The Festering Seed at the Heart of Victim Blaming
By Jennifer Ellem
I’ve given a great deal of thought to this piece over the past weeks and have come to realise that what I am feeling is more than just the outrage at the lack of understanding from so many for the plight of a young girl who was assaulted and found no justice due to the level of alcohol in her system. It is the anger that this is systemic of all that is wrong with our society socially, morally and yes politically. Therefor as a result that while I will begin my story there it is not where I am eventually heading.
The final frustration began with an online conversation with a man who appeared to be an extremely decent human being, one who showed great contempt and anger for the person who had harmed this young woman and the lack of result she received from the police.
However woven through his message was this line that perhaps if she had been a little more aware of her surroundings or less inebriated then the situation would not have occurred. I tried to explain to him that THIS attitude is what formed the ultimate barrier to true justice for crimes against not just women but all those who were in ‘vulnerable‘ situations and yet I failed to make a dent in his heart of hearts.
He gave me examples such as ‘going swimming with crocodiles which was asking for trouble‘ and yet when I pointed out that people weren’t crocodiles and food chain wise we’re actually on the menu as opposed to the obviously naive idea I had that people weren’t likely to dine on you at the local swimming hole. Sarcasm on my part failed also I’m afraid.
Trying as a last resort I asked the man that if he saw a drunk with his wallet sticking out, or a young man/woman too inebriated to care for themselves would he simply steal the wallet or take advantage of the person in their compromised state?
Of course not, because he was not an animal, he was a person who know right from wrong, good from bad and had a sense of protection or those who due to their own actions may have left themselves open to harm from a number of different circumstances.
He of course agreed with me ‘in principle’, never seeing the ugly truth of ‘by their own actions’ which showed sadly his heart held a festering seed of condemnation or contempt for those who found themselves harmed as a result of such circumstances AND still he could not see it was that we were fighting against every day in this world.
From the very practical social example I’d like to move to the issue of the morality of such condemnation, not just with victims of crime but all those who are victimised in some way especially those who often seek comfort in our churches. In a way it is worse to see this festering seed at work in places of supposed shelter and odd to watch it amongst our religious leaders who ‘suffer the weak to come unto them’. It makes one wonder just what does weak imply in the hearts of these men and it does seem as ‘suffer‘ is something that must be endured by those helping not those in need of such aid.
We watch as the condemnation and the penance for promiscuous behavior, lewd language and perhaps an overt lack of respect for the trappings of the churches and their spokespersons seem as a type of damnation of the weak and needy and even those who support their causes [those nasty lefties].
What makes it even harder is to watch is often a lessor form or penance or censure levied at those who appear successful, lacking in the ‘smell [so to speak] of the poor or the weak’. We see almost comradely berating, finger wagging on one hand and the collection bowel in the other against those who steal for gain not for need, who harm not to defend but to dominate, who labor to build mansions on earth bit give nothing to those who are without homes in the here and now. It is here again that I feel and see that festering seed of blame has become entrenched even in those whose entire life is meant to be that of service to those in need.
Please understand that I do not speak against religion and church as a whole but more the extreme groups who seek to enforce a code or behavior that not longer represents the flock they are meant to protect. We have wonderful examples of charity with the incredible offering of Sanctuary by so many churches from so many denominations around Australia. The wonderful support from the Anglican Bishop of Gosford for support his priest and his parish in his ongoing messages of support to those trapped in offshore detention.
It is here again that I would like to talk about the festering seed of victim blaming at the heart of so much that we see day by day in this world. Before we discuss the truly obscene game of victim blaming going on at a federal level I would like to talk about the two most distressing occurrences that have occurred on Australian watch in my lifetime [that I know of] and that is the immolation of two asylum seekers, one dead and the other in critical condition; unlikely to survive.
The utter exhaustion, hopelessness and finally simple loss of any reason to live in world that no longer make sense. Dutton would like us to shake our heads and mutter – Oh I’m not sure about the way he went about that and feel deep within ourselves that festering seed of blame for the victim. The words of another writer, Jenny Geale, have expressed my heartbreak at what happened in this past fortnight and I hope you take the time to read her work.
