Victim Blaming? Blame the Perpetrators!

It’s been on my mind, so as usual, I just have to make a poll on Instagram. But first of all, please note that I am not in any way trying to objectify women or comparing them to a thing, and in this special case, to a motorcycle. Not at all. I just want to show how the situation can be similar but they can get different reactions, and to some extent, it’s unfortunate.

But why motorcycle? Why a story with a motorcycle? I don’t know how to explain it well, but maybe just follow the flow of the stories or the writing? I guess I use motorcycles because it’s something that many people in my home country can relate. It’s something in which when I put it in the story, they’ll be able to follow my logic. Well, at least that’s what I hope.

So, here the story goes. First, I gave them this illustration and asked them if they agreed or not. I posted it in Indonesian, but here’s how it’s roughly translated in English, with some improvisation to make it clearer:

If you park your motorcycle, will you lock it? If you somehow forgot to lock it and someone took it, who’s the one to blame? You or the thief? Who is the criminal? The thief, right? No matter what, whether we lock it or not, they have no right to take what’s ours, right? It’s simply sinful and it’s a crime. And not locking the motorcycle is not the same as intentionally giving the thief permission to take it, right? No matter how we see it, it’s the thief that did the bad thing. It’s the thief that is wrong. Hence, we can never be blamed losing it, for not locking it, etc. Correct? However, if we forgot to lock it and somehow lost it, wouldn’t we have this thought, “Ah, if only I had locked it, maybe the thief wouldn’t have taken it.” Right? Even when you locked it and it was stolen, you would still have this kind of thought, “Maybe if I had double-locked it, it wouldn’t have got stolen.” No? The point is shared responsibility: We, as the owner, take precautions and should be careful. And we, if we’re not the owner, do not misuse the situation in case the owner is being careless. Do you agree?

And, guess what? Most respondents agreed. Only 17% didn’t agree. Too bad they didn’t explain why or what they disagreed with, but oh, well, I followed up the poll with another question. I asked:

But, anyway, if someone reminded you to be careful, saying things like, “Don’t forget to lock/double-lock it.” or “Don’t park it there, park it here instead.” Or, “Don’t go through that route, there are a lot of robbers there.” is it wrong? Or, will you get upset and mad, thinking, “It’s the thief/robber that is bad and that does the wrong things, why should I be the one being ordered around?” And my two options are 1) Yes, it’s wrong, and I’d be mad. and 2) It’s not wrong, and I won’t be mad.

And guess what? Everyone thinks there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody will get mad when being told to be careful or reminded to do or not do something to be safe/r.

Now let’s see how this is similar to or even contradictory to when sexual harassment or assaults happened, especially the reactions.

First, people’s reactions towards the victims. In the scenario where the motorcycle got stolen, whether it was locked or not, people would definitely blame the thief or the robber for taking the motorcycle without permission. People understand that not locking the motorcycle does not in any way give the thief the right or the permission to take or steal it. People understand that robbers should not stop people on the road and take their vehicles just because the road is dark or the time is late at night. The thief is given all the blame. Never do people blame the victim, the person who lost the motorcycle, for not locking it or for parking it in the wrong place or for going through a dangerous route. Well, people might scold or say it’s unfortunate, but never will they think it’s a given. Never will they excuse the thief or the robber for stealing. Never will they defend the true criminals.

But what happened to the victims of sexual assaults and harassment? People would be quick to assert what the victims did wrong to deserve the assault and harassment. Well, ok, not all, but some people, or perhaps many people. They will find something that justifies the actions of the perpetrators. Is it the clothes they’re wearing? Is it their make-up? Is it how they walk or speak? Etc. They will use it against the victims as if it’s the victims’ fault that the assault happened to them. They will defend the perpetrators saying mean things like, “Well, of course, you’re harassed/assaulted. Your clothes were too showing. It’s your own fault for taking that route. Etc.”  when, in fact, we all know that nobody has the right to harass anyone, or to sexually assault someone. Not covering the whole body does not in any way give the perpetrators permission to harass or assault us. Sexual assaults and harassment can never be justified because of what the victims do. It should never justified or defended. But look at what some people do? Even before finally blaming the perpetrators, they’ll look into any possibility that it might have been caused by the victims themselves. Inviting the perpetrators, they’d say. But, really, it doesn’t make the perpetrators right. It doesn’t make the assault excusable or forgiven. No.

