Bad victim? No such thing.

These past two weeks we touched on some sensitive topics. This past week we embarked
on domestic violence. Although a pretty quiet class one could tell many had much on their minds. Domestic violence is not a rare issue many people have come in contact with some form of domestic violence, whether it be experiencing it first hand or being the one to helplessly watch.

One of the readings we has assigned detailed the difference between what the legal system labels a good victim and a bad victim of domestic violence.

A good victim would be classified as one who believes in the legal system; the victim file charges and see them through. Typically this means the victim shows up to restraining order hearings and testifies in court against their abuser.

On the flip side, the bad victim is the one who starts a case against their abuser and then drops the case. The bad victim does not show up to the restraining order hearings. Legal officials find these victims to be a nuisance. This type of victim stays with their abuser, for whatever reasons.

First I would like to take a step back and just take in these types of victim that the legal system has labeled as bad or good. To me there is no such thing as a bad victim or a good one; there is only a victim.

I believe the legal system fails to take into account the reasoning behind why some of these “bad victims” fall into the category they have created.

Having experienced domestic violence from a bystander’s stance; the reasons the legal system has provided for why they belong into the categories they have created is ridiculous.

It is not like a victim of domestic violence can simply walk out of an abusive relationship. Much less go through the court system. It is hard. From my experience, a victim of domestic violence not only faces physical abuse but also comes in contact with emotional and psychological abuse. Words like “if you leave I will kill your family” or “nobody wants you, you’re a piece of shit” has the potential to make the victim fear seeking help. Only reason I know this is because my aunt was in this situation. For many years she had to endure this man not because she wanted to, but because she felt in her mind that she had to. Her abuser would act out but them dramatically change and promised never to hurt her again – but this never held any truth.

Sadly, there exists many victims of domestic violence. Although my personal story is hard to recount, giving only brief details, there are others that are worse. However, they are all victims. If the victim decides to go through the legal system and sees I though then great. On the other hand, if a victim does not go through legal system, or starts it but does not finish it, should not be labeled a bad victim. It is just ridiculous to label a victim of domestic violence as bad, even if it is only used in the legal system.

I present this short video to illustrate how leaving a domestic violent relationship can be more easily said than done. 

The Social Organization of Law (Austin Sarat)

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9 Responses to Bad victim? No such thing.

  1. azucenagonzalez598 says:

    Thank you for your post. I feel that this topic is extremely important to talk about, in terms of prevention and measures taken after the fact that domestic violence has taken place. I can understand the good victim bad victim labeling in reference to how it can make prosecuting the perpetrator much easier. However, with the additional characteristics that are included with the defining of good and bad victims, it creates an unrealistic expectation which I believe strategically ostracizes many domestic violence victims, perpetuating the victim blaming, which parallel the United States obsession with a person’s merit and standing in life.

    I concur that there should not be a label such as this, once again, as it predisposes many things which may not be true of a victim. It also decreases the significance of the situation and its effect on the individual, placing all the responsibility on the person. It takes away the accountability of the perpetrator, and of other factors, yet again, it brings us back to victim blaming. As some people, if it were easy, everybody would do it. In regards to domestic violence, it takes an average of 8 attempts of leaving before the victim actually stays away. Coincidentally, this is also the most dangerous time, as it is in this occasion that violence escalates, people’s life are in jeopardy. I guess people valuing their life makes them a bad victim…there’s no such thing.

  2. abdelrafat says:

    Great post Luis. I agree with you that a “Victim” should be classified as just that, a victim. The victim is put in such a difficult position that fear of retaliation from their abuser is to be expected. Officers inconsideration makes it more difficult for the victim to have faith in the legal system and frankly, does not make the victim feel safe. Legally speaking, I can understand one rule that would make some sense. Don’t fight back. If both sides of an altercation were to hit the other it would be labeled as a fight and not a domestic violence case. But, as stated in class when does not fighting a domestic violence abuser and fighting your attacker in rape case overlap? Should the victim not fight until undergarments are torn off and then begin to fight after another extreme line has been crossed? These are ludicrous laws that must be changed to better define the victims position and protect them regardless of the actions they took after being attacked.

  3. fallenstar66 says:

    I agree that the labeling system that you have described is not only cruel, but also damaging to the victims. Many of the victims do not seek help because the system has either failed them before or because they have seen it fail others. Though a judge may grant restraining orders does not mean that the abuser will follow it and they may even attack even harder because of the charges brought against them. The fear that these victims face is astounding and many will respond differently. But, even if they respond in a way that is not safe or right, does not mean they should be labeled a certain way. Just the very label of “victim” can be hard to bare as people come to terms with the abuse and how best to move forward. The other problem you run into is “what is defined as domestic abuse?”. Is it simply the physical abuse or can the verbal abuse, which can sometimes be more damaging, enough? Though my father never physically hurt my mother, the verbal abuse and neglect that he showed her damaged her so much that even after years of divorce, she is still scared of him. Would the system even hear her case let alone classify her as a victim? I think the answer to this is obvious, but makes it no less important. Instead of labeling them as a “bad victim” they should be helping them over come this fear and cycle of abuse. Thank you for sharing your story and good insight.

  4. gchanneyla says:

    You pose a great point in your post, and I completely agree that labels placed on victims based on their cooperation is outrageous. Labeling victims of abuse as either a “good” or a “bad” victim is a nuisance because it does not create a sense of reliability in our justice system; rather, the labeling points to the lack of capability or care for that matter that the justice system has for victims of abuse. As Azucena points out these roles of “good” or “bad” victims creates a cycle of victim blaming, therefore, decreasing the accountability of the perpetrator. It seems that most of us do not agree with the roles demanded of victims and I hope that there is a change of understanding in the system.

