‘Victim’ is such a loaded term, and it is not loaded with anything particularly helpful to those it describes. It conjures an image of a weak and unfortunate person who has been broken by someone malignant, yes, but strong. While it is, obviously, unfortunate that we ever came into contact with an abuser in the first place, in no way is the abuse that followed due to any dysfunctional trait on our end.
In How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser, Don Hennessy writes:
Much of the literature of the past 30 years has tried to define what sort of woman ends up in an abusive relationship. We have analysed the history of the women. We have heard their own self-analysis. We have attempted to distinguish them from the population of non-abused women. We have been looking for explanations in the wrong place. The main reason why any woman becomes trapped in an abusive relationship is because a skilled offender decided to target her.
Further in the chapter:
I have just been reading some press coverage of the case of Rihanna, a prominent female pop star who has changed her mind and has agreed to give evidence against her well-known partner for a publicised assault on her. While the reporter tries to explore and challenge some of the popular myths surrounding domestic violence, she falls into the trap of trying to explain the fact that the woman is being abused partly because of her own troubled childhood. The article raises the question as to whether the woman will return to the abuser when all clear-minded people are telling her not to do so. Sadly this is a good example of a well-intentioned person looking for explanation in the wrong place. The main reason why this person is in an abusive situation is that, as a woman, she has been targeted by a controlling man. We all need to refocus our attention away from who she is or what she is doing and concentrate more on how and why he is controlling her. The real question is not if she will go back to him but rather how is it that many skilled offenders manage to get the woman to stay or come back.
I have grown weary of the pervasive notion that victims of intimate abuse are somehow just a wee little bit different from the regular folks of the world; somehow just a wee little bit to blame for what befalls them. Stop. We aren’t. We aren’t fundamentally dysfunctional. The qualities that are exploited by abusers are normal human qualities; compassion, consideration, a kind heart. No, of course, not everyone possesses these traits, but they are not the sort of thing that attracts derision in any normal setting, and nor should they be here. Functionally, we were no different than all of those ‘normal’ people. The abuse happened because we, with all of our ‘normalness’, somehow ended up on an abuser’s radar. We were targeted.
Well-meaning people have said things to me, personally, that perpetuate this myth of the victim as somehow responsible for the abuse. I’ve heard jokes about my shit taste in men and I’ve been gently reprimanded for my stupidity. This. Is. Not. Helpful. I already feel stupid. This oblique form of victim shaming aids abusers on their quest to see a gas-lit world.
People on the outside need to be just as educated about abuse as the people who have experienced it. Abuse doesn’t occur in a bubble. Abuse is inextricably linked to the society in which it is committed. We are all responsible for ending abuse. After acknowledging that abuse has occurred a victim’s only focus should be to move past it and heal. There should be no collusion, inadvertent or otherwise, with the abuser and his version of events.
I make no apology for not embodying society’s notion of the victim as some crumpled damsel. Let’s retire ‘victim’ in this discourse. ‘Survivor’ is fine, I guess, but I’d really rather not whack a label on the wronged parties just for the comfort and convenience of those discussing our ordeals. We are regular people. The abusers are the ones who need the labels.
There is a sense that this is the kind of thing that could never happen to most people. The statistics make a fallacy of this notion. I understand that when we are faced with tales of horror our defences go up and we mentally list all the reasons that these things could never happen to us. Nobody would ever do that to me because: X, Y and Z. We put ourselves in the position of the wronged person purely to prove that we are adequately discrete and would never experience the same thing. You may be tempted to ask, ‘How could they have ended up with someone like that?’ What you should be asking is, ‘How might I avoid a similar situation?’ Because, let me tell you, it really can happen to almost anyone. Let’s throw out these ‘victim’ badges.