“What did she do to wind him up so badly?”
“She shouldn’t have been drinking.”
“She slept with his best mate, is it any wonder he lost it?”
“She dressed like a slag and gets raped. Didn’t she ask for it?”
Historically and today, women have been blamed for the abuse they have been subjected to. Men have blamed them, the courts have blamed them, the police have blamed them, society has blamed them and most commonly, they have accepted this blame and blamed themselves. A massive hurdle that women encounter when recovering from abuse, is to learn how to stop blaming themselves, stop feeling shamed and recover their sense of self-worth and intrinsic value. When blaming the victims, who are generally women, the perpetrators, generally men get ‘let off the hook’. In this environment patriarchy and domestic abuse thrive. In this environment women experiencing domestic abuse feel shamed and reluctant to acknowledge their abuse, seek help or report it for fear of the stigma that may ensue. Victim blaming is appalling and the societal influence of victim blaming represses women and justifies men’s abuse of them.
Feminists, women’s groups and those who advocate against domestic abuse often have a very strong anti victim blaming agenda. They are highly vocal and rightly angry about this appalling and unfair treatment of women. These issues need to be robustly confronted if we are to make progress towards changing the culture in which domestic abuse thrives. Blame for abuse needs to be directed firmly towards the perpetrator. Men can’t keep being seen as the hapless victims of their own jealous and possessive natures, or sympathised with for their inability to control their rampant and uncontrollable sexual drives or violent natures. Women can’t keep being blamed for nagging, burning the dinner, looking like a slapper, being manipulative temptresses, being stupid, inciting rage, asking for it, looking ‘up for it’, winding him up, giving mixed messages or making him jealous. This has to stop!
A general proposition in statute law is that a person is not able to consent to infliction of serious harm or by extension their own death. It’s shocking that this proposition needed to be re-clarified in the Domestic Abuse Act of 2021 to stop men from using the ‘rough sex gone wrong’ defence to murder in crown court. To think that this defence was successfully used, with many murder cases being convicted as manslaughter until very recently demonstrates just how embedded our culture of victim blaming really is. Domestic murders have often been referred to as ‘crimes of passion’, the obsessive psychopathic stalker who refuses to leave his ex-girlfriend alone has elicited public sympathy when he murders her. It doesn’t help that popular fiction often glamorises and normalises obsessive jealousy. In 2016, Natalie Connolly was killed by her boyfriend John Broadhurst after he caused 40 separate injuries. He said her death was due to a sex game gone wrong. On the judge’s direction, the murder charge was dropped and he pleaded to manslaughter by gross negligence for failing to seek medical help.
Any women can become the victim of a domestic abuser – this is an important message. Victims are not victims because they are weak, stupid, lazy, vulnerable, annoying, immoral, drunk, promiscuous or simply deserving of a slap. Domestic abuse is generally confusing and creeps up slowly, any women can fall prey to an abusive man – Nigella Lawson taught us this when she was photographed in a smart restaurant looking distressed and with Charles Saatchi’s hand around her throat. High levels of strategic manipulation and complex psychological processes work together to trap women in toxic relationships. There should be no stigma in being victimised or repeat victimised. There should be no stigma in the choices women make either. There should be no suggestion of contributory negligence – women have every right to wear what they like, to drink as much as they choose, to wander along any deserted alleyway late at night, or to chat to any man they want to without being accused of being wholly or partly to blame for the abuse and assaults they are subsequently subjected to. Women should not have to change anything about themselves to avoid being blamed for their abuse. The street worker is just as valid a victim of abuse and as much deserving of our compassion and sympathy as any other woman.
Women are right to be affronted, outraged and angered for being blamed for the abuse and assaults they’re being subjected to. Without anger and outrage, no progress is made, the suffragettes taught us this important lesson. Remembering their bravery, we too need to express our indignation about being blamed for our mistreatment in the strongest possible terms. We need to challenge victim blaming on every level, reclaim our streets, wear what we like and refuse to be judged for our choices. We must refuse to be blamed or accept blame for our abuse. We must refuse to be shamed or accept shame for our abuse. We need to call out victim blaming whenever we hear it. Importantly men need to do this too if we are to make any progress towards a society where men’s abuse of women is no longer tolerated.
“Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her?” Brandon Sanderson
Published 27 November 2022