And why blame the victims? You know what? Even without you blaming the victims, they’d already blame themselves. They’d create all of these possible scenarios in their head where it might not have happened. They’d wish things had been different. Even before you ask what they were wearing they’d think of it themselves, you know something like, “Maybe if I weren’t wearing that dress, maybe if I were wearing something else, I wouldn’t have got assaulted.” “Maybe if I had taken another route, this would not have happened to me.” “Maybe if I had been going with a friend, I would not have experienced this.” They’d cloud their mind with those maybes and ifs, and I can tell you it’s already burdensome and not nice. So, really, you don’t have to add to their burden and feelings of guilt by asking unnecessary things that lead to blaming them. And you know what, the worst thing was that even if things had been different, there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t have happened because the perpetrators were simply evil. Can we all take this in and now stop blaming the victims of sexual assaults and harassment? And can we all take this in and focus on punishing the perpetrators and making them take responsibility for their evil deeds?

Alright, now we’re going to the second difference in people’s reactions. And perhaps some people will hate me for this, but really, please hold your horses. My focus here is on reminding people to be careful before the crime happens, and not for blaming the victim when it’s already happened. Got the difference?

So, the second difference is the reactions towards those who constantly remind the, heaven forbids, “possible future victims”. In the case of motorcycle scenario, people would understand, do not think it’s wrong, and would not get mad when they are told to be careful, suggested to lock their motorcycle, not pass a certain road, etc, i.e. to take precautions. However, when we do the same thing women, i.e. reminding women to be careful, some people would be so quick to get mad and take it as victim-blaming, thinking, “Why should women do that when it should be the would-be perpetrators that get reprimanded?” And I don’t know how to explain this. I’m actually worried that some of you would misunderstand and judge me, but, like, no, we’re not blaming the victims. We just want them to be careful and take precautions as best as they can so that nobody will be the victim. There’s no guarantee that when we’re careful, something bad won’t happen, no. But once we take precautions, are being careful as best as we can, and that unwanted thing inevitably happens, we won’t blame ourselves as much, because we have already tried our best to be careful.

For example, I once read there was this woman who met up with a stranger for a cuddle in a hotel room but ended up having sexual intercourse, which she didn’t want or consent. Look, I am not blaming her. I am feeling sorry for her. No matter what, the guy should not have forced himself on her if cuddle was all that she wanted. Still, is it so wrong if I then warn other girls to not do that so that the same thing won’t happen? Is it so wrong to ask them to not meet with a stranger alone in a hotel room just for a cuddle? I mean, why can’t we learn?

Besides, these people who are so quick to get mad when we give out such warnings or reminders, those who take it as victim-blaming are usually the same people who shout “Men are trash.” Yes, I know you don’t mean all of the men, but, I mean, if you already know that men are trash, why would you risk yourself with them? Why would you not be extra careful? Why would you not take the necessary precautions and just avoid them? Why would you come to meet a trash for a cuddle in a hotel room and alone? Do you really believe and expect that trash has been recycled or what?

I mean, yes of course we want a world where we don’t have to be careful and nobody will harm us. That would be the ideal thing. But let’s not be so naive. The world is not ideal. Criminals are everywhere. Not everyone has a pure heart and soul like you. Yes, we want to educate people so that they won’t turn into a thief, a sexual predator, etc. But while educating them men, I think it’s also important for us to be careful and take precautions. I call it shared responsibilities. We are responsible to be careful. We are responsible to not misuse the situation when people are being careless. That’s it. Simple, no? I don’t know.

But let’s see it the way we see the motorcycle scenario. Before the motorcycle gets stolen, it’s okay to give some warnings and to tell people to be careful. When the motorcycle gets stolen, we don’t blame the owner for being careless but focus on blaming the thief. The same with sexual assaults or harassment or any other crime. Before it happens, don’t be so quick to get mad when people warn you or remind you to be careful. When the crime happened, don’t blame the victims to justify the criminal’s actions. Focus on punishing the criminals.

That’s it. That’s today’s post. I made the poll long time ago actually, but you know, I got these drafts in line to be published so sometimes it really has to wait… But I think it’s still relevant. And I really hope we all can learn. Hopefully we’ll always be safe and protected. Aamiin.

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