Blaming the victim: A response to Eyes Wide Open

Kevin VanAntwerpen

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Sometime last year, I wrote a column detailing one of the more hectic nights of my life — in short, one of my ex-girlfriends called me around 2 a.m. during an assault by one of her male roommates (sometime during the event, she’d managed to lock herself in the bathroom with her cell phone). I called the cops, traded a pack of cigarettes for the use of my roommate’s car and showed up barely 30 seconds before sirens flooded the parking lot outside her apartment.

The following week, I wrote a column titled “Be Careful Who You Date,” sort of an encouragement to all you eligible bachelorettes to, you know, be careful who you date.

I only recently read a response written by Eyes Wide Open, an organization meant to educate individuals about domestic violence and sexual assault, which had this to say (among other things):

“By telling people to be smart by being careful of the people around them in order to prevent from being a victim, the article inadvertently blames the victim for what happens to them. Battering is a pattern; DV does not usually stop after the first abusive incident. Victims may be caught in a cycle of violence that includes periods of non-violence (where the victim may become hopeful the behavior will change), manipulation, self-blame, and more.”

While my article pertained mostly to you singles, EWO’s concern was the blame those in an abusive relationship may feel. So let me clarify: The victim is never responsible for the actions of her assailant. She is, however, responsible for her reaction. I believe it’s a dangerous thing to justify remaining submissive in an abusive relationship. Before you go calling me insensitive (which wouldn’t be inaccurate, I can be quite the a**hole), let me explain:

There is no reason a woman should ever believe she is too weak to stand up for herself. No circumstance — be it emotional, financial or social — is justification for the kind of abuse stupid men (or sometimes women) will inflict. I understand and even sympathize with the pressures to remain dormant, but I believe in any relationship, self-respect must take priority over any other factor. While the weight of such a relationship may make you feel as if you don’t deserve self-respect, trust me when I say that feeling could not be more wrong.

I also believe that no woman needs me or any other person to “white knight” them out of an abusive relationship. Of course any red-blooded male, myself included, will clench fists the second we’re asked to help — but the belief that you, as a woman, are powerless is an illusion, and part of the reason situations of domestic violence are so dangerous. They’re indoctrinating, and it takes courage to break that indoctrination.

In my experience with domestic violence (it’s actually quite vast — I think people go to me for help because I have honest eyes), I’ve seen strong, respectful women fight back with their words. They’ve removed themselves from a dangerous situation by a complete intolerance for disrespect. A woman should never be afraid to do whatever it takes to protect herself — body and spirit — from anything that would threaten it.

Even if your situation is so dire that the only option is to flee to the shelter of parents, or a sanctuary set up by a church or charity, there’s always a way out. Organizations such as EWO exist for this reason.

But in the end, I wasn’t writing to those women in an abusive relationship (and maybe I should have been). Instead, I just meant to remind you ladies: be cautious, trust your instincts (they’re better than you probably think they are) and put value in the opinions of your friends. The content of character in someone you choose as a significant other could have significant repercussions that stretch far beyond your personal life.

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