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The Culture of Victim Blaming

Michelle Brock, assistant professor of history at Washington and Lee University, examines the culture of victim blaming in a guest blog for the Global Justice Academy website.

In “Why We Blame the Victim, and Why We Have To Stop: a Perspective from a Historian,” she says, “From the decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the disturbing Rolling Stone article on a brutal gang rape at UVA, this country has produced a harrowing month of news. The reaction of much of the American public to these stories has been as distressing as their content. Many have turned not to self-searching or activism, but to stereotype and judgement.”

Michelle teaches a class at W&L, on the Age of the Witch-hunts, where students examine the 300-year period in Europe and North America when individuals, mostly women, were executed for imagined crimes. She notes, “My students are appalled by the historical injustice illustrated by their readings. More often than not, I end up asking them to refrain from labeling pre-modern authorities barbaric or ignorant in hopes that they will seek to understand, rather than to anachronistically (and sometimes ironically) judge, societies of the past.”

She ends her blog with the same advice she gives her students: “Critical, painstaking, comprehensive analysis is the only way we learn from the past, and it is the only way we can avoid moving blindly and blithely into the future. But before we can begin to change, we must start by giving the victims of present injustice the same dignity, empathy, and benefit of the doubt that we so easily afford those who lived and died centuries ago.”