Why we MUST end victim-blaming in domestic violence

Domestic violence is a global epidemic impacting more women than war and cancer combined. Yet misinformation and misconceptions are actively fuelling this injustice. If we’re to eradicate domestic violence, we must first end victim-blaming. Here’s why.

We like to imagine that the world has grown more enlightened about domestic violence. It is no longer legal – in many countries, at least – for a man to beat or rape his wife. Some nations, such as the UK, have gone one step further in pushing to make psychological and emotional abuse (coercive control) a criminal offence. We live in a time in which there is unprecedented awareness of domestic violence / abuse and arguably greater social rejection of this devastating crime than ever before.

Yet domestic violence remains a global epidemic, present in every culture and community worldwide:

  • Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from domestic violence and rape than from car accidents, cancer, war and malaria
  • One in four women will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetime
  • Between 2001-2012, the amount of American women murdered by current or ex male partners was almost double the number of US troops killed in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • More than 38 million people have experienced intimate partner violence
  • The overwhelming majority of male-on-female homicides are carried out by current or ex partners.

Despite relentless education efforts, the picture for women remains both bleak and grave. Where there are laws designed to tackle domestic violence, only a fraction of incidents are ever reported to the police. Untold numbers of women remain trapped in violent relationships, whilst others face huge challenges in order to get free and keep safe once they have escaped.

“Question : What do mules and women have in common?  Answer : A good beating makes them both better.” Spanish riddle

Victim-blaming is fuel for domestic violence

A major factor in preventing women from seeking help – and much-needed constructive dialogue – is the implicit and explicit victim-blaming ingrained in public perceptions of domestic violence. Here’s what that looks like in action:

  • When CCTV footage emerged of sportsman Ray Rice knocking his then fiance unconscious, public opinion erupted. Sadly, the furore focussed on Janay Rice’s decision to marry the footballing star after the incident. As people called on Janay to justify herself, it took the amazing hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft to educate the outraged masses about the dynamics of abuse. There were no hashtags demanding an explanation as to why Ray decided to beat the woman he claimed to love.
  • When Charles Saatchi was caught on camera grabbing the throat of TV chef Nigella Lawson, the media decried it as a dramatic, two-sided bust-up. As lurid headlines and gut-wrenching photos sold newspapers, the general public wondered vociferously why a strong, successful woman such as Lawson put up with such a husband.
  • Leaked mugshots of a battered Rihanna after boyfriend Chris Brown attacked her sent the media-money machine into overdrive, and disturbingly, saw an outpouring of victim-blaming aimed at the singer, who the public deemed to be failing in her ‘duty’ as a role-model by continuing an on-off relationship with Brown.
Victim-blaming meme featuring Rihanna.

Victim-blaming meme featuring Rihanna.

Violence is accepted as an unpleasant norm

Society appears to accept violent men as the (albeit unpleasant) norm. Rather than examining what makes men violent, and lauding the many males who do not choose violence, victims are pressurised to examine their own inadequacies and faults. Earlier this week, I read a preacher advising women in violent relationships to look inside themselves to understand what is wrong with them that they ‘accept’ violent men. It made me hopping mad.

A comment on this site, where a man suggested domestic violence is an “equal opportunity gig” sent my blood pressure soaring. Such opinions serve only to reinforce the dynamic of abuse, in which perpetrators rely on making their victim feel ‘less than’ and therefore deserving of emotional and/or physical violence.

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal.” Mukesh Singh, sentenced to death for his part in the horrific gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi

Imagine, for an individual going through the traumatic experience of a violent assault – likely just one incident in an ongoing abusive relationship – how does it feel to have your actions scrutinised and judged, rather than the perpetrator’s? You’ll probably feel ashamed, though you are not at fault. You’ll guard his secrets. You’ll stay in the relationship because you’re fearful of being judged. You’ll find it hard to realise that you are stronger than your abuser.

And if you do leave, you’re unlikely to be open about what you experienced – and so you will miss out on services and support to help keep you safe and to help you heal. The perpetrator endures no such consequences, and gets to continue evading responsibility for the decision to abuse.

Image by Half Chinese

Image by Half Chinese

Victim-blaming takes responsibility away from the perpetrator

Think about these typical responses to domestic violence, and all the assumptions they contain:

  • Why doesn’t she just leave?
  • She must have no self-esteem whatsoever to put up with that.
  • It was a ‘crime of passion’. He loved her so much.
  • I would never stay with a violent man.
  • Women who don’t leave are stupid.
  • She brought it on herself.

