Let’s talk about systems, not victims

Victim-blaming continues to be the rule, not the exception. For women, this is particularly true, living as we do with a cultural preference that so persistently portrays women as the cause of our own undoing. In cases of rape, even more so.

So, why? What purpose does this approach—to sexual harrassment, rape, even murder serve?

In short, it props up widespread denial of unpleasant realities by keeping the focus on individuals, instead of examining systems and practices that oppress. It is far easier to blame the victim than to admit to systemic failings. In Australia we have millennia worth of histories, myths, and parables in which women are the cause of their own, and often, others’, woes. Collectively they form the basis for deeply entrenched cultural attitudes about blame, shame, sex, and abuse of power. These stories inform the casual blame assigned to rape victims regularly.

Since the early 1970s, when objections to victim-blaming entered the public discourse, victims-rights advocates have been accused of having a victim mentality – one in which we’d rather ignore personal responsibility and the culpability of women in their own victimisation. Others claim that it would be better to stop considering blame at all and to think instead of the roles that each person plays in the dynamics at hand. That might work as an academic exercise, but in terms of changing culture, it is an approach that is virtually useless.

The minimising, denying and trivilising of women’s experience of violence goes a long way toward explaining why 58% of Australians still think that women make up or exaggerate allegations of abuse. In the case of our legal and justice system, the myth of false allegations produces an environment which fails to support women and children subjected to violence.

Shifting the focus from people to systems isn’t a mentality of victimisation, it’s a critique of the deeply entrenched, violent supportive attitudes and behaviors at the heart of our systems and is the first step toward dismantling them. That is a matter of personal responsibility.

The views expressed on this page are those of Dr Ree Boddé and do not necessarily represent the views of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne or its program partners Anglicare Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this page, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.