When Is a Victim Not a Victim?

During my college years, I learned two things that cannot be reconciled: women are victims, but not when they are actually being victimized.

Let me tell a couple of stories here. First, when I was in my second year of college, there was a new student on campus.  He quickly gained a reputation for harassing female students.  He repeatedly got physical (in non-sexual ways) with many of my friends.  I had mostly managed to avoid him, until returning from winter break.  As I made my way to one of the campus buildings to retrieve my mail, he ran at me and dragged me to the ground.  He didn’t do anything else, and I told him exactly what I thought of him (I’ve never been one to keep my mouth shut).  I walked away, not wanting to continue to interact with him.  He chased after me, telling me that he deserved for me to hit him and that he would give me a free shot at his face.  I declined.  It took all year, but after enough of us complained, some action was attempted by the college.  He chose to leave, and any discipline against him was rendered null.  But it took a group of seven of us, all saying the same things, to get anywhere.  Apparently, being taken out walking on campus, being choked, and being jabbed in the hand with a knife didn’t count as inappropriate enough.

The year after that, I worked as a TA in the science lab.  My co-TA and I taught the lab and graded the reports.  We created the practical part of the exams.  It was (at least for me) a fun job, for the most part.  That is, with one exception.  I’ll call him Mervin (mostly because it sounds similar to “pervert,” which is what I’d rather call him).  Anyway, at first, he seemed harmless.  He flirted a little, I blew him off.  I was TA, after all, and I already had a boyfriend.  But it got ugly.  He started to turn in his lab reports with things like “slut,” “bitch,” and “whore” written at the top.  He was outright rude to me in class, in front of the other students.  My co-TA thought this was cute.  She said that he obviously had a crush on me and that I should be flattered by his attention.  She convinced me that I didn’t need to talk to our boss about it, that it was harmless.  Because that’s how guys show they like us, right?

At the same time, I learned that “real” victimization was in the realm of dating relationships.  If I had sex, it was a sign that my boyfriend was taking advantage of me.  An adult with whom I volunteered (not a college professor) told me that having sex would ruin the rest of the relationship.  Men take advantage of their girlfriends and then don’t respect them afterward.

So, having consensual sex with someone I loved meant I was a victim.  Being pulled to the ground or called vicious names, not so much.

And that, right there, shaped my barely-adult self.  I didn’t have sex with my boyfriend (who is now my husband), but I felt guilty every time we expressed ourselves intimately.  And I didn’t stand up for myself when I was being harassed.

What a horrible and backwards way to view the world.

We need to teach our daughters that this is not healthy.  We need to make sure that they have a genuine understanding of love, sex, and relationships and a clear distinction between that and victimization.  Otherwise, what we end up with are young women filled with shame and guilt about sex, but who think that real men show their love with violence and degradation; that they can’t help it, so we are responsible for keeping them in line.

We can’t do that to our daughters.

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4 thoughts on “When Is a Victim Not a Victim?

    • I suspect it’s why, even at non-religious universities, many actual victims don’t report crimes against them. I just read a horrible story yesterday about a boy who is being harassed by girls, but won’t say anything because no one will believe him. He thinks it’s because he’s a boy–but it may be because his school administration doesn’t take victims seriously in any case.

    • Thanks. Yes, I hope for my kids to make their choices out of love and respect for others, too. I don’t want either of them scarred by backwards ideas about how people should be treated.

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