All these responses reinforce exactly what the perpetrator wants their victim to think. That the victim is to blame, and they are not. This is how it looks when we switch those around:

  • Why doesn’t he just stop beating her?
  • He must have no self-esteem whatsoever to do that.
  • It was an evil crime. He hated her so much, but he used ‘love’ as his excuse.
  • I’ve been lucky not to end up with a violent man.
  • People who abuse others are stupid.
  • She is not to blame.

It’s time to end the injustice of victim-blaming. It’s time to place responsibility for domestic violence squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of those who perpetrate it, and nowhere else.

Handful of stars

Photo by xJasonRogersx

What do you think are the biggest dangers of victim-blaming? Have you been on the receiving end? How did it make you feel? SHARE in the comments.


27 responses to “Why we MUST end victim-blaming in domestic violence

  1. you are so right on here, i run a support group for victims of sociopaths and these women (men) 678 members and growing and thats a closed group, no advertisement, come and are so full of self blame and a common response is how could they have been so stupid. they arent stupid they have been brainwashed. society tells them they are crazy, why didnt you just leave ? they dont understand the type of mental, emotional and sometimes physical abuse these people are under. sociopaths are every where and there are millions of victims around the world of this type of abuse and it doesnt help when society is ignorant to this kind of manipulating abuse. i wish the world would wake up. thank you for your article i hope many read it and apply it to how they treat and see victims of any kind of abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there. Self-blame is so common, and society only encourages this. Mostly, it’s ignorance but also its because that’s the simplistic narrative that the media promotes.

      Domestic violence / abuse is way more nuanced than many believe, but it can only be ended when perpetrators are held properly accountable. No excuses. So voices like yours are very important in raising awareness!

      Liked by 1 person

      • i dont know if perpetrators will ever be held responsible society sees it as the victims fault especially when the sociopath creates the smear campaign. our world is a mess people dont want to know there are really bad people in the world and sociopaths are so believable. but ill never give up not after what i have been through, my voice will be LOUD !! thanks for responding.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent contribution to the conversation and to raising awareness about the unjust notions surrounding abuse. I heard that Mukesh Singh, who participated in the brutal gang rape and beating death of Jyoti Singh, also said that “she shouldn’t have put up a fight” and that “she needed to be taught a lesson” (for being out late and accompanied by a male individual who was not a relative.) A movie is being made about the incident and the events that followed.


    • Hi Human. The more people who reject victim-blaming, the more chance we have of achieving real change. The film you mention, India’s Daughter, shines a light on the way patriarchal culture and victim-blaming is literally devastating lives. Well worth watching.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The comparison between women murdered by partners and soldiers killed in conflicts makes a very strong statement. I believe this kind of fact can capture people’s attention and I would like to use it on my blog. Would you please direct me to the source?


  4. Reblogged this on Brenda Blackmon's Blog and commented:
    Most will be offended after reading this article. I think his secret is slowly being revealed. The reason we guard it is complicated. The importance of changing our perceptions of domestic violence is critical because as our children watch our acceptance of abuse by seeing us suppress it, they are also learning how to keep his secret. The cycle can only be broken with honest dialogue. This article is excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Looking for the Light and commented:
    Meet me dear friend Avalanche of the Soul. She is one of the strongest Advocates against Sexual/Domestic Abuse. Her heart is made of gold and has helped so many with questions over the years. Please do yourself a favor and spend time reading the wealth of knowledge on her sight. XO Warrior


  6. Not looking to add to the victim blaming, just seeking to understand my own opinion on this matter… I don’t ever believe a victim of domestic violence is ever to blame for the violence, but as a feminist I do believe it is her responsibility to take care of herself and get herself out whatever it takes. I feel women aren’t helpless creatures needing saving even in such terrible circumstances. We are strong, smart, vigilant creatures capable of learning, growing, and moving on stronger than ever.. I’d appreciate any feedback on my thoughts, respectively. Love & Respect to you and all.


    • Hi, the problem is that people who begin a statement with words like ‘I don’t mean to add to the victim blaming but’ inevitably go on to blame victims. By your thinking, a woman who doesn’t ‘get herself out whatever it takes’ is at fault for the situation. This shows no understanding of the complex dynamics of abuse, and the myriad of factors that make it extremely hard for women to escape. Did you know that the risk faced by women escaping domestic violence increases when she is trying to leave, or has managed to escape? Do you know about financial abuse, trauma bonding, gaslighting? If not, please read up. Oh, and I’m not out to ‘save’ anyone: just to empower them with the knowledge and confidence so they can use their strength to get safe and happy.


