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Published: 2008-03-26


We diminish people when an incident or incidents of victimization are seen as the defining events of their lives. This happens because of our attitudes toward victims and the resulting fault it imposes on them for their own victimization. My work, as a lawyer and advocate for battered women who fought back against their abusers and parallel personal traumas have crystalized this prospective on this double tiered injustice. We live in a society obsessed by beliefs that we have control of our lives and destiny. Any incident evidencing a lack of control invites a suggestion of blame because of the "failure" to exercise control. I think the reasons for this societal view are complicated. Viewing another=s powerlessness reminds us all of our lack of control over events that shape our lives. Our own mortality is never clearer than when we witness another=s victimization. From the crime victim to those afflicted by injury or illness there is a need to separate what we see from our own inherent vulnerability by finding fault in the victim or some acceptable reason for their vulnerability. We need to say it couldn't happen to us. It is society's tolerance of and indifference to varied forms of prejudice or corruption that makes the climate ripe for the victimizer and makes it difficult for us to rally to the injured party acknowledging our collective responsibility Its very hard to admit that our indifference caused injury.

Referencing any person in such a way by a tragedy in life victimizes them again by forcing them to flashback or relive their "failure" and focus on their powerlessness rather than other events unrelated to a time of victimization.

Battered women suffer various forms of violence at the hands of individual men but it is our reaction to their suffering and struggle that impairs them in a way the batterer could never hope to accomplish. Batterers have long enjoyed the aid and comfort of a society that condoned the violence. I have long held the view that this complicity is a by-product of the denial of equality to women that expresses itself as discrimination that fosters a tolerance of violence against women. When some of the women fought back to survive, the government that defaulted in its obligation to protect them prosecuted them for the act of preservation with an efficiency they never dreamed possible. These prosecutions ignore the violence of the abuser and focus either implicitly or explicitly on the woman's "failure to leave" as the proximate cause their act of survival now being alleged to be criminal. The cruelty of this assault is compounded by the assertions that the "failure" to leave was a product of a defect in their personality or masochistic pleasure derived from the violence. This allegation of mental or moral defect by all of us is crippling in its impact even when they are exonerated by a jury. For many, they live forever branded with responsibility for their injury. The jury and society never acquits them of the charge of " failing to leave" and the blame coupled with it. It is often more difficult for them to define themselves by the positive accomplishments before or after the victimization in this climate of blame.

I now understand with greater clarity the women who fights back when society defaults in its duty to protect them. They often see their act of self preservation being met with a societal resolve to deprive her of the freedom from victimization by imprisoning her for the act. Even if exonerated she is defined as a victim partially responsible or somehow defective if she does not pass muster as a good victim.

A good victim must immediately resist at all costs regardless of its futility or danger. A good victim must be powerless in all aspects of his or her life and without even the barest hint of suspicion as to motive in respect to the eventual resistance to the threat or harm. Forcing the victim to examine himself or herself for the fatal flaw that allowed the injury to happen is a sinister victimization often more damaging than the original injury. The only conclusion possible is the admission of some fault for the harm. These victims are forced to build a prison of fault in their minds from which there is no escape.

Other people who have had their own aura of invulnerability shattered, are a class of people who are supportive and understanding. No victim will climb out of this pit of blame by themselves. We all need help and the tools to use the help. Some of us will never escape.

For victims we must begin to define them by positive events other than the events associated with their injury. For the lucky ones time itself may provide other things that allow them to do that. These wounds never really heal they just become less visible. Our responsibility is to focus our attention on the positive and not the negative.