SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition

https://www.flotechinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/freshclam.jpg            From Clarence Thomas to Jerry Sandusky to Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, those who doubt their accusers always ask something similar to what Roy Moore said about those who accused him of sexual harassment and assault: “To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable.”

What takes so long? Why don’t alleged victims head straight to the police?

There are 17 good reasons in this great article.

Let me add two more that we don’t talk about enough: shame and fear of disbelief.

I’m not referring to the well-documented victims’ fear that they somehow brought the attack on themselves (for example, a woman who worries that she somehow sent mixed signals to a suitor who then raped her), but to something one rarely sees discussed in the media or talked about in typical conversations about victimhood.

Society doesn’t like victims. Victims make us uncomfortable. It’s probably a vestige of our Darwinian instinct for survival: the monkey clan prospers when its members are healthy and lucky, but finds life perilous around those who are sick and unfortunate. We turn away from the unlucky: the homeless man, the woman whose face bears burn scars, the black guy getting choked to death by cops. Not our business, not our problem, these are troubles to be avoided. I do it too.

This instinct goes double for those who refuse to soft-pedal their victimhood. Not even the most active social justice warriors have Rose McGowan’s back in her Twitter crusade against Harvey Weinstein — she’s a bit too angry for comfort. (Her recent drug arrest doesn’t help.)

I am not judging humanity here. I am trying to answer Roy Moore et al’s question. One of the answers is shame — the shame simply of being a victim in a shallow capitalist society that loves winners, hates losers and despises victims. Fake it to make it has a corollary: never let ’em see you sweat.

My friend Cole Smithey the critic told me a bit of film theory, after a character in a movie gets maimed (loses a hand, gets shot and acts shot, getting weaker and visibly bleeding, whatever), the audience stops liking and identifying with him or her. There are exceptions. Typically, however, a screenwriter will have a maimed character die, vanish or completely recover. Because no one likes a victim.

Getting fired and libeled by the LA Times reminded me of that anthropological truism. Immediately following my firing, I hardly heard from my fellow cartoonists. (That’s rare.) Friends resurfaced after I presented exculpatory evidence. A pair of taints (Loser and Liar) had been erased.

Then I sued the Times for defamation, and things tipped back. Some of my friends stayed true but others dumped me because they were scared that if they sided with me the Times and Tronc might deny them work, also because I’d gone Rose McGowan-y crusade-y. It’s true that the LAPD bought Tronc and the Times fired me for the LAPD, but it’s weird and anyway, no one likes a victim. Especially not an angry one.

Fear of not being believed is another underdiscussed yet potent inhibitor to victims considering whether to step forward, whether by filing a police report or going to the press.

I grew up poor with my single mom and we were short of money. To bring in some cash, my mom hooked me up with a job helping the janitor wash the blackboards after school at my junior high school. Looking back now, it was a situation perfect for an abuser: no one but an older male custodian and a 13-year-old boy in the otherwise empty building.

One afternoon the dude snuck behind me while I was working in a classroom and grabbed me, pinning my arms to my side. “Do you trust me?” he whispered in my ear. I remember his exact voice, the smell of his breath (alcohol, bourbon maybe). I felt his penis harden against my back.

I did not trust him.

But I told him I did, several times, and he believed me and let me go and I bounded exactly three steps toward the door, turned the knob and launched myself down the hall and flung myself down the stairs and hurled out the emergency exit, and I ran and ran and ran and it was so damn beautiful outside and I could hear the fire alarm ringing.

When my mom came home, I lied. I told her the job was over, the custodian no longer needed me.

Later a kid I didn’t know approached me at school. He might have been a year older. He asked me if I had worked for the dirty old janitor and whether he’d gone after me because the same thing had happened to him. I didn’t ask if he’d gone to the principal or told his parents and he didn’t ask me. It would have been the stupidest question in the world because no one would have believed us.

No one ever believed kids back then. About anything. The school administration wouldn’t have believed us about the English teacher who kept pot in his desk or the algebra teacher who seduced my friend or the driver’s ed instructor who grabbed my classmate’s breasts right in front of me and my best friend.

            We Gen X kids understood the world as it was: survival was up to us. Adults didn’t care; adults wouldn’t help. Decades later, when I told my mom that story, she admitted I was right. “I assumed you were lazy,” she said about my quitting the job.

