When we don’t believe someone who says they have been a victim, this may well be because they don’t fit our ideas of what a victim should look like. It’s worth taking the time to consider those ideas, because all too often they are immensely problematic and serve to support and enable abuse.
The victim is too calm when they talk about what happened. We feel they should show more emotion. The victim is too emotional when they talk about what happened, they seem unhinged and unconvincing. Everyone handles trauma differently, neurodivergence can inform this as well. Focusing on the manner of delivery and not the content being delivered isn’t a good choice.
The victim is not a perfect and blameless person so it was probably their fault. Most people, if you scrutinise them, turn out not to be perfect and blameless in all possible ways. Outside of self defence issues, if someone has been harmed it is because someone has chosen to harm them. Harm is the choice of the aggressor, it is not an inevitable consequence of the victim’s behaviour.
The victim cannot recall everything in perfect detail and their testimony is muddled and confused. Again, trauma does this to people, and human memories aren’t that clear. Tell me what you did on a Tuesday morning, three years ago. Include exact quotes from conversations and the precise time those conversations took place.
The victim didn’t go straight to the police. This happens a lot, around bullying and domestic abuse. If someone jumps out at you unexpectedly with a knife you probably know that wasn’t ok. If the person you live with just pushed you too hard and didn’t mean to scare you and was only doing it for your own good and was drunk and was just upset about the thing you said… it can take a while to decide to go to the police.
If it was really that bad, they would have left. No. Controlling behaviour is all about manipulating people into staying. Abusers often isolate their victims. When the choice is between staying and homelessness, which one do you pick? Walking away isn’t easy if you have children, and the family courts have obliged many victims to be in regular contact with their abusers.
Often we judge a victim based on what we think we’d do in the same situation. We think we’d fight back, report quickly and recall things in clear detail. This is the kind of thing people believe when they’ve not been traumatised by violence and gaslighting. We think we’d be credible and that everyone would believe us – and let me tell you it’s a real system shock when that turns out not to be the case. You probably don’t think you’ve done things that would make you easy to blame – I was surprised by what was weaponised against me, people often are.
There’s a defensive aspect to it. No one wants to believe they are the sort of person who could become a victim. If the victim deserves it, or is responsible for it continuing then clearly it wouldn’t happen to you and that makes you feel safer and more comfortable. Victim blaming comforts the people who are not victims (yet) and does nothing to change or improve anything. Victim blaming enables abuse, and demanding that a person be the perfect victim in order to be taken seriously makes it difficult for anyone to be taken seriously.