Our Immigration minister would have us believe that our inner soul wrestling was unneeded and by him unheeded for according to Mr Dutton these were not acts of desperation at horrific living conditions, nor exhaustion from endless, fruitless delays of ‘legitimate claims‘, let me repeat that these two people had been found to be genuine refugees. A young Somali woman named Hodan and Omid Masoumali are dead and dying for no reason other than complete and utter despair. Omid had been there or over 3 years and was told that morning he would remain there for another 10 unless he returned to his country of origin first signing a waiver making Australia in no way responsible as to his eventual circumstances upon arrival when he arrived back in the place he fled in fear of his life.
Over and over we’ve had it forced down our throats until we choke on the idea that these interlopers, these queue jumpers, of which they are neither, are trying to cross our borders for whatever nefarious schemes they must have. The truth of course is much less palatable – we’ve been lied to again and again and again for nothing more than political point scoring from both sides of the spectrum. Between the ALP and LNP we have created the first official concentration camps since World War II. The UN, The Australian Human Rights Commission [back in 2014] and the High Court of PNG [not to the surprise of their government] have found that these centers are unlawful.
Yet appallingly our government relies on YOU to be so afraid of these people and the possibility of a massive influx [which never existed in Australia] of those arriving by boat to let this travesty continue. They rely on that little festering seed of doubt in your heart that surely they must somehow deserve this. Or it is somehow not at as bad as it sounds [oh it is and worse ] and if only they just went home, then we all wouldn’t have to worry about it any longer.
But this festering seed of victim blaming goes much further than some islands offshore, its coming home to roost ladies and gentlemen, right in our backyard and wallet. We have a government who seems to think that the disabled, those on pensions and those seeking Newstart or Austudy are somehow weaker, slacker and at blame for all that we face in our lives. Those who face violence in their homes or on our streets are somehow to blame at heart. Our Minister for Disability Christian Porter [nice name pity it’s not apt], sees those on Disability as a burden and has made it his mission in life to ‘strip the fat’.
This government has even gone as far as to convince the average worker that there are evil pensioners out there scamming millions from honest hardworking self funded retirees all the while there are figures showing that welfare fraud across the board [all types of welfare fraud not just pensions] is at 0.7%. While they’re busy driving these upstanding citizens into a frenzy at the thought of all those bludgers and cheats this government is quietly chopping away at our penalty rates, health care, education and social welfare programs. We now have a situation were the Premier of VIC spends more on domestic violence than the entire federal government which is a disgrace but perhaps a little example of the festering seed in the heart of our federal government for those it considers less or weak. Surprise,surprise – you didn’t think it wasn’t any of your fault now did you???? Well it is to an extent but it is a fault that can be cut out of our hearts.
What we need as a nation, perhaps as humanity itself is to look into the black heart of ourselves and admit that it is easy to blame than to help, that it is easier to begrudge our assistance because we feel that surely those that require it must be at blame somewhere.
How about we raise men and women to help those in need rather than harm, to offer aid rather than take advantage and for the love of all that remains of our humanity dig that festering seed or blame, resentment, betrayal, anger at all those who have done you harm and cease using it as a reason to do harm, even in your hearts, to others.
Below I have included an excerpt from the documentary Chasing Asylum, by an Oscar-winning director who has worked in war zones all over the world – it will be shown around the world and will further damage our reputation internationally. No more Australia – The Great Country with Great People and Australia THIS is what we have come to by allowing that festering seed grow within our hearts until the atrocities committed seen here have become a part of we are told is needed for our society to function, like so many federal cuts coming are needed.
Ask yourselves – if you dare – just when do you recognise your own fear and fight it instead of those who need your help.
This article was originally published on Jennifer’s blog; Unload and Unwind.
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Last weekend I listened to a depressing on-air discussion with a refugee lawyer on John Cleary’s very informative Sunday night religion and ethics show on ABC Local Radio. His opinion was that it will take a massive demonstration of public revulsion before either of the major political groups begin to edge away from the appalling cruelty to refugees that has become the norm. His opinion was that without this nothing would change. I’m sorry but I don’t see any likelihood of this occurring. Out of sight out of mind will always work for a while and I fear it will take a spate of deaths in custody for the citizens of the land of the fair go to stand up and confront the Laboral coalition of cruelty.The Greens have consistently opposed this institutionalized cruelty but the major parties don’t want to know.
Having watched Rosie Batty’s advocacy for attention to DV, I thought it was merely a matter of time before the detractors started with “Why don’t they leave?” In Germany, the new year’s eve celebrations were marred by fools committing sexual assaults. I can’t find the link at the moment, so I’m going off memory. Merkel was asked what she thought about imposing a curfew on women, to save them further abuse. Her response was entirely logical and practical. “Why wouldn’t we put a curfew on men? They are the one’s committing the offences.”
