The Worthiness of Victims
About a month ago I wrote reflecting on the case of Trayvon Martin. One of the aspects I touched on was society’s view of worthiness of victims of crime, and how some victims are judged more worthy than others.
It’s something which I’ve given a lot more consideration to over the last month. It’s something which really does have to stop.
Personally I really hate the word victim, but that’s my own very personal choice, and comes from my own personal experience. I never wanted to become the victim the person who hurt me set out to create. For me the word ‘victim’ finishes the work he set out to do; I refuse to comply. I find the word disempowering and feel it increases victimhood and victimisation. Personally, I prefer the word survivor to speak about myself; being a survivor is my own work, and undoes what he set out to create.
Since the Trayvon Martin case, there has been a successful campaign to keep a woman on English bank notes. Following this successful campaign, the feminist activist behind the campaign, and some of her supporters were subjected to abuse, and notably rape threats via social media.
People suffer highly distasteful – and illegal bullying and harassment on the internet all the time, and have done so virtually (pardon the pun) since the internet – or weird wide web as I like to call it – was invented; but it rarely makes the news, never mind the front pages or 24 hour rolling news channels.
Personally I have been subjected to extremely distasteful harassment online last year too. Upon investigating the matter, the police confirmed that the person responsible had in fact broken at least 3 laws, even though there were no actual threats of violence towards me. The police also confirmed that despite them being confident we knew the identity of the person responsible; as it would not be in the public interest , the CPS were not taking the case forward to get a court order, to enable a subpoena to get twitter to confirm the identity and i.p. address of the person responsible. It is of course possible to get i.p. address information yourself quite legally. Another friend of mine who works in eCrime gave me a link to a great piece of software available freely which can retrieve i.p. addresses and location (if you are receiving malicious tweets I recommend installing it http://ilektrojohn.github.io/creepy/).
Personally, I found the best way to deal with the issue was to ignore it for the first few weeks; but as it continued, I eventually did report the abuse and provide the police with the evidence I had gathered throughout. The abuse stopped immediately upon the police becoming involved.
The person responsible may not have been ‘punished’ however, all I wanted was for the abuse to stop, as it was starting to affect my friends, and it did stop. Personally, I feel the person (or persons) responsible had issues of their own, and their coping mechanism was to abuse others online in an ill judged attempt to make themselves feel better. Of course such tactics never really improve one’s own feelings of self-worth or confidence; but I do hope things have improved for them since then. Hopefully the current focus on such online abuse and the airing of public opinion on the matter will have given them opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour. I’m fairly certain it will have done. I’d much rather they used the experience to sort out their own emotional issues and move on.
I am not alone, and nor are the feminist campaigners and female MPS and academics who have all suffered abuse recently. As well as the online abuse, we also share something else in common – we are all empowered women; and that of course is why we were targeted. Who ever felt the need to abuse us, felt threatened by us and the women we represent; and their coping strategy was to send anonymous online abuse from the safety of their own homes, where they felt they would never have to face the consequences of their lashing out.
I loathe using the word, but ‘victims’ are chosen because they represent power, or they represent weakness, or in some cases, they are strong because they have used their own personal strength to overcome supposed ‘weaknesses’ or ‘disadvantages.’ I feel it’s this group in particular whom the internet bullies feel most threatened by when faced with their own insecurities and lack of confidence.
What marked the difference between these women, and myself (and the many other un-named and unmentioned people who suffer online abuse) was that these women in particular ARE in the public eye, many journalists were following their accounts – and the particular abuse was ‘newsworthy’ because of its specific nature.
I believe the nature of the threats were viewed as ‘newsworthy’ and therefore also of interest to the police and CPS, not simply because they were direct threats of violence (many receive threats of violence and abuse online every day), but because they were particularly distasteful and sensational to be aimed at feminists. Of course, it is shameful to threaten or make light of the subject of rape towards any woman (or indeed man); but it is newsworthy to threaten it against a feminist who is currently in the public eye. It is the very worst thing you could say to a feminist; just as one of the most distasteful things you could threaten me with is another act of terrorism. For this reason, I am grateful that these internet bullies, took their psychological violence too far, I am thankful they made the mistake of selecting an empowered group of women as their targets. Had their threats not been so outrageous given their target audience, had the women concerned not been chosen because they are empowered women, we would not be having such a public debate on the issue right now.
