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Victims - Victim Responsibility

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawVictims - Distinguishing Victims And Offenders, The Emergence Of Victim Concerns, National Crime Victimization Survey (ncvs)

Victim responsibility

The victim movement has given rise to a complicated issue that fundamentally rests upon an irresolvable question: Do human beings have free will or are their actions determined by immutable forces? Mental health counselors understandably work to relieve victims—especially victims of sexual assaults—of their common belief that in some way they were responsible for what happened to them. Tension exists between the insistence that the perpetrator alone bears full responsibility for his behavior and the victim's indulgence in self-blame. The difficulty becomes manifest when the offender adopts the same posture as the victim. He is not responsible either: it was an abusive father, faulty schooling, a slum upbringing, a brain malfunction, or some other predisposing factor beyond his control that led him to do what he did. A 1999 New Yorker cartoon epitomized the situation, showing a woman testifying in court: "I know he cheated on me because of his childhood abuse," she says, "but I shot him because of mine."

The most public manifestation of this issue surfaced when Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to explain the matter of her husband's infidelity. Her husband had to learn to take responsibility for his sexual waywardness, she declared in an interview, but at the same time she said that his behavior was the result of "abuse" as a child, apparently "abuse" growing out of "terrible conflict" between his mother and grandmother. "He was so young, barely four, when he was scarred by abuse," Mrs. Clinton said, adding that a psychiatrist had told her that being placed in the midst of conflict between two women "is the worst possible situation" for a boy because of his desire to please them both. Her husband's behavior, Mrs. Clinton said, was a "sin of weakness" rather than one of "malice."

Criticism of Mrs. Clinton's statement was widespread, indicating, perhaps, public saturation with the tendency to excuse so much current waywardness by labeling it as an outcome of earlier victimization or deprivation. A New York Times columnist pointed out that Mrs. Clinton had blamed her husband's sexual adventures on two women who adored him and, now deceased, could no longer defend themselves. The columnist also noted that the president's wife had done precisely what she deplored, placed her husband in the middle of a conflict between defending her position and defending his mother and grandmother. The president agreed publicly with what his wife said and at the same time exonerated his mother and grandmother for any role in his sexual waywardness.

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