It's Not Your Fault: Victim-blaming and Child Sexual Abuse

 

No one wants to be a scapegoat, especially for something that is completely out of his or her control.  Victim-blaming is similar to a scapegoat because a person is made to bear the blame for someone else’s actions even though he or she may be the victim.  Rather than leaving the blame on the perpetrator of a crime, some people either intentionally or unintentionally shift the blame to the victim.  I initially became familiar with the term and concept of “victim-blaming” after attending a church workshop about child sexual abuse. The presenter mentioned that victim-blaming was one of the reasons why child sexual abuse goes unreported and children are left to suffer in silence.

According to the article, “The Psychology of Victim-Blaming,” a person engages, to some degree, in the culture of victim-blaming anytime he or she questions what a victim could have done differently or made different choices to prevent a crime (Roberts, 2016; see also Victim Blaming, 2016).  Something as simple as hearing about a crime and thinking you would have been more careful if you had been in the victim’s shoes, is considered to be a mild form of victim-blaming (Roberts, 2016; see also Victim Blaming, 2016). The psychology behind victim-blaming is based on the concept of the “just world” hypothesis (Victim-blaming, 2016). The “just world” hypothesis allows people to believe the victim played some role in the crime that happened to them, while also believing that if they are careful that crime will never happen to them (Victim-blaming, 2016).

Victim-blaming, in the realm of child sexual abuse, is particularly dangerous because it may impede a child victim’s recovery process and cause more psychological harm than expected (Schroeder, 2016).  Based on my experience working with children, I have found that children tend to automatically blame themselves for circumstances that are outside of their control; therefore, when people that are inside or outside of children’s support system shift the blame to them, the hurt and embarrassment associated with the sexual abuse is compounded.  When children believe that they have no one to support and advocate for them, sexual abuse is more likely to go unreported and children are more likely to forgo the help they would have received if the abuse had been reported or their family members had not engaged in victim-blaming (Schroeder, 2016).  

The consequences of victim-blaming to a child sexual abuse victim are so grave that it is considered to be a second trauma (Gunther, 2012).  The sexual abuse is deemed as the first trauma and victim-blaming is the second trauma (Gunther, 2012). The impact of victim-blaming on a child can be more traumatic than the actual sexual abuse since the child is left to cope with the mental and physical aftermath on their own, making them vulnerable to the perpetrator and  continued abuse in the future.

Instead of questioning how the abuse happened or what the child could have done to prevent the abuse, finding ways to provide support for the child is more beneficial regardless of how a person may feel about the situation.  Children have no control over the occurrence of sexual abuse; therefore, they should be constantly reminded to not blame themselves.  A big part of the solution to end or reduce the occurrence of child sexual abuse starts with us— caregivers, parents, relatives, friends, concerned individuals, etc.  Our job is to build and maintain open lines of communication with children by creating a judgment-free environment within our families or communities so they feel comfortable and safe to report sexual abuse.  Children need to be constantly reminded that “it’s not your fault” and that the perpetrator of the abuse is to blame. Like the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes that same village to protect and/or help a child recover from the effects of sexual abuse.  

If you are a child abuse survivor, or know someone who is, please seek help from a trusted advisor, a trained professional.  If you do not know a trained professional, check out our facilitated chat rooms at http://yesican.org/chat-schedule.html.

 

For more information on victim-blaming and prevention:

HAVOCA- Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse. https://www.havoca.org/

RAINN- https://www.rainn.org/

Avoid Victim Blaming. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness: Education & Action. http://stoprelationshipabuse.o...ing-victim-blaminsg/.

The Psychological Impact of Victim-Blaming and How to Stop It. U.S. News Health http://health.usnews.com/welln...g-and-how-to-stop-it.

References:

Avoid Victim Blaming. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness: Education & Action. http://stoprelationshipabuse.o...ing-victim-blaminsg/.

Gunther, Randi (2012). The Second Wound— Blaming the Victim in Childhood Sexual Abuse. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com...abuse_b_2013443.html.

Roberts, Kayleigh (2016). The Psychology of Victim-Blaming” The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/.  

Schroeder, Michael O. (2016).The Psychological Impact of Victim-Blaming and How to Stop It. U.S. News Health. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/welln...g-and-how-to-stop-it.

Victim-Blaming (2016). Good Therapy.Org. http://www.goodtherapy.org/blo...pedia/victim-blaming.

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