Sadly this public debate did not happen quite quick enough for one family. Tragically, a young teenager took her own life only last week after suffering online bullying – I am sure until she took her own life – her case was not seen as ‘newsworthy’ enough, or in the public interest enough. A young girl should not have felt such despair she took her own life before we take the bullying and psychological violence of others seriously. This young teenager was judged not only by the bullies who harassed her to her death; but also by those who chose not to take the despair it caused, seriously.
To me this whole issue ties back to the issue of the ‘worthiness of the victim’ the judgements we as a society make on people who are victims of crime. In the time I have been writing this piece a gentleman has just tweeted that his daughter who has cerebral palsy was bullied online, yet when he reported it to the police it was not taken further as his daughter’s response had included swearing. I suspect it was more to do with the fact that his daughter was not in the public eye, and therefore the case was ‘not in the public interest.’
If you have a disability you are far likely to be a ‘victim of a crime’ than someone who does not have a disability. You have been judged by your oppressor as a victim, but that does not necessarily mean you are judged as ‘victim worthy’ by wider society. All victims are judged, whether because of their skin colour, age, sex, the sex of your partner, choice of clothing, job title, earning power, previous character or actions, lifestyle choices, appearance, religion…. I could go on and on, but basically anything which may be part of your identity. Non of these factors mean ‘you deserve it’ and none of these things should make you any more or any less worthy as a person – even one who has been mistreated by another! Indeed in the current political and media climate where those with a disability which prevents full time work might be labelled ‘scroungers’ your case is unlikely to result in widespread public outcry or support. If you are a young teenager lacking in the confidence to stand up for yourself, sadly you are unlikely to find the support you need either.
This needs to stop. Put simply, we need to stop hurting one another, whether psychologically or physically. The phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me’ does not ring true in the virtual world, where abuse, ridicule and humiliation really can feel amplified as it can feel the whole world has seen it, and no one cares enough to help or support. For some, it can feel like the whole world is against them, or simply does not care. Of course in truth, for the average person, maybe only a handful of people may actually see any of the abuse. In the cases where these empowered women shouted back, one of the reasons they did gain public support was because many people did see it, and did care enough to speak up. We need to keep speaking up. We need to stop judging the abuse of any person, or group as acceptable. We are all created equal, we may not all benefit from the same advantages or equalities; but by starting to treat one another as equals we can start narrowing the gap, and this in turn will help prevent the abusers feeling the need to abuse.
We need to start bringing up our young people with feelings of self-worth and personal resilience and with the skills to deal with conflict without the need to demonise, dehumanise or attack the other person.
Only when we are fully able to value ourselves, are we able to value the people around us – and our differences. When we value ourselves we no longer feel threatened by ‘the other’ and we no longer feel the need to bully or ‘victimise’ the other. If we accept ourselves (flaws and all), we are able to accept others – even those ‘different’ to us.
Conflict is natural – on a planet of billions of people – we will never all agree, and we should stop believing that we all should! The idea that ‘everyone should think like I do’ is quite frankly ridiculous. Instead we should work to accept different beliefs whilst valuing our own. We should try and make choices which do not hurt the people around us. And we should speak out when others do set out to harm others, and simply say – this is not acceptable.
So we don’t need to ban social networking sites, we don’t need to blame the sites which give someone the means to send an abusive message easily. We need to look at ourselves and ask ‘why do I feel the need to say something nasty to this person’ whenever we feel the urge to. (Be honest now, do you never say anything hurtful, or never give a ‘back handed compliment’ or make a little dig? We all do it, especially if WE are in a bad mood or feeling let down or hard done by!)
I will leave you with one last refreshing view I heard on the subject this week – that if someone sends you an abusive internet message – thank them. After all, there must be some reason they have been thinking of you enough to send you a message (especially an unpleasant one)! You must have done something to get them thinking and to make them think of you! Chances are they wish they were more like you, or could have something you have!
If someone has sent you a nasty message on the internet, there must be something special about you – never change!
Dedicated to the memory of the beautiful Hannah Smith, you were special, and I am sure loved by many x