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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Stop Victim Blaming!

In honor of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I wanted to write a post about victim blaming.

What is Victim Blaming?

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime defines victim blaming as "a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.This blame can appear in the form of negative social responses from legal, medical, and mental health professionals,as well as from the media and immediate family members and other acquaintances."

I like this definition of victim blaming. I appreciate its inclusiveness in regards to professionals, including my fellow mental health professionals, and family members whose responses may be the most salient. As mental health professionals, I believe that it is very important for us to be aware of our responses to sexual assault and other crimes as we are our clients' advocates.

Why do people blame the victim?

It is my personal belief that victim blaming stems from a fear of vulnerability. We live in a society that values self protective beliefs such as good things happen to good people while bad things happen to bad people or what goes around comes around. It makes us feel safe to think that when something bad happens to someone that somehow that person must have done something wrong or something to deserve it. This line of thinking implies that we are not vulnerable to bad things happening if we just do the "right" thing or are "good" people. An innocent victim simply doesn't fit with the world is a "safe" and "just" place schema that society places value on to feel safe.

Why is it important to stop?

First and foremost, the perpetrator is the sole and only person responsible for any form of sexual assault, violence, abuse or crime. Period. By placing blame on the victim, we are absolving the perpetrator and perpetuating violent acts. We are teaching perpetrators that if the victim did something "wrong" or was somehow "asking for it" or putting themselves at risk, then it is ok to abuse this person.

Also, victim blaming can be very damaging to survivors of sexual assault and other forms of violence, abuse or crime. This experience can be very invalidating and re-traumatizing for the victim. Victim blaming can lead to depression and post traumatic stress disorder in survivors and to self-blame.

A culture of victim-blaming can also lead to survivors choosing to not report or disclose the incident. This is very dangerous as it may mean that the perpetrator goes unpunished and is free to potential victimize other innocent people. It may also mean that the survivor does not reach out for important resources including mental health services, medical services or legal counsel.

Overall, the most important thing we can do to support survivors of assault or other forms of abuse is to support them. If we truly want to prevent sexual assault and other forms of violence, we must continue to hold perpetrators accountable and stop looking to the survivors. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I challenge you to use the word survivor instead of victim!

What are you doing in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month? Comment via Facebook Comments below!

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