If you’ve never been a victim of some kind, you may find this strange, but there is something worse than knowing (or suspecting) that you may not be believed, and that is coming forward and letting cops and courts and human resource officers decide for themselves, based on the evidence and their biases, whether they believe you or not.

As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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11 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition

  1. Being a pretty left leaning individual on most issues, Roy Moore’s politics are repugnant to me. His fundamentalist thinking toward matters that affect every one is scary. He was the guy who wanted the Ten Commandments displayed in the Alabama court houses as if that was the law of the land and not the Constitution. So, it hurts me to even give off even a whiff of defending him and sounding like a nationalist Breitbart loser. But, to me, the thing smells like a political hit job. It’s not just that “it took so long for victim’s to come forward”. Victims came forward a long time after Cosby allegedly raped them. It’s that it came out exactly at a time to damage his Senate run where the accusations would be out there but there would be no way to get to the bottom of it by the time of the election. The accusations against Cosby didn’t come out at some opportune time to damage his career. It was an organic development from some material Hannibal Burress had in his stand up act that lead to the flood gates to be opened. And then whenever I see Gloria Allred leading the charge, my bullshit detector goes off. She seems like one of the dirtiest political operatives in the game who the DNC unleash whenever they are going full bore with a massive political hit job. The calls in the media for him to drop out so another Republican candidate (Luther Strange) could take his place seem like it solidifies the hit. The RNC hate Moore too. He beat their guy in a nasty primary battle. I don’t know that Moore didn’t do it. Maybe he did. His politics are nasty and regressive, it may well be true. But, it does have the distinct whiff of a nasty, nasty political hit job.

  2. Society doesn’t like victims. Nailed it, Ted. We like to believe that we live in a well-ordered society, and the testimony of abuse victims reminds us that that is not the case, and that behind the smoke of the (relatively) few that come forward, there may be a great deal of fire, which we most definitely don’t wish to see. As Pogo put it, we have met the enemy and he is us – no wonder we avert our eyes and ears….

    Henri

  3. “As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.”
    *
    Does that mean that if you make a report, you begin to disbelieve yourself?

    • Yes. Because if no one else believes you, and/or you are ridiculed or treated with condescension or anger or disgust, you may still technically believe that something happened, but are easily led to believe that it was your fault, or you were misinterpreting the intent or implications, or you should have stopped it, or… Well, yeah, maybe it didn’t really happen….

      • Having never been in such a situation, I cannot speak with authority; but I don’t accept the idea that the perception of others has so much power over my mind that I would begin to believe that my recollections were flawed. As for me, I have to say that their beliefs do not alter the reality.

      • @derlehrer: Remember in “1984,” where the state succeeded in making Winston wonder whether he really remembered what he remembered? Other people’s perspectives are definitely important.
        When the LA Times initially questioned me about what happened 14 years earlier, I was forced to reassess my memory. Ironically, it was THEIR audio (after enhancement) that showed I’d remembered accurately.

    • My wife was the victim of childhood sexual abuse by her stepfather. She was going through some old family photos recently, started crying and saying “I knew he took those pictures. I was right. I knew it.”

      She had started doubting her own memories, partly because her mother repeatedly told her that nothing had happened. Partly because society insisted that such things never happened.

      Excuse me, I need to go spend some time with the punching bag …

  4. An incredibly moving article, Ted, and so sadly accurate. “Why didn’t they come forward?” is one of those questions that just makes me sad and tired. Really? Again? Why should I think you’ll listen *this time* if you didn’t the first million times?! *sigh*
    Your point about going all “Rose McGowan-y crusade-y” made me want to laugh and cry. I confess, with deep embarrassment, that even I, the radical feminist commie fellow traveler collaborator, I who should know better than most, and do, have been tempted a couple of times to think… well, what I know better than to think. And I remind myself of that and don’t think it. But the *impulse* is there, cemented by decades of social conditioning, like the turning away from victims you talked about, which we’re all guilty of, and unless we make a concerted effort to be mindful of our unmindfulness, it’s just so easy to fall into that kind of lazy thinking — or reacting, more exactly.
    “As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.” Yeah…. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still blame yourself for it.

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