial or full accountability for what happened to them—and it often evokes the belief that they somehow deserved such cruelty. Victim-blaming can also influence others in society to join the ruthless blame game. It’s commonly experienced by sexual, physical, and emotional abuse survivors who may be criticized by individuals who ignore abuse reporting or acknowledgement barriers, such as a fear of the trauma being minimized or disregarded altogether.
Victim-blaming fuels further victimization and may also lead to posttraumatic stress reliving symptoms via retraumatization—which occurs when a trauma survivor faces either a real or perceived threat in their environment that mimics a past or recurring trauma experience and, thus, evokes similar stress responses. Victim-blaming is also a form of inappropriate villianization, a process that occurs when the innocent are criminalized or unjustly framed as culprits—while the actual perpetrator is idealized, protected at all costs, and roams free in pursuit of another target.
A typical victim-blamer would digest the above scenario and immediately handcuff the tellers. They would likely question the reasons why the tellers surrendered the money, instead of aiming their disappointment and frustration at the actual offenders—the armed robbers.
For those of you who are interested in learning how to confront a victim-blamer or navigate self-blame and negative self-talk, here’s how to Cc (carbon copy) the confrontation message in order keep others (and yourself) in the loop about who the actual offender is:
Counter question: Why did they do such a horrible thing to me?
Comebacks: I didn’t do anything wrong, and I definitely didn’t deserve that.
If the message fails to send initially, continue to re-send it or reach out to a licensed therapist who will help you feel heard and process your trauma experiences in a safe, therapeutic environment.