Let’s Talk it Out: Blame v. Responsibilty

Most mature people understand that blame is rarely productive. Anyone remotely away of feminist activism around sexual assault has probably heard the term “victim blaming”. Victim blaming  generally defined as “when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them”. It can happen in all sorts ways.

This is a direct continuation of the subjects of my previous two posts. If you need a content warning for sexual abuse of various kinds, this is it.

So let’s continue on with where I left off in my last post:

There’s a strange sort of sick logic to this line of reasoning. But even knowing that the thinking is flawed doesn’t always stop the cyclical nature of the thinking that leads into “I must have deserved this, because I am unworthy of love”.

Please move over; you’re adorable, but blocking the entrance.

 This is a multi-faceted statement and there’s a bit to break down, so let’s do that.

“…because I am unworthy of love.”

Okay, let’s start with this part because it’s so clearly wrong. Everyone is worthy of love. This is not, unfortunately, completely correlated with the amount of love that a person gets, and there are some qualifiers to mention. An unrepentant [terrible crime/sin committer of your choice here] is still worthy of love. Specifically, compassion, which I assert is a type of love. Depending on factors such as whether or not the terrible-thing-doing person’s behaviour is known or unknown, whether that person is a celebrity (for better or worse), etc. that person might receive other types of love like familial love from parents and siblings, platonic love from friends, or passionate love from a partner/spouse. If the bad behaviour in known, all those people might stop loving and abandon – or they might not.

My point is that everyone, regardless of their actions, is worthy of the most basic forms of love. No exceptions.

“I must have deserved this…”

So having debunked the reasoning in the second half of the sentence, it follows that the first part is obviously false as well, right? Yes. I don’t believe anybody “deserves” to have their bodily autonomy violated or to be sexually abused. I’m a huge supporter of enthusiastic consent (It’s sexy! It’s hot! It’s safe!)

So now that I have the notions that I deserved it or am unworthy of love out of the way, let’s chat about…

Personal Responsibility

dun dun dun

Hi, big fan. Personal responsibility is pretty much the opposite of blame. Lousy things happen in everyone’s life and I think most people don’t end up with the life we wanted when we were 5 (a kid I knew wanted to be a tree; most 5 year old are atrocious at life-planning). I could claim that I couldn’t or didn’t because my parents, my circumstances, my limitations, etc. The inevitable result of those things though is stagnation. Since I love me some personal growth, I would rather acknowledge that I may have lacked certain advantages or  bee distinctly at some disadvantages and therefore certain avenues in life are closed to me. I will never be a tree. I can sulk about it and blame my parents for not trying harder to make a baby  tree or I can accept it and work within the framework of what I can do and stretch my limits to see if I can do just a little more or just a bit better than last time.

How It Relates

How this relates to sexual assault is going back to this dangerous notion of victim blaming. I am having a difficult time figuring out if it is victim blaming to acknowledge that my actions and decisions played some sort of role in my assaults. The first one, I got high with a stranger and was drugged when I accepted a drink that he poured just out of sight due to the way the fridge opened. Those decisions do not mean that I wanted, asked for, or deserved to be violently sexually assaulted. This time, I invited a date into my home for a movie. It wasn’t violent, but a “no” and trying to physically push away still wasn’t respected. Again, inviting someone into my home does not mean that I wanted, asked for, or deserved to be assaulted.

Is this victim-blaming? By the strictest definition, yeah. But I think the prominent difference in accepting that I had a part to play in some of the things that have happened to me in my life and simply internalizing victim-blaming is that  I don’t believe that just because I made X decision, of course I was assaulted. I had gotten high with strangers before and after that night when I was sixteen and was not assaulted. I have invited dates and even one night stands into my home prior to this last time and was not assaulted.

To summarize my position (I think, this is really a work in progress theory and therefore flexible with more thought/information):

X decision does not always lead to assault, but the decision(s) I made increased the amount of risk I engaged in which did lead to assault in this case = personal responsibility.

X decision will always and should always lead to assault = victim blaming.

For example, let’s substitute assault with getting hit by a car and X with the decision to cross the street.

Crossing the street does not always lead to getting hit by a car, but the decision(s) I make (jaywalking, crossing on green or red lights, etc.)  may increase the amount of risk I engage in = personal responsibility.

Crossing the street will always and should always lead to getting hit by a car = victim blaming.

Typically victim blaming ignores the decisions made by the other parties involved. I didn’t choose to be drugged, but he chose to drug me. I didn’t choose to have my boundaries crossed, but he chose to keep going after I communicated my desire to stop.

Discourse is always welcome, comments, emails, morse code tapped out on the heating vent (you host, I’ll bring dessert). I’m not certain that I have really figured out the properly distinction from an academic standpoint, but for now I have figured out one that will allow me to move forward and begin healing.