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Why Do We Still Focus on the Victim Instead of the Perpetrator?

By Jennifer Anderson on
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May 28 in General 4 Comments

By Casey Gwinn, JD

A 25-year-old woman and mother of a small baby this past week walked into a police station in Bell Gardens and told them she was kidnapped, drugged, and raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was fifteen years old.  She said she has been held against her will for ten years.  Bell Gardens police referred the case to the Santa Ana Police Department to investigate what happened ten years ago.  Some neighbors in their Bell Gardens neighborhood were shocked.  They seemed like such a happy couple.  One said, “He seemed like such a nice guy.”

His defense attorney held a press conference and said they had been “a happily married couple” and she was making it all up because they were going through a divorce.  The defense attorney cited all the things the victim had done including posting family pictures on Facebook, playing outside with her child, going to a job every day, and even holding hands with her husband as evidence that kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, and threats could not have been happening over the last ten years.

Police quickly verified that ten years ago the fifteen-year-old girl came to this country illegally, moved in with her mother and her boyfriend.   They were able to corroborate the beginning of her story.  The boyfriend was abusive to the mother.  Two months after arriving in the U.S., the boyfriend assaulted her mother and then left with the fifteen year old.  Her family did not see her for ten years.

After 30 years in the field of violence prevention, I am still inspired by the coping mechanisms that victims of abuse use to courageously survive and emotionally, mentally, and physically navigate the power and control of violent and predatory human beings.

What troubles me more in this story, however, are those that want to put all the focus on the decisions she made, why she stayed, and why she did not tell anyone for so many years.  It is the classic “blame the victim” response that we have seen in sexual assault and domestic violence work for decades.  Many think she had to be locked in a garage (which she says she was initially) to be kidnapped.  Others think she must have wanted to be there if she did not contact her family, police, or friends for ten years.  But even in these comments – everyone is focusing on her behavior, her actions, and her choices.

Why don’t we focus on him?  What kind of man (31 years old) takes off with a 15 year old, changes her identity over and over (which has been confirmed), and then cuts her off from all contact with her family?  What kind of man uses death threats, sexual abuse, and threat of deportation to try to create a happy, healthy relationship? What is the evil in him?  Who created this monster?  Why has he never been held accountable before now?

And why don’t we focus on the system’s failures?  Why don’t we focus on society’s failures?  What kind of society allows men like to this to walk the streets?  Why wasn't he prosecuted for his violence against her mother ten years ago?  What kind of society fails to invest the resources to find that 15-year-old girl?  What kinds of neighbors have suspicions about their relationship but never try to talk to her alone or ask authorities to investigate? Why didn’t the neighbors ever ask more questions?  Why didn’t men in his life question him about the way he would constantly peer at her from inside as she talked to neighbors outside their apartment?  Why didn't more people see his controlling behavior?

We do the same thing with rape victims.  We do the same thing with domestic violence victims.  We focus on the victim instead of the perpetrator.  This focus ends up producing the victim blaming that let’s rapists and abusers avoid all accountability.  The focus should not be on the victim and what she did or did not do.  We should start asking what is wrong with him, what is wrong with us, and what is wrong with our society.  Maybe if we asked the right questions and did something about it, there would be fewer victims to focus on and fewer victims to blame.

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Cmntr Thursday, 05 June 2014 · Edit Reply

Yay! That was excellent!

Brenda Friday, 06 June 2014 · Edit Reply

That is a very well put statement. Some rape victims won't come forward ,because they know that everything they have done will be viewed and judged. People that have been held captive, and threatened, and told their not wanted by anyone else. Are terrified that it's true. When their found our society judges. They had opportunity to get a away and didn't, because they were locked away and beat into submission. As a survival instinct you do everything you can to survive. If you haven't been in there shoes. You shouldn't even act like you have a clue what happened to them. The kidnapper is the sick one who is the one to blame.

Felicia Friday, 06 June 2014 · Edit Reply

Very nice article. As a survivor of a very abusive marriage, I can speak from experience. I was one of those that did not understand why women stay with an abuser. I was not until I found myself "trapped" that I understood. It is not by choice. No one ever chooses to be abused. His controlling behavior, the child in our home and my desire to make my marriage work and not just walk out because things were tough, all played a role in why I stayed. The police were called many times, and yes neighbors asked questions. I guess no one really knows the right thing to do even if they suspect something is not right.
I lost a lot in those seven years. It has taken me several years to even talk about it now. I am very blessed to have the opportunity to even share my story. There were times when I felt he would not stop until he killed me, but no one would even know I was gone.
The night I ended in the ER with multiple lacerations and bruises, I had him arrested and filed charges. He was told to stay away from me (he threatened to find me) He was given 3 days in jail and a $500 fine. I had to leave town. I lost my job, my home, everything. Somehow doesn't seem fair

Rachelle Monday, 09 June 2014 · Edit Reply

Thank you so much for this article. I am so very tired of victim blaming in our society, especially when it focuses on children. The type of people who prey on others are, sadly, incredibly adept at manipulation. Many adults fall for their tricks and acts, and we expect the innocent mind of a child to react differently. I am so angered and disgusted by the heartbreakingly cruel things people say. The fact is, if that victim was able to survive, they have the type of resourcefulness and courage that the rest of us cannot even fathom. Please stop blaming people who are attacked and abused and exploited. The lack of compassion shown is a huge part of what is wrong with this world. I'm a licensed social worker and one of the catalysts for my obtaining my degree was reading the unkind comments posted about just this kind of story. Let's honor the courage of both those who did and didn't make it home. If we have to focus on them, let us celebrate their lives and not those of the human monsters who prey upon others.

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