Silence and Victim Shaming
Is Silence but an Insidious Form of Victim Shaming?
I have come to be more interested in the concept of victim shaming in the last year, because of an abusive relationship I was part of, and more specifically in the aftermath of it. I was always quite acutely aware of the concept of victim shaming and actively tried to avoid perpetrating it, but some reflection led me to consider, on the one hand, victim-shaming as a very blurry concept, and on the other, as all the more important to reflect upon and avoid. In fact, the aftermath of trauma can be even more traumatic than the trauma itself, if only because of the permanent stigma that one must bear as a victim.
Having opened up to a few friends about the events surrounding my relationship, I’ve come across a surprisingly wide variety of reactions, though I am sure not a single one of my friend would consider himself or herself a victim shamer. Would I agree? I don’t know, hence this discussion. Can one person both support and ostracize you for being a victim? This is in my experience not only possible, but frequent.
It has been about a year since the end of this relationship, and I have lamented the reaction of many of our common friends to our abusive relationship. Let us be clear: domestic violence is a crime in legal terms, which makes my ex a criminal, and which makes me a victim. There is no room for discussion here. Many would feel bad, sorry for me, and then act normally with my ex.
Another instance of possible victim shaming happened to a friend of mine who works in the same department at the same university as I. Let us call her Justine. A tenured professor, let us call her Professor Y (because Professor X is amazing and I wouldn’t wanna soil his name) sent an email to all graduate students asking for their input on things to improve, flaws of the department, and such. Said professor collected the answers, and sent out an email to all students and faculty containing responses to the supposedly confidential survey, as well as adding denigrating comments of her own – “the grad students are saying stupidities again, those lazy bums.” In fact, as we learned later, she used the wrong email list, she meant to send this only to other faculty members. And so, Justine took matter into her own hands, called Professor Y, told her off. Professor Y hung up on her. Justine went to her office, told her off again. A few days later, Professor Y had flowers and chocolate sent to Justine’s apartment, along with an apology. Long story short, Justine is clearly the victim here, even Prof Y admits it. The issue is, where does victim shaming begin? All students and faculty know of Justine’s reaction. Do they think she’s justified? Probably. Do they support her? In silence, at best.
In fact, many students have come up to Justine personally to thank her, though none have spoken up publicly. No faculty members have said anything in favour or not. Let us remember that the only reason why this professor got caught is because she used the wrong email list. Is it in the culture of this department to look down on graduate students? Do they insult us amongst each other? It might be an isolated event, but chances are it is not, logically. But that remains ebtirely hypothetical, I do have too much respect for many faculty members to generalize. But I’m digressing.
The point is, Justine has confided being worried about the opinion the department has of her now. It is not well received when someone files in a complaint about a colleague, no matter how objectively right they are. And academia, much like any business, is a world in which word gets around, and she fears for her future not only as a PhD student, but as an eventual job-seeking alumni. Though most of her peers respect and support her actions, none of them dares do anything more than tell her so privately for their own sake.
I can draw too many links here with my own situation as a victim of domestic abuse. Everyone who talked to me in private were supportive at best, dismissive or pitiful at worst. But in public, not one of them spoke up, even when the abuse took place in front of their eyes. Months later, I am now the one who has been indirectly ostracized from this group of friends as a result for having been the victim of a criminal act by one of its members. The contexts are largely different, and drawing parallels between all situations of abuse is always shaky at best, though the common denominator in these cases is that silence appears to me as a way of victim shaming, largely speaking. It might not be outright or explicit, but the effect is the same : the victim is isolated, shamed, and stigmatized.