Tale as Old as Time: Why are we not punishing the perpetrator?

In an age filled with empowerment on social media and television, it can be easy to overlook an age-old tradition that patriarchal societies have taken part in for millennia: victim blaming.


What is victim blaming you might ask?


Victim blaming is when the person who is wronged in some way, whether it be an assault or crime, and then held responsible for being wronged. Victim blaming is frequently associated with sexual assault in today’s society.


The reality is that victim blaming has been an occurrence in a male-dominated world since as far back as the ancient Greeks. The podcast “Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!” frequently addresses topics like sexual assault, rape, and sexism, while also drawing comparisons between ancient patriarchy and the current news. In a bonus episode (Episode 46: BONUS! Next Door Villain Podcast) that aired in March 2019, the podcast talks about Medusa.


Medusa is known for being an ancient monster with snakes for hair and a gaze that turns any person she looks upon into stone. The part of the Gorgon’s story that is less frequently told is that Medusa began her life as a beautiful woman who was a priestess of the goddess Athena. As a priestess of Athena, Medusa vowed to live as a virgin. Unfortunately, the god Poseidon saw Medusa’s beauty and decided to act upon his sexual desires. Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena’s temple, which the goddess found disrespectful. As a punishment for being raped in Athena’s holy temple, Athena cursed Medusa with her grotesque appearance and Medusa spent the rest of her life hiding away from humans until she was slayed by the hero Perseus.


Athena’s punishment to Medusa rather than Poseidon is what we now call “victim blaming”.


How to Stop Yourself from Victim-Blaming (Hamby, 2014).

1. Be aware.

Simply put, a majority of victims do not ask for their assault. Statements such as, “It could have been worse,” or, “What does not kill you will make you stronger,” can invalidate the experience for the person. These common phrases, while most likely said with good intentions can be damaging when a victim is trying to create trust and process their trauma (Hamby, 2014).


2. Balance pros and cons when making safety choices.

In the case of sexual assault, walking in pairs or groups at night is still a safer option for many women despite events like “Take Back the Night” which may encourage women to stand up for their right to walk alone in the dark. When walking with others is not an option, being prepared with pepper spray or basic self-defense is an option that many women currently use. Even more, organizations that have members who may be put in potentially harmful situations without an alternative can take steps to encourage safety choices that help rather than blame potential victims. For example, a sorority can offer members the chance to learn basic self-defense (Hamby, 2014).


3. Build up a victim’s strengths.

As simple as this may sound, this is potentially the most important of the three tools provided. Through building up strengths, victims have the opportunity to regain confidence and receive validation for their trauma (Hamby, 2014).


Trauma is not simple. When victim blaming becomes an additional stressor within someone’s life, another trauma or re-traumatization can occur. Finding a counselor, therapist, or even trustworthy friend to simply listen is crucial. In many cases, trauma victims are put in situations where not only are their experiences invalidated, but they are blamed for their trauma. Healing from trauma requires validation over blame and scrutiny. Without validation, it can be hard for a victim’s struggles to be recognized and addressed.

Kaitlyn is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from New Mexico State University. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Journalism. Kaitlyn strives to provide a non-judgemental and safe environment for clients to have the confidence to freely share their stories, and understand how their mental and physical experiences shape how they interact with the world around them. She believes that clients have the ability to create positive healing in their lives, and want to help them tap into their hidden strengths. Kaitlyn works with clients of all ages, provide couples therapy and addresses issues including anxiety, depression, illness, and trauma.


If you would like to know more about trauma or this topic, reach out to Kaitlyn at kaitlyn@anewhopetc.org or (575) 323-0439. To schedule a consultation, please call A New Hope Therapy Center at (575) 556-9585.

Resources:

Hamby, S. (2014, Sept. 22). Three Simple Steps You Can Take to Avoid Victim-Blaming. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-web-violence/201409/three-simple-steps-you-can-take-avoid-victim-blaming