Editorial blames abused victims for their plight

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Annan Boodram

By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice (TCV)

“It’s a skewed, cockeyed construct,” the reaction of UK based psychologist and mental health expert, Dev Daniel Ramdass, a member of The Caribbean Voice’s (TCV) technical team. He was referring to a recent editorial in the Guyana Chronicle newspaper, which made several ghastly, grossly incorrect, and astounding claims about gender-based violence.

According to the editorial: “The line of reasoning is clear, a person must respect himself or, in this particular case, herself, first. The result will be that respect will be earned from others. If that course of action is not taken, the inevitable outcome is disrespect, dysfunctional relationships, and, probably, domestic abuse including the possibility of violence.”

Responded TCV’s Ramdass, “Domestic violence is all about power and control in a relationship; the responsibility lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. The editorial is clearly blaming women for their treatment because in the eyes of abusive men women deserve it. A lack of personal self-respect, low self-esteem cannot be a prerequisite for being beaten up and killed.”

Indeed what is generally accepted and proven by mountains of research as well as abounding literature is that gender-based abuse is about power and control on the part of the abuser and has nothing to do with women disrespecting themselves.

In fact, in 2016, Laura Niemi, a then postdoctoral associate in psychology at Harvard University, and Liane Young, a professor of psychology at Boston College, noted that moral values play a large role in determining the likelihood that someone will engage in victim-blaming behaviors. “The derogation of the victim comes as a defensive reaction against [one’s] personal worldview unraveling,” and that the process is typically implicit.

“There’s just this really powerful urge for people to want to think good things happen to good people and where the misperception comes in is that there’s this implied opposite: if something bad has happened to you, you must have done something bad to deserve that bad thing,” says Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at Sewanee University as quoted in the UK Guardian in 2018.

First formulated by Melvin Lerner in the early 1960s, the just-world bias can be seen in any situation in which victims are blamed for their misfortune, whether it be abuse, sexual assault, crime, or poverty.

As journalist and editor, Kaleigh Roberts stated in The Atlantic, in an article entitled The Psychology of Victim-Blaming, victim-blaming is a natural psychological reaction to crime, “At its core, victim-blaming could stem from a combination of failure to empathize with victims and a fear reaction triggered by the human drive for self-preservation. That fear reaction, in particular, can be a difficult one for some people to control. Retraining this instinct is possible—it just isn’t easy”. In these instances empathy training is critical. So too is the openness to seeing (or at least trying to see) the world from perspectives other than one’s own.”

The Chronicle editorial added: “It is generally accepted by experts that gender-based abuse—most frequently directed against women — originates with disrespect for the female gender.” In support of that assertion, the editorial quoted ‘American researcher’, Dr Justin Coulson, who “posits that there is a direct relationship between disrespect for women, which often begins in youth, and violence.”

Not true; experts certainly do not generally accept any such assertion; no study supports it. Dr Coulson, who is not American, is neither a researcher nor an authority on domestic violence. His ‘theory’ is certainly not cited in the literature on domestic violence and what he posits is not based on any peer-reviewed research. In fact, domestic violence itself is not his field at all.

While disrespect for women will make it easier for a perpetrator to be violent towards women, that violence will be manifest because the perpetrator wants to exhibit his/her power and demands absolute control over the victim. In any case, this lack of respect for women is not a problem for the victim but the perpetrator and is generally a learned behavior that starts in the home. And it must be noted that the perpetrator’s lack of respect for women does not result in violence against his mother, sisters, aunts, female cousins, and other females in his life; generally, it’s only the partner who is abused.

The editorial added: “Two thinkers expressed it as follows:

  • Confucius said: “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
  • Dostoevsky said, ‘If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you’.”

How the editorial made any connection between these quotes and domestic violence is a mystery since neither quote was made in the context of domestic violence per se. Besides, as TCV’s Ramdass pointed out, “quoting a 17th-century philosopher (or an ancient one for that matter) to formulate an argument in the contemporary world ignores current research and evidence”.

The editorial also quotes ‘relationships researcher, Laura Forting’ on respect. There is no such person. The actual person is Laura Catherine Schlessinger aka Dr Laura, a radio talk show host on relationship; someone considered a ‘pop psychologist’. No connection between the quote and domestic violence was ever made by Dr Laura.

  1. Laura has absolutely no credentials in psychology or relationships and is not considered or recognized as an authority or researcher on domestic violence.

Concerning the editorial’s mention of music and lyrics, we again quote psychologist, Ramdass: “Of course, music, lyrics are influences in today’s society but not a key driver.” While there are a few studies that suggest a link between some form of music and alcohol abuse and violent behavior, there is nobody of conclusive evidence to support this. More importantly, no study or research draws a direct link between any form of music and domestic abuse, although hip-hop and some other genres have been accused of glorifying relationship violence.

On the other hand, there are also many singers in these same genres, who, “promote healthy relationship boundaries through music and other initiatives” (https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/hip-hop-music-perpetuates-relationship-violence). It is also well known that music does indeed serve as therapy for abused victims and those suffering from several other mental health issues.

The bottom line, however, is that the media has a critical responsibility to be accurate and factual in its reporting. And concerning social issues such as gender-based violence, that responsibility is compounded by the fact that the media is one of the stakeholders in the prevention campaign and should never put itself in a position where it becomes a vehicle for the fostering of myths, misinformation, and attitudes that would seek to blame victims and/or justify the pathology.

The Caribbean Voice offers free counseling. Please email us at caribvoice@aol.com or thecaribbeanvoiceinc@gmail.com; Whatsapp 646-461-0574 or 592-621-6111. Also, check out our website at www.caribvoice.org

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