Fear is, indeed, a festering seed. Blaming the victims is, likely, the fertiliser for that very seed.
Thank you, Ms Ellem. So well said. Take care
Thought provoking well written and sadly so very true. For the “Few good men and women” among us who continue to shake our thought processes and help us to see the reality in such cases I am always truly grateful.We must always live with the hope that with our voices continually raised in unison against such injustices one day justice will prevail.
The most distressing image in Waleed’s video is that of Peter Dutton.
I so wish he would develop some form of terminal illness.
As a biologist it astounds me that a creature with so primitive a nervous system can reach the levels of malevolent power and control he has.
As for the woman on Four Corners?
I have no words to describe my feelings towards her murderers.
Like with Dutton, I am so glad they reside in another state as my anger could drive me beyond that which is legal.
No woman, regardless of her lifestyle, addictions, reputation or menatl state deserves to be fisted to death.
Douglas Evans May 11, 2016 at 6:54 pm
You have highlighted the current deficiency in our democracy – “it will take a massive demonstration of public revulsion” likely to lead to civil disobedience (can you hear the law and order drums?) – as in “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr).
If there was a systemic solution, joining the representative dot with the voters dot, between elections (maintaining 1 vote = 1 value beyond the four minutes it takes to complete a ballot paper) rather than have her/im sell our souls (votes) to the ‘party’ to then on-sell in exchange for donations, etc – ie, by diluting these latter two, we may then enjoy a better democratic society.
Now that is a policy.
Thank you Jennifer,
I have just got to a state of personnal stress at the victimisation of the poor man who had the temerity to ask a minister why the rich are getting tax break but he is not, on Q&A.
The vitriol against this man has been shocking, to witness.
Even when I pointed out how shamfull and small minded they were, they just kept on going.
I just had to stop and do something else to de-stress myself.
I am so so distressed at what we in Australia have become, I came here because I emigrated 36 years ago, to an egalitarian country, where a fair gomactually meant something, of course I can no longer return (my family is here now) but oh I wished I could!
Thank you SGB et al for putting words where really, none suffice. Jennifer, as ever a well-written piece and raises as many questions as it answers.
I would like to advocate on behalf of the devil for one nano-second, since the issue of that poor woman at Iluka was raised and we were treated to the vision of 2 “men” responsible for what happened. How would you describe them?
Physically, both paunchy and balding in their 40’s.
Unshaven and looking as if they could use a bath.
Glazed eyes – either early morning after a late night, or my preference, too dumb to know what’s happening.
Now, back to the issue of “victim blaming”. In a perfect world, you are entirely correct, but this isn’t one. You can dream all day long that the world is full of men like Michael and myself and other denizens of AIMN. But it isn’t.
In many respects the men who write here are not even closely related to the real Australian bloke, who frequently (not always), is hard pressed to tie shoelaces because he is so dumb. That’s why he wears thongs and even, in the case of many from western Sydney, votes LNP.
Jennifer the world is not a perfect place. It is inhabited by imperfect people, male and female. Among them are creeps like Attwater and Maris, who can’t be charged with being stupid in public and given a life out of sight sentence. It doesn’t happen that way.
At some stage those decrying “take a little bit of care of yourself”, as “victim blaming”, have to understand that those of us suggesting going about in groups late at night, learning the basics of self defence etc., are not blaming victims. We are pointing out reality and all the teeth gnashing and wailing will not change one iota, as long as the people who parent things like Attwater and Maris, are not put down before they have a chance to breed.
And that is the reality.
Thoughtful article, Jennifer.
As SSM stated the world is full of ‘imperfect’ people; many of whom wear suits, not thongs, are educated, not ignorant.
Thank you – all of you for taking the time not just to read but to listen to what was being said – my heart breaks and at time my humanity shivers at where we are heading not just as a country but as people of this world. When did we start to turn back the clock to the days of blaming those whose circumstances have left them bereft in so many ways. Like man I am fast losing faith that our governments are capable to stem this tide and in fact do much to speed up the approach of the giant wave looming ahead.
Sir Scotch – I have no anger or trouble with your point about taking care but I think what scares me to the bone is the very fact that such is needed. Sadly we cannot change that overnight and such care must be taken but what does anger me [again not at you] is that when such things occur justice is soured by that little seed of blame for the victim which only then encourages those who do harm.
