Bad Things Advocates Say

Posted on May 25, 2012 by

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Brochures and educational materials for victims line the wall of a courthouse advocacy center office. Image: CrimeCents

“90% of the abuse situations happen with the victim’s tacit permission.”

That’s a direct quote. I’m going to summarize the rest of the conversation, which I overheard, by saying that this was an advocate who justified her comment by explaining that she had grown up in an abusive household and that she had been a volunteer advocate for over a decade.

The punchline to this story? She had been on dates with men who showed “the signs” and “walked away every time.” And so should every other woman, who, surely, must be capable of seeing “the signs” so clearly.

It’s victim-blaming pure and simple.

The fact that it goes on within the victim advocacy community is something we need to talk about.

We don’t talk about it because it’s uncomfortable. Victim advocates, whether volunteer or professional, are often drawn to the work because of their own experiences as direct or secondary victims. They are working out their own trauma, they are coming to terms with the choices their mothers and fathers made, with the choices they made themselves.

Surviving domestic violence is a lifelong process, and advocates bring this process with them to the work that they do. But because advocates are the real heroes of the criminal justice victim system, it’s difficult to call them out when they are part of the problem. When they participate in the victim-blaming themselves.

We have to do a better job of confronting the problem of victim-blaming in the advocacy community, because the advocate is supposed to be the one person who can be counted on to get it. To understand. To not say stupid shit like, “why don’t you just leave?” or “why do you let him do this to you?” or “if you really loved your kids you’d get a divorce.”

Or “90% of the abuse situations happen with the victim’s tacit permission.”

The domestic violence victim whose advocate has failed her is the victim who truly has no ally in the criminal justice system. Sure there are cops who get it, really and truly. There are prosecutors who are compassionate, but they just don’t have the time to meet victim needs. There are judges who don’t buy in to the abusers’ charm and manipulation. But all of these people are few and far between.

On the whole the criminal justice system revolves around the offender, not the victim. Victim advocacy is under-funded and overwhelmed; it is the last safety net to catch those who have been harmed by the people they love.

Let’s mend the net.

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Posted in: Victims