Am I Victim Blaming?

Can we talk about victim blaming? I know what you are thinking-surely, I am not stupid enough to wander into this shit storm, but I honestly have some questions.

Let’s establish from the get go that I think blaming the victim of a crime is absolutely wrong. On all levels. If you are raped, it is never your fault. Period. But (cue the shit storm)—what I have questions about is this—how do I explain this to my daughter and still make her aware of everything she needs to know to stay safe?

She is sixteen and we have conversations about drinking and parties, boys and college, etc., and I feel like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth on this issue. I tell her to always keep her drink with her, to never take a drink that isn’t given to her by the bartender, to never accept a ride from someone she just met, etc. But I feel like when I give her all these precautions, I am somehow blaming women who didn’t follow them. That the unspoken message that comes with these statements is “If only she hadn’t done that one thing…” I don’t say that because I don’t believe it, but the message seems to be there anyway, underlying it all. Worse, I’m afraid that if she does go to a party and gets drunk and something bad happens, she will blame herself because she “should have known better.” But at the same time, I cannot avoid telling her these things because the risk is very real.

I want her to know, and I tell her, that a woman who is walking down the street drunk and stark naked should be secure in the expectation that no one will touch her, but more than that I want her to be safe, and that isn’t the world we live in.

I find myself beating both drums constantly and they seem very much out of sync with each other. I remind her that people are responsible for their own choices and that the only one to blame for a rape is the rapist, while I simultaneously tell her that the only person who will be looking out for her safety is herself so she needs to make smart choices. Both are true, to be sure. But I have a hard time reconciling them in my mind, and I am a lot older than sixteen, so how does she manage to reconcile them?

I find myself questioning my response to all sorts of incidents trying to mix these two trains of thought and come up with a coherent narrative. If I leave my garage door open all night and someone steals my bikes, obviously they are to blame for the theft.  I also know myself well enough to know that I would take partial ownership for the fact that I left the damn door open, so what did I expect? But then am I blaming myself, the victim? Partially I suppose. But it’s easy to do when you are talking about a couple missing bicycles. I can’t make myself have the same type of thought process when we are talking about a young woman who has been brutalized. Of course it is not her fault in any way, I tell my daughter, as I also ask her “What could have been done differently?” I never say “What could she have done differently?” because I don’t want to put that on someone else, but I need to know that she is aware that her choices make a difference. Is that victim blaming? It sure as shit feels like it and I don’t like the feeling one little bit.

So how the hell does someone walk this line? How do I try to drive into her what she needs to know, in the hopes that when she faces these choices she remembers to make the safe one, while not implying that anyone who is harmed should have made better choices? I really don’t know, that’s why I am asking. And if the citizens of the internet are any indication, I’m not going to get a good answer, but rather a bunch of shouting and name calling. But if you have a way of making this all make sense, please share it with me. I need the guidance.

Be sure to join me next time when I try to determine where cultural appreciation ends and cultural appropriation begins (because apparently, I like being confused by things that make people scream and shout.)

About the author

Melissa Morritt Coble

Melissa Morritt Coble

Melissa Coble is a mom living in Phoenix, Arizona just
trying to survive the teenage years with a lot of laughs,
an occasional rant, and copious amounts of wine. You can
find her counting the days until her nest is empty on her blog An Unfit Parent and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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5 Comments

  • Dear God, this is brilliant. My mental angst posted for all to see…and I have the EXACT same question about appreciation vs. appropriation. What a quagmire it is to be a mom these days. No answers, but thankyou thank you for asking the questions. That in and of itself gives me comfort.

  • I have a 16 year old daughter and we have the very same conversations so I feel you. Mine has always questioned everything, that’s what I get for teaching her to think, and stand up, for herself (🙂and I’m very proud of her for it). Sometimes, like with this issue, it makes for some deep introspection about what I believe and the message I want to pass on to my kids. I won’t say I have an answer for you but, based on my own soul searching, this is where I came out.

    As people, we work with the world we live in today and strive to make it the world we want to live in tomorrow. Be part of the changes you want to happen. Not so much an answer as a guiding principle that works for me (and darling daughter can work with).

    So, yes, I tell her she needs to take care of herself, because that is our current reality. Beyond that I tell her she needs to take care of those around her because she eventually wants to live in a world where she doesn’t need to fear being assaulted if she lets her guard down. To do that she needs to take actions that will bring about the changes she wants to see happen. If she sees someone doping someone’s drink at a party, she needs to do something about it, not just be a bystander. The thinking being to lead by example. One day it may be her drink…

    Ideally, one day we will live in a world where people don’t even consider doing such awful things to each other. Living in a world where we all watched out for each other would take us one step closer to that ideal.

    BTW – I give my son that same advice.

  • I really appreciate the hard topic you bring up here. This applies to so many situations and scenarios. You are teaching your children to protect themselves and be proactive, which is so important. We can proactively protect ourselves and loved ones with wise choices and wise counsel and simultaneously understand that when someone is mistreated it is never deserved or the fault of the one mistreated under any circumstance.