Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Victim Blaming

A Google search will bring up thousands of entries on this subject and they ALL seem to have only one context; that is blaming rape or abuse victims for the crimes that are committed against them. But I want to suggest that victim blaming is not just about rape anymore.

I first noticed the shift toward victim blaming in the ‘60s. You might recall those old public service billboards that warned us to, “Help keep a good boy from going bad. Lock your car.” Do you see that subtle message? If a boy becomes a car thief, it’s my fault for leaving it unlocked. And, of course, the other error in the message is the presumption that the boy is inherently good and the only reason he goes bad is because of me. I've got news for you; boys do bad things because they have sin natures and it is up to their parents to correct them and teach them right from wrong.

But, back on topic. I have noticed that police work has fundamentally changed over the last few decades. We used to see the local police as friends and servants when we did good and as law enforcement when we did wrong. Today very few people really believe that most police officers are there “To Protect And To Serve.” Instead they are primarily involved in generating revenue. They are uniformed “Tax Collectors” with open carry gun permits.  And that brings me to a couple illustrations to make the point.  

I have some retaining walls around my property that often get “tagged” with graffiti. Okay, so vandalism is illegal and the local cops know who the gang bangers are (they tell me that). But they have no compelling interest in prosecuting the criminals. That takes too much time and costs too much money. Instead, in our community, there is a municipal code that prohibits property owners from allowing graffiti to remain.  If I don’t remove it within a reasonable period of time, I am in violation of a code that carries a financial penalty. After all, responsible property owners can be easily tapped for revenue.

One evening I was with my wife in a local retail business and I overheard a customer complaining about a newly installed shopping cart retrieval system. The carts are racked and it costs 25 cents to use one. The clerk told her that all she had to do was return the cart when she was through and the vending machine would automatically refund her quarter. Now I think the system itself is not a bad idea for the business owner. But the problem I have is the reason the clerk gave to the customer. The clerk said that new, local codes require that the retail business must pay a fine for each cart that is picked up by code enforcement and returned to the store. So, people steal shopping carts. Stealing shopping carts is illegal. Cops observe the thieves everyday, all over town. But there is no compelling interest in prosecuting or even stopping the criminals. That takes too much time and the thieves can't or wont pay the fines. Instead, it is much easier for the city to penalize store owners for code violations that translates into more revenue for the city.

So if you are a victim of a crime, it's probably your fault.  Get out you wallet and be prepared to pay.

Victim blaming helps the local municipality to collect more revenue. Look around your own community and see how you might be a victim of a crime and yet be forced to pay the penalties for code violations. I can think of several more.


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