  7. I’m in an abusive marriage and I have never felt so insignificant as do right now. I’m 52years old and at this time I’m unemployed. My husband belittles me’ and yells at me. He works all the time. He stays at work til 10 or ,11 O’clock at night. If he has a day he isn’t working then he finds a reason not to be home. He leaves me with no money and no food and no vehicle. When he is mad at me and yelling I try to walk away and he walks or runs with me yelling in my ear, I try to get away from him but he continues. I push him away and then he starts yelling that I hit him. Sometimes when we are fighting he will go to the door and open it and start yelling that he isn’t going to put up with me hitting him again. I hadn’t touched him. He wants people to think I’m abusing him. He tells people terrible lies about me. He has hit me a few times but always says it’s because he thought I was going to hit him. He makes real good money but he won’t give me any money. He says he is not going to work his ass off for it all to go on bills. I have always worked BT I quit my job to help him with a business I gave him the money to start. It was my taxrefund and my retirement. He lost the business but still owes for the sales tax and he won’t pay it because it was I my name. I got a ticket I his truck for registration and he won’t pay that either because the ticket was in my name. Now my license has been suspended. I feel like I’m drowning. I have no friends or family that I can call to help me. I feel like I’m just waiting to die. I don’t know what to do.


    • Kate. I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I understand how hard this may feel, given how your husband had eroded your self confidence and esteem – but the only way to make your situation better is to leave. Please reach out to a domestic violence charity in your area – they can help you get free and stay safe.


  8. Kate, I really feel for you in the situation you’re in. I’m fifty one and know that the last thing I would want at this time in my life is to start over from scratch, but it seems from what you’ve expressed, that is what his plans are for you. Lying about you and standing at the door trying to make it seem to others that you’re abusing him sounds like he’s building his case against you, before the discard. I’m sure you don’t want to hear that, but narcissists, psychos, manipulators,(whatever you want to call them) usually put there victims through phases, “idealization, devaluation, discard”. They’ll start a smear campaign well before their victim has a clue of what’s coming. I hate to sound cruel, but it seems he’s used you up for all the value he could get out of you, and now he wants to make sure he’s the one who “wins” in the end. I would even bet that he wants you to file for divorce first so he can then claim that you’re “the bad guy” after all his devotion and hard work supporting you. (hope you get the sarcasm in that). They always spin as much as they can so they can both come out ahead, and have the sob story about how evil you were to them. They’re schemers, plotting well ahead of time. He’s essentially put you in a double bind. Put up with all his abuse, OR be the one who ends it, so he can claim to be the victim, and get as much as he can in a settlement. Keeping you from the money insures him that you won’t have any to fight him in court. If I were you, I would start building a case against him. I would start documenting all the abuses each day. Leaving you without food or a way to get it is abuse in itself. If you could get him verbally abusing you on recording, that would of course be worth a great deal. The more recordings, the better. Be very careful about your own behavior, meaning don’t push him, don’t touch him, don’t yell at him, don’t do ANYTHING to provoke him. I know this could be hard, as they can be masters at crazy-making (getting you to lose your cool). This would be very important on the recordings, but would also show you how he is CREATING drama. Go to the bathroom if you really have to get away. It seems by what you’ve written that there are no children involved. I would see that as a great blessing if I were you. If there’s not much to fight over or you don’t care about it, I would just take the losing position, and just get away from him. Cut your losses and go to a women’s shelter as “AvalancheOfTheSoul” wisely suggested. Sometimes you have to lose battles to win in life. Considering life expectancies these days, you could have another thirty or forty years living in freedom. That’s WINNING. I also have to say that “works all the time” until ten or eleven could mean he’s already found his new “supply”, meaning he could be spending some or alot of that time cheating on you. I really hate to sound negative, but just trying to point out what the reality of it all may be. Of course these are just my observations on what you’ve written, my “unsolicited advise” and I’m just a stranger on the internet. You are the one who has to live with your decisions. I wish you the best and will pray for you.


  9. Another note for Kate- check the laws in your area about recording as they vary depending on where you live. Call a shelter in your area and ask their advise about how to handle things and be sure to state all the things you’ve put in your comment here. They may suggest you talk to the police before he hits you again, or may suggest you speak with adult protective services. They may be willing to be an advocate for you or put you in touch with others who can help. These people are experienced in dealing with abuse rs. Accusing the victim of what they’re guilty of is an extremely common tactic of manipulators. Perhaps you have legal aid where you live and you find out what they would suggest, especially about the financial straits he’s put you in and purposely kept you in. Beware though, he may check the phone bill to see who you call.

    Note to AvalancheOfTheSoul- I pray God blesses you for this valuable resource you’ve created, for all the time you spend writing your insightful posts, and for reaching out with love to all these unfortunate hearts who so desperately need solace.


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