  5. imdebock says:

    Bad Victim? No such thing
    Thanks for your post.
    I am grateful to Professor Kirkpatrick for bringing these sensitive issues for our class discussions. As you rightly said there is no good or bad victim in domestic violence, I share same view with you. Only the legal system is differentiating the victims. The implication of this is that the good victim may seem courageous to take her partner to law and appreciate the help of the legal system. On the flip side, the partner (accused) may express anger, shock, surprise and sense of betrayal by this so call good victim (Merry, 206).

    What I learnt from Merry’s domestic violence reading is that poor and working class women get help from legal system because they lack the means to acquire new homes and counselling. The poor man on the other hand goes to jail and undergo treatment programs. However, the rich people escape both above and their behaviors are not treated as crime (Merry, 209). Where then is the justice? I believe several factors are responsible for a woman to not take legal action in domestic violence. The first is the love she may have for her partner, secondly, she thinks about not taking her children from home to shelter, and thirdly, some culture does not allow women to pursue their partners in court. When a woman’s decision is based on these factors, I see no reason to call her bad victim. It’s left with the woman to decide for herself in the case her partner does not change his bad behavior.

  6. cindylyon says:

    I’m glad that everyone commenting on this post is in agreement. Unfortunately, as we know, there is still a stigma around domestic violence and we got to see a bit of it from our readings that week. It would be interesting to explore why/how such a stigma arose. Why do we (not just when it comes to domestic violence) value our legal system so highly when it has clearly failed so many people? This is one of the themes of our class I believe. I’m not quite sure we’ve reached an answer. It is this faith in the legal system that gives us the concepts of the good and bad victim. You said in your post that “if a victim decides to go thorough the legal system and sees it through, then great.” But if not, where do we then get the audacity to label them “bad”? You confront this issue when you call it ridiculous.

  7. cacunni1 says:

    I completely agree that there are no “good” or “bad” victims. However, I disagree that it is the legal system that created such standards. As a society, we judge victims of domestic violence by how they deal with the abuse as well as how they deal with the legal system. I believe that the reason why the justice system sees victims in two categories of good or bad is because of the way that they believe that the public will see their case. Ultimately, it is up to juries to decide these cases, and they come from the general public. To get rid of this mentality, I think an entire change in the way that society looks at domestic abuse victims is required before the justice system can effectively change.

  8. wdaghist says:

    I just want to start by telling you that it is just a great post because domestic violence is a very sensitive topic. I totally agree with you that there should not be good or bad victims. However, I highly think that bad victims as the legal system describes could be doing the right thing when they forgive the offender for the first time and do not report that to law enforcement especially if the offender is a husband, a father, or a brother because this could cause this can damage relationships, and will leave the offender full of anger and revenge. The problem comes when the offender repeats what he has done and thinks that forgiveness and emotions will save and help him. If this happened for many times, I think the term of BAD victim will highly be applied to the victim. This is truly what is happening in other parts of the world, when many people do not have strong legal system that can prevent and protect them. Victims over there are just emotionally attached to offenders, which will make them forgive and forget what happened. They should be informed and told that they have to stand up and get their rights. I believe that victims who lack law enforcement and a strong legal system to defend them, they can not be considered as bad victims. On the other hand, victims who have and enjoy the protection of the law enforcement and the legal system can be considered as bad victims because they are not taking advantage of that.

  9. Faye says:

    Warning to all mothers. If you become labelled a “victim” of domestic violence by the legal system your days of being a respectable mother to your children with any amount of dignity or grace are over. Any respectable standing you may have in your community will also be over Period. Should the law become involved due to “domestic disharmony” or so called “domestic violence” you will no longer have any autonomy over your personal life as you know it. Your husband will likely head for the hills too. The decisions you might want to make for yourself and your family as you would or even might like to make for them are officially (without you even knowing it) over. The system now owns you due to the poor decisions “the system” deems you to have made. In other words you are so dysfunctional you can’t be trusted to be in charge of your own life let alone anyone else’s ( like perhaps even your own children)……you poor thing. Never give the system the privilege of getting involved in your personal life. The system has its own agenda. There are much better places to turn for help when your family is experiencing domestic disharmony than some stranger who comes across as all caring and concerned about your family and its problems. This so called caring stranger who seems to actually understand and care about the issues you and your family are facing is the very person who writes the report that is filed on you and your failings. This is her job. She/he is not your friend as she initially presents herself to be. Your life and that of your children and your husband will never be the same…………………because you trusted a stranger (ie. police officer, social worker, psychologist) with information about your personal life. This is the exact information (from your own mouth) that the system needs in order to function. In other words without a “victim/client” the system does not function and money cannot change hands. Period.
    As any lawyer involved in domestic violence issues knows…………….the first instruction he/she will tell his victim/client is to keep your mouth shut………………………….”.that will be $450.00 please”.
    When it comes to money changing hands……………..any victim will do. Good, bad or otherwise. Just so long as it is a victim. Society is starting to realize what the world of being labelled a victim is all about………………….and it isn’t pretty. The last thing you want to be labelled, in this so called caring society when it comes to the legal system or any system for that matter, is a victim. Unfortunately I was labelled a victim of domestic disharmony and the legal fallout of that was life changing for myself and everyone around me that I loved and loved me. I was made a fool of by the system. My children understand what it means to be labelled a victim. It is a life sentence they absolutely want nothing to do with. They understand and know who “caring strangers” really are.

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