As some of you may know, I am still (unfortunately) in the military. You also may know that “sexual assault” has become the military’s latest hot-button issue. As a result, we have all been subjected to endless “training sessions” on how not to rape somebody. The DoD, in its infinite wisdom, seems to be convinced that the main reason there’s so much rape in the military is that we haven’t been told not to rape people enough times.
This weekend, they gathered us all together in a large room for the latest “training session” which included a 45-minute video. They must have spent a lot of time and money on this thing, because it was pretty polished and well written and acted compared to other training videos. The video is a long scenario explaining a common way that sexual assaults happen in the military, how they might be prevented, and what the consequences are. There are pauses for the instructors to “engage in discussion” with the troops, including specific questions they are supposed to ask and points they are supposed to emphasize.
One of the most commonly stressed and emphasized points is: Do not blame the victim. This is repeated over and over again. The message is that sexual assault in general (and I’ll expand this to any crime that may be committed against someone actually) is completely and totally not the “fault” of the victim. The video highlights many instances in which bystanders might have intervened to prevent the sexual assault. However, at no point do they draw attention to anything the alleged victim might have done to reduce their odds of being assaulted. All of our trainings seem to take this route, and I think it’s symptomatic of a greater problem in society – the issue of how we assign “blame,” “fault,” and victimhood.
By refusing to assign any amount of blame to the victim of a crime, the implication is that there was absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent the crime. Almost always, this is not the case. Precautions could have been taken. In the particular video we watched, where we are assured the victim is not to blame, I identified six different things the victim did that, had she behaved differently, might have prevented her from being assaulted. First, she felt harassed and intimidated by one of her co-workers, and did not report it. Second, she attended a party where she knew alcohol would be served, and she knew that this co-worker would be present. Third, she attended this party without bringing a friend to stay with her (or making anyone at the party aware of her concerns about the co-worker). Fourth, she drank alcohol at this party. Fifth, she drank a lot of alcohol at this party. Sixth, she willingly left the party with the co-worker she was suspicious of.
Now, let me just take a moment and make it perfectly clear. None of these behaviors make it “okay” to sexually assault someone. None of these things excuse the awful actions of the perpetrator, who committed an act of aggression against an unwilling participant.
That said, by having committed six different actions that increased her likelihood of being assaulted, I do in fact think that the victim is partially to blame. I think in these situations that we can distinguish between “blame” and “fault.” I see blame as a basically infinite pool of negative emotions. Anyone who could have taken any action to prevent this assault, and didn’t, is partially to blame for it having taken place, including the victim. Fault, on the other hand, I see as a more fixed amount. The perpetrator is primarily at fault, in all cases. I would not say that it is the victim’s “fault” that she was assaulted, nor would I suggest that any of her actions excuse any of the perpetrator’s behavior.
I view “blame” as a social construct, designed to elicit the negative emotions of guilt and embarrassment. This can be an incredibly useful tool, both for individuals, and for society as a whole. Much like how pain is the brain’s method of telling the body that something really bad is going on, blame is society’s method of telling individuals that their behavior is putting themselves and others at risk. Without pain, we would not bother to take our hand off a hot stove until significant damage had been done. Without blame, we wouldn’t bother to learn from the mistakes of ourselves, and others.
Imagine that a friend of yours was seriously injured in an auto accident. You would be upset and confused. You would immediately want to know who was at fault, and who was to blame. Perhaps the next day you find out that the driver of the other car had been intoxicated during the collision. Now you have your answer. Your friend was hit by a drunk driver. It wasn’t his fault. However, what if the next day, you find out that your friend hadn’t been wearing his seat belt? And that he had been speeding? And that his air-bag failed to deploy because it needed to be serviced, which your friend never bothered with? And that your friend had the bare minimum legally required auto insurance, which was unlikely to fully repay the cost of his injuries? Does any of this change your perception of who is to blame for the situation as a whole? Do you start to consider that your friend (although still not at fault) is at least somewhat to blame for his situation? Do others learn a valuable lesson about the importance of not speeding, buckling your seat belt, having your air-bag serviced, and purchasing good insurance?
You can bet that the victim in this training video learned some valuable lessons from her experience (note once again, that does not mean the experience was good, justified, or some type of blessing in disguise). At one point during the “aftermath” segment, she even stares into the camera and says “I’m a lot wiser now.” But why? Why is she wiser? If she is a victim and her own behavior had nothing to do with the assault, what possible lesson could she learn? What wisdom is to be gained?
There are constant pushes by various malignant forces in society to convince the human race that we are all victims. That anything bad that ever happens is a result of random chance, or of external forces totally beyond our control. A society obsessed with “victimhood,” combined with a prevailing ethos of “don’t blame the victim” produces a society of individuals willing to accept adverse circumstances, and who believe there is nothing at all to be learned from them. It produces a society where meek compliance is seen as the highest virtue. It produces a society that is absolutely ideal… if you’re a tyrant wanting a society you can easily control and exploit. We should challenge these premises of victimhood wherever we see them. Even in uncomfortable situations like sexual assault. Undoubtedly, the victim in this sexual assault training video was told by her counselors that she was not to blame for this assault. These counselors did her a disservice, and intuitively, she knew it. Though it may be difficult to admit, the victim often shares in the blame. It is time we confront this boldly and honestly, rather than continuing to believe that we are all just victims of circumstance.