Are you Insensitive? If you aren’t sure you probably are…

Thursday, May 11th 2017. The day twitter wept.

For near enough the entire day, the majority of tweets were detailing an abusive experience. The vast majority of these stories featured women and girls as their victims. Ranging from assault, battery, incestual sexual assault, rape… the list goes on and on. It made for difficult reading. If it is hard to bear reading, imagine how hard it would have been to write? And how terrible it would have been to experience and recollect. People do have their crosses to bear, many of which are far beyond our collective imaginations.

But interspersed in those tweets about abuse were other kinds of tweets. Tweets of kind I am ashamed that I have to write about. The insensitive tweet. The diminishing tweet. The usurping tweet. The victim blaming tweet, to name a few. Some of those guilty of tweets of that kind will likely never change, because they know better and choose to ignore their better judgement. But some are merely ignorant, so I will endeavour to enlighten them. That is not to say I have never been guilty of ignorance. But if by sharing this article, I can bring one more person to empathy, then the world will be better for it.

Now, let us assume you have a dear friend. This friend has a mother or sibling who is a heavy smoker. The relative is diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and dies shortly after. Your friend comes to you, grieving and bemoaning their loss. You would not tell them,“well you knew your relative smoked so you should not be sad that the person has died of cancer”. That smoking makes an individual more likely to develop cancer. That smoking is risky and the relative was asking for it. So why tell someone that their friend takes risks and thats why they ended up assaulted? How is that beneficial to the person emotionally or mentally? Please, if you feel triggered by this paragraph, do better. Keep your blame analysis, however valid it may or may not be, to yourself whenever issues like this arise. Save them for later when people are not unburdening and sharing.

Let us assume that the smoker was actually your own dear personal friend. Would you visit them in the hospital, to tell them that its their fault that they got cancer, because they smoked? No, you would not. You would go to offer support, encourage them to face the challenge head on and tell them they can get better. You may even tell them that you are always there if they need someone to talk to. So why can’t you do that for abuse victims? View abuse like an illness and endeavour to support those who are brave enough to share what is going on with them.

Imagine once again this cancer patient was your dear friend. And you know they have never smoked, drank or abused substances. They live healthy and have never knowingly exposed themselves to anything that would cause cancer. But here they are. Cancerous. Dying. And someone random says to you “I’m sure they used to smoke or drink a lot”. Imagine how hurt you would be, how angry, how bitter. That is how people feel when their friend talks about getting abused and you attempt to justify their abuse. Or claim that they in fact caused it. If you do not know the person and their circumstances, please do not assume they had any part to play in their suffering.

Now imagine how you would feel if you were the cancer victim. And you have been fighting for survival and recovery by yourself. You finally summon the courage to share your burden. Maybe even seek much needed support. And someones only contribution is to say your choices led to your predicament. It would hurt you deeply, it could make you even question coming out to ask for help, coming out and sharing. It could even push you into depression. Could even make you give up hope. So unless that is your intention, please do not victim blame when people are talking about such experiences. People are often closer to the brink than we think. Please respect that. Just because someone is all smiles and all does not mean they are not hurting.

The list of things go on, but I’ll stop here and summarise it for easy absorption. In summary, the following responses are insensitive;

  • Easy answers or telling them everything is going to be okay in a casual throwaway fashion.
  • Stopping the person from talking about their feelings, fears and experiences.
  • Offering unsolicited advice and telling them what they should do or should have done.
  • Blaming the person for their experiences.
  • Invalidating, minimising, or denying the persons traumatic experience.
  • Giving ultimatums or making threats or demands for proof that it happened.
  • Make the person feel weak because you “know someone who went through the same thing or worse and is fine now”.

All in all, if you are commenting, please be supportive. Listen and only provide input when prompted or it is required. Be considerate, patient and non judgemental. Do not nitpick about details or grammar. If you cannot do that, please be silent until you can.

If you have been a victim or know anyone, these links below are to articles with tips for dealing what happened and that may be able to provide some guidance on what to do next. I wish you all the best and pray that you find inner peace.