SGB – I too was horrified by the vitriol that was thrown at that man on Q&A but also heartened by the many who have banded together to form a fighting fund [so to speak’ on his behalf which does give one some hope: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-11/gofundme-raises-thousands-to-buy-duncan-storrar-a-toaster/7403008
Michael: you have raised I think my greatest fear in that the system as it stands does little or nothing to provide help when needed and only true change can come from the people outside the system as it exists currently.
Douglas, Kyran and Maureen – I like you have watched and waited, with much railing and raging I do admit, but still for a time I thought that time would bring forth something better. Instead we have seen it degenerate to something worse and we are asked of ourselves – What next?
Sir SM, we are in a position to refine the human construct that is democracy as we understand it by advocating in a cooperative collaborative sense, the difference between an ideal, in all its forms, and reality is a decision.
That is where systemically inculcated points of education (formal – this how it works, spectatorial – see/watch how it works and experience – I know how it works and ticks all my boxes, and share the experience with others) with understanding, can inspire even the most bogan of thong wearing fellow citizens, of which I am one for sheer practical and northern beaches (abbott-land) reasons, to push one’s self imposed barriers and stretch one’s frontiers of possibilities, anytime, albeit later in life – would you not agree?
After all, one could say that, we were all born “bogan” until we bonded, connected with love, guidance and education, etc (not an exhaustive list)
And it would be better if we could live together (we would all learn more about ourselves and each other, the fertilizer for growth) – it is those who see and seek advantage by wedging differences in all its forms who ultimately wallow in the power we so obediently surrender in those 4 minutes 3 times every 3-4 years.
I am reminded of “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” (Robert Anthony (September 6, 1916 – December 1, 2006) was an American organizational theorist, and professor of management control at Harvard Business School, known for his work in the field of management control systems) .
I, for one, want to join those two dots currently missing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=LPjzfGChGlE&feature=player_embedded the refugees need our help in their own country, then they would not come here:
Shaun – yes they need help, wherever they are but the point in my article is that the fight so many people who are seen as at a disadvantage or as a victim face an inherent prejudice in the heart of so many that they often feel blamed for things rather than seen as in need of help.
As SSM has pointed out, the world is not a perfect place. The ‘desire’ and the ‘reality’ seem poles apart. My earlier point wasn’t intended as an ‘Eeyore’ moment. It was meant to reflect that people are calling this BS out. As Ms Ellem, and so many other authors on this site, have done.
There was a proliferation of expressions that crept into the Australian lexicon over the recent past. “Suck it up, princess.” “Build a bridge, get over it.” “Go buy some concrete and harden the feck up.”
It was the victims fault. It was their problem. If they couldn’t fix it (or accept it, or deal with it), that was also their fault.
By calling this BS for what it is, we allow the focus to turn, or return, to the actual problem. By being vigilant about calling this BS out, the argument is actually changing. We are a long way from utopia. But the demise of those expressions gives me hope.
“Pooh is naive and slow-witted, but he is also friendly, thoughtful, and steadfast. Although he and his friends agree that he “has no Brain”, Pooh is occasionally acknowledged to have a clever idea, usually driven by common sense.”
See? All we need is more pooh. Thank goodness there is an election campaign on. There will be lots of pooh.
Thank you, AIMN. Take care
I have a fear and am afraid.But not of asylum seekers or other victims of situations.No my fear and what I am afraid of,includes:-
This Liberal party that panders to the ignorant public in this country.The Liberal party that has NO SHAME.Plus the Labor party that has NO GUTS.
Also,the Main Stream Media that is owned by too few,are BIASED,have made Australia a “mediaocracy”,and of course the same public that either don’t care or fall for the MSM’s BS.
Finally,I am afraid of how gullible,ignorant and stupid the masses are.That this is the reality,and the proof that so called democracy does NOT work – Just because the majority think something does NOT mean they are correct.They can and are easily led,manipulated and wrong.Issues have to be judged on merit,facts and NOT popularity.Our alleged (we are NOT one) democracy fails on all counts.
The fallacy that too many ignorant people believe is true,and the Libs operate on.The “just world fallacy” – The world is NOT black & white.Often we are NOT a just world.Issues have to be judged on an individual merit,on whether what has happened is just or NOT.Because most things have more than one cause,we do NOT live in a just world.
Wayne Turner – Loved the link, fascinating and your are right in your earlier comments that the system does not work and people are willfully blind to the fact because to admit it would mean that they were part of something that damages rather than assists.