Saturday, 30 November 2013

Is giving advice blaming the victim?

I'm writing this because I want to understand if I my thinking is wrong, and if it is, how it's wrong.  I'm not posting any strongly-held views here, and I'm happy to be told that what I'm about to write is nonsense.  It's about violence, and I will generalise to try to avoid triggering what I realise must be terrible memories if you are a victim of specific instances of violence.

Imagine there is a certain part of town where street gangs hang out.  That area is known.  You want to go to the store urgently.  There is a short-cut through that part of town.  You are advised to avoid that part of town because it increases your risk of being a victim of violence.  Ignoring that advice, you ended up hospitalized from a stab wound.  Fortunately, you will survive.

Of course, your choice to take the short-cut doesn't in any way diminish the guilt of the attacker who stabbed you.  In a better world you would not have to worry about the choice at all.  But you did ignore the advice, and in doing so ... don't you share some of the responsibility for your situation?

The existence of those gangs is an objective fact about the world.  It's a predictable risk.  You should not have to take them into account, but if you reject their objective existence you are trying to deny the awful reality of a real danger.

My feeling is that it's a really bad idea to advise potential victims to act as if the hazards are not there, to reject any feeling of responsibility for their safety.  The world needs to be changed to remove such hazards, but also people have to be informed about the hazards while they exist, and told how to be careful.

Dangers are just as objectively real when they come from the actions of other people as when they are mindless hazards.  We have to drive carefully because we realise that other drivers can potentially kill us - one reason we put on seat belts because of the objective danger of other drivers.

I see a real problem with sacrificing the well-being of others on the altar of idealism because of the belief that warning of the dangers resulting from the behaviour of people is a form of 'victim blaming'.

People are part of the problem.  Be safe.

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