The Situationist

Blaming the Victim

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 22, 2011

Of the many experimental results that have surprised me over the years, Cathaleene Jones and Elliot Aronson’s classic experiment on rape victims stands near the top.  How could it be that when a victim was described as a “virgin,” participants were more willing to hold her responsible for the rape than when she was described as a “married woman” or “divorcee”?

As Melvin Lerner and Dale Miller later explained, “[T]he knowledge that innocent, highly respectable females can be raped was particularly threatening to the subjects’ belief that the world is just, and to avoid the threat posed by this type of admission, it was necessary to find fault with the actions of the victim. Thus, the subjects appear to have tried to convince themselves that the victim was really not innocent and that she must have contributed, at least in some small but significant way, to her fate.”

Today, evidence of blaming the victim is all around us, particularly with a depressed economy.  One can find numerous examples in television programs, op-eds, and casual conversations of blaming the poor for being poor, the unemployed for being unemployed, and the foreclosed upon for being foreclosed upon.

That said, I wasn’t exactly prepared for Mobile, Alabama resident Joe Dupree’s response when a New York Times reporter questioned him last weekend, during a public celebration of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, about the complete omission of any discussion of slavery during the festivities.  As the reporter pointed out, this seemed particularly strange given “the prominent speeches and documents [from the Confederacy] that describe the protection of slavery as the primary cause of secession.”

According to Mr. Dupree,  “African slavery is a 4,000-year-old African institution that affected us a couple of hundred years.”

Making slavery into an African — that is, a “black” and “foreign” problem — is a shocking move, even at a rally to celebrate the Confederacy.  But I worry that it might have some staying power, given our self-, group-, and system-affirming motives.

There is a coordinated effort afoot to remove slavery from the narrative of the Civil War — to make the “War for Southern Independence” about self-determination, the fight against big government, and tariff and tax disputes.  When Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnel issued a seven-paragraph proclamation last year, declaring April to be Confederate History Month, he left out any reference to slavery, explaining that “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

The reframing is inaccurate and dangerous.

Slavery is an ugly stain on this nation and it should not be painted over.

February is Black History Month and it is time for us to remember our history, as discomforting as the truth might be.

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4 Responses to “Blaming the Victim”

  1. Mark said

    Every US history text book should have two documents in it about the Civil War.

    One — the list of Five Southern Ultimatums, and two – Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

    Each would fit easily on one page. They should be face to face, in the middle of the book.

    The Five Ultimatums were issued by Southern leaders in Montgomery, immediately after they seceeded. All five demands were for the SPREAD of slavery, against the wishes of the people and the states. That’s right, the Five Demands specifically said the people and the states can not decide – they MUST accept and respect slavery.

    All five Ultimatums were like that – about the SPREAD of slavery.

    Southern newspapers announced the Five Ultimatums with great fanfare – headines in Richmond were “THE TRUE ISSUE”

    When LIncoln would not obey their Ultimatums, they attacked.

    Not on US text book even mentions the Five Ultimatums, yet Southern leaders issued them, according to Southern papers, who bragged about them. Strange that what their leaders shouted from the roof tops, and their newspapers blasted in headlines, they dare not even admit to now.

    So the Southern apologist are cowardly and deceptive, and they know it. Furthermore, this isn’t the only headline, the only demand to spread slavery.

  2. […] Det är en falsk trygghet dessutom, där vi riskerar att förövare får gå fria och kan fortsätta göra vad de nu gjort. Man glömmer bort att lägga vikt vid att förövaren är fel ute och själva grejen blir att anklaga offren. Detta kan kännas igen i alla möjliga händelser, överallt ser jag den här psykologin. […]

  3. 101 google images…

    Blaming the Victim « The Situationist…

  4. Amber Dawes said

    It comes as a shock when our loved ones not only don’t care when we are hurt but also blame us. It’s interesting that the victim is the responsible party — not the criminal creep who assaulted her. We enter relationships and social encounters with trust. That trust makes hurting us really easy — as easy to do as it’s wrong.

    Good masking is just good disguising of the self. It’s a social skill even our best and closest loved ones can perpetrate.

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