It is never okay to blame the victim for sexual abuse.
Or any other kind of abuse.
It is never okay if the victim-blaming is cloaked in “humor.”
It is never okay if the victim-blaming is cloaked in concern.
It is never okay if the victim-blaming is portrayed as “empowerment.”
It is never okay if the victim-blaming is framed in contrast to another, older form of victim-blaming.
So this? Is never okay.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
It doesn’t surprise me that someone would say such a thing. Ignorance and victim-blaming abound whenever child abuse, especially sexual abuse, is discussed. I am, however, slightly appalled at the uncritical praise this essay is receiving all over the internet, with little or no acknowledgement of the deeply offensive nature of this line, which in one sentence summarizes, reinforces, and solidifies the stigma and pain felt by those who have been harmed by childhood sexual abuse, and the fear that can linger in the mind of even the most self-confident survivor: maybe this happened to me because there’s something wrong with me.
This is, after all, how abusers want their victims to feel. It’s how abusers’ defenders want victims to feel. It’s how most members of a rape culture unwilling to honestly face its own corruption want victims to feel. It is, however, a lie.
The writer, Tina Fey, contrasts her form of victim-blaming with the older, traditional, and largely discredited (rightly so) form, in which sexual abuse is thought to be a result of uncontrollable desire brought on by an irresistibly alluring victim. But her view is no less offensive and no less victim-blaming than the one she scorns. Claiming that children attract sexual abuse through their “damage” is no more enlightened, empowering, feminist, or progressive than claiming they attract it through their beauty. The truth is that children do not attract sexual abuse.
In the rest of the essay she lists many common parental fears, most of them exaggerated for comic effect. These other things listed, exaggerated though they may be, are things that actually exist. Damaged people do not. People are flawed, people are vulnerable, people are harmed, but people are never damaged. People never bring abuse upon themselves by their “damage.”
The “Damage” lie is comprised of three core assumptions, all of them lies:
- 1) Painful, harmful, or traumatic experiences cause the survivors of these experiences to become cognitively impaired and to have poor judgment (and, thus, deserve all of the stigma, restrictions, condescension, and dehumanization given to all other cognitively impaired people).
2) The one and only way to be truly healed from this cognitive impairment (and thus regain the status of a nonimpaired person) is to relive (or “process” or “confront”) the painful/harmful/traumatic experience with a trained psychotherapist (for many people, a traumatic experience in itself).
3) Abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is something victims seek out, consciously or unconsciously, as a result of cognitive impairment.
The truth is that the adverse effects of traumatic experiences, while significant, do not include cognitive impairment. The adverse effects that do exist can be healed naturally, without coercion or “processing,” through support for the mind’s own recovery processes. Abusers exploit vulnerabilities, but vulnerabilities do not cause abuse. Abuse is something done to a victim, by an abuser. It is not something a victim seeks out, either actively or passively. It is never something a victim, particularly a child, attracts or draws to herself.
What does this have to do with autistic advocacy? Well, nothing, except in that autistic children are at a higher risk of sexual abuse than neurotypical children (not because they are “damaged” by autism, but because they have greater vulnerabilities). It does, however, have to do with the mental health industry. The more people can be convinced that they or their children are “damaged,” the more psychiatrists and psychotherapists can be employed in correcting this “damage.” There is no money, after all, in accepting people as they are. Just as the lucrative “cure” and “treatment” industries have a vested financial interest in catastrophizing autism, the mental health industry likewise stand do gain from continuing to blame victims of abuse while selling them the services to “correct” their “damage.”
But people deserve to know the truth. Survivors of abuse need to know that You are not damaged. You did not bring this upon yourself. You did not attract it or seek it out in any way. You do not need to be fixed. You are whole, you are perfect, and you are built to survive. No one who says otherwise should be exempted from criticism. Because it is never okay.