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The Origin of the Taboo Against “Blaming Victims” in Modern Psychotherapy

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by Izzy Kalman (February 2003)

The taboo against “blaming the victim” has taken firm root in the psychotherapeutic world. This is what Michelle Bograd, PhD, writes about domestic violence in the March/April edition of Psychotherapy Networker:

“Most [psychotherapy] models emphasize the accountability of the abuser in order to be clear about the power dynamics at play and avoid the risk of blaming the victim in any way.”

Notice the words, “avoid the risk of blaming the victim in any way.” One of the basic principles of human dynamics is that a relationship is the product of the two people involved. Another principle is that to solve problems one must stop blaming others and take responsibility for oneself.

Despite these basic truths, psychotherapists are walking on eggshells, trying at all costs to aviod the danger of “blaming the victim.” It doesn’t matter that the victims’ actions are unwittingly encouraging their abusers. And it doesn’t matter that if you were to talk to the abuser, he would probably describe himself as the real victim. Since the person sitting before us is a “victim,” we have to be really careful not to further hurt his feelings by holding him responsible for his role in the relationship. Amazing, isn’t it? With such a mentality, how are psychotherapists ever going to help “victims” get better?

What is responsible for this development?

I believe that ultimately it is due to the efforts of the feminist movement, though I’m sure this was not the feminists’ intention.

Once upon a time, it was common for victims of rape to be blamed in court for getting raped. It was believed that by acting or dressing sexy, or by the very act of going to a place like a bar or party, women provoked men to rape them. The rapists, therefore, were absolved of responsibility. The feminist movement successfully – and correctly! – fought this bias, and it is no longer legal to blame a rape victim for being raped. Women can now enjoy being sexy without worry that they will be held responsible for men’s loss of sexual self-control.

This policy has slowly crept into all areas of behavior, with the result that it is never, ever considered proper to “blame the victim,” even when the situation has nothing in common with innocent victims of rape.

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