Victim blaming is common in power based cultures. Because in such a culture, "might makes right," when the primary aggressor is more powerful, the victims are held to be at fault for their own mistreatment. This attitude helps onlookers stay complacent and feel reassured that not much in the world needs to change really.
There is usually some rationalization for blaming the victim, most commonly, that the victim could have escaped the situation or avoided it in the first place. This is a grave confusion between moral obligation and practical opportunity. Everyone has a right to pursue his or own desires and self-interest without abuse from others. It is true that sometimes a person may choose to avoid a situation where danger is above average, but a life entirely of this approach is so limiting, it is dehumanizing.
In the arena of domestic violence, victim blaming is applied with a vengeance against survivors who stay with a primary aggressor beyond the first obviously violent or controlling episode. This disregards the right of anyone to be in a relationship of his or her choosing without abuse. Staying where there has been abuse does not constitute consent or permission for the abuse. Victims may or may not be benefited by concrete assistance, but validation of their experiences are essential for sanity and growth. The tendency to blame survivors has some additional elements:
- Failure to recognize the simple fact that attempting to leave a relationship is blocked or punished by the primary aggressor most of the time. Someone who has not experienced this may have trouble imagining this.
- Confusion with the "duty to mitigate damages" from contract law. Abuse is not just a breach of contract, and human relationships are not subject to contract law!
- Confusion of submission with consent. This is discussed elsewhere on this site.
- Confusion of tolerance with consent. Most people endure some meanness from their partners because they consider it an aberration that won't be repeated. The systematic nature of domestic violence only becomes clear over time.
- Survivors blame themselves for the abuse (this is victim self-blaming). They of course are aided in this by the primary aggressor who is constantly blaming them. Therefore, they for a long time stay in the relationship and try to change their own behavior to end the abuse. When and if they retroactively reframe the experience as abusive, they deserve validation, even if they stayed "when something was wrong."
- Final clarity by a survivor that the relationship is abusive and unworkable can not be retro-actively applied to earlier in the relationship when the survivor was bewildered about what was happening.
- Even where the survivor recognizes the abuse and its inevitability, she may stay in a relationship because it appears to be (and may in fact be) her best option in life considering the difficulties and lack of support she faces alone. Where all options are bad, a choice does not constitute consent to the the downsides of any option chosen, rather just acquiescence. If later, better options arise, validation is warranted about abuse when options were all poor.
- The effects of abuse (confusion, low self-esteem, bitterness, lessened sensitivity to danger, etc..(many more)) are erroneously attributed to the survivor as personal characteristics that lead her to "choose" the abusive situation.