Exploring the idea of blame and shame has been harder than I had expected. It’s not a bright and cheery topic. I can feel my own guard go up as I write every word. My shoulders are tight and my brain is fighting off thoughts of anger and ironically blame. I can’t even say I am actually mad at anyone right now. The topic just feels icky. My life is at peace these days and the word shame still feels dirty. So when life is in a good season and I am able to soak in all the beautiful small details that I have so often missed over the years why do I want to explore an icky topic?
It is time for us to end “victim shaming” from our way of living. It’s very subtle and yet so harmful. The only way to do that, however, is to talk about it. So let’s get a little dirty with this one. First, we need to know what it is. Dictionary.com says:
Victim: a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency; a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: the victim of a swindler and shame.
Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
Put together Victim Shaming is the idea that a victim is responsible for what happened to them. WOW! Let’s unpack that.
Shame is often described as the feeling that “I am bad”. This mentality is crippling, not just to those who are hurt but to all the people around them, including their employer, family, and friends. When I feel like I am a bad person, I don’t make the best choices. I want to drown the pain. I want to lash out. Last week we explored questions that a victim may be asked to answer if s/he come forward. Each of those questions had an unlying tone of what did you do wrong. So the victim, who is already feeling enormous amounts of self-doubt and discomfort, is now experiencing public doubt when asked, “what were you wearing?”. I can feel the weight of that even as I type it.
Here is where I struggle. What about accountability? In researching for this blog post I concluded that accountability comes from a place of love. You would think we would know that already. But when it hit me that love does not include judgment I also realized that our judgment is completely transparent most especially to a person who is already suffering. I know that is true for me when I feel judged. This is to say that when we ask a question rooted in assumptions that something could have been different or in a “solve it” manner – it heeps more pain to the victim.
Of course, we all judge – I know I do. It is easy to judge someone when we don’t let ourselves lean into empathy. As we explored last week – judgment is a coping skill to help us avoid the pain. I believe when we take the time to slow down and listen we can help without shame.
So just a few thoughts, April is sexual assault awareness month. Take the time to learn how prevalent sexual assault really is. National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
- One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old
- 30% of women were between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time of their first completed rape
- Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities
- 20% – 25% of college women and 15% of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college
- A 2002 study revealed that 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes
- More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault
- The prevalence of false reporting is low — between 2% and 10%
Here is what these statistics mean to me – HOLY CRAP this is big!!! Then I think well, why didn’t these people ask for help? (hint: this is judgment) For me, I don’t ask for help when I feel embarrassed, or like it was my fault or that I am stupid. I don’t ask for help when I am not totally clear that what happened was wrong. I don’t ask for help when I am ashamed to admit what happened. I don’t ask for help when I am afraid I will get in trouble. I don’t ask for help when I want to wish away something that happened. I certainly don’t want to ask for help if the response includes: Well, what did you do wrong?
This April as awareness is spread let’s work together to spare the judgment and additional shame. Here is what you can say instead, I believe you. I am sorry that happened to you. What help do you need from me?
Help us support victims so they thrive. Join the #IamBrin movement. #IamBrin is a statement of commitment to living your life without shame. When we own and share our stories we realize others have had similar experiences. I am Brin is to say we all can live openly, educate our kids early and often, help friends in crisis and not be alone. Share a photo for our wall or use #IamBrin on social media. Join the growing community or resilient, strong, real and reflective people.