You’ll recognize this one quite quickly, I suspect. This is the one where the abuser is always horrible, always abusive, and probably ugly, while the victim is some angelic being incapable of ever doing anything wrong, and as innocent as the wind-driven snow. This comes from the over-extension of some true principles — abuse is ugly and horrible, and those who are abused aren’t responsible for their own abuse. But the way the myth works out is that one subscribing to it can talk about how much they hate abusers while giving free passes to many abusers because they don’t fit up to the stereotype. A couple of examples of where this can go astray is the case of noted film director Roman Polanski, whose sexual assault of a teen-aged girl was described by comedien Whoopi Goldberg as “not rape-rape,” or the recent under-sentencing of a child molester because the judge thought the case didn’t fit the profile of a molester. Real molesters, like all abusers, are human beings. They aren’t monstrous — the abuse they commit is monstrous. People we know and like commit abuse, as do some of us. Too many of us.
But what about the Immaculate Victim? Avoiding victim-blaming is a good thing, but the problem with this one is that if the one who was abused can be shown to not be perfect, then they aren’t really worthy of sympathy, and their abuse can be ignored. Sometimes, abused people make bad choices, including, sometimes, being violent in response to violence perpetrated against them: fighting back. I don’t advocate fighting back, as retaliatory violence is still voluntary violence that isn’t self-defense, which I see as a bad thing in all cases. But being in an ugly situation can prompt the best of us to make bad decisions, and those who have been abused need our support and help, not our judgment and condemnation.
The purpose of these myths is that they enable us to ignore abuse that we see. What we want to do is to not have to see it, because it is ugly, and if we see it, we might need to do something about it. Doing something about it is the better choice, because that’s the only way we change things. And the first thing we need to do about it is to be clear with ourselves about what we are seeing, and that it is abusive (when it is). After that, we can refuse to collude with the denial system that those involved may be caught up in, and support them in making good choices to break out of the abuse and into healthier abuse-free lives.