Confronting The Gatekeepers: How To Prevent The Retraumatization of Victims

“Bro, cant sleep tonight…all this race issue is boiling in my head. Here is an honest one: would u be kind enough to me, to sit down for a coffee and explain what u feel and what is really going on from your perspective? Because I only see what I see and cannot understand why [the] black community is outraged. I cannot see SYSTEMIC racism in US or Canada, therefore I kind of take the opposite side — but maybe I’m missing on [something]? Trying to educate myself these days… still cannot understand anything. I’m praying… asking God to search my heart… yet still cannot understand why (as I’m convinced) people want to live out of victimhood mentality? Need a good and calm conversation!”

Those were the words of a fellow church brother who labored to understand the animosity and ferocity of the American Black community in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hand of police officers. This brother in Christ was unable to wrestle with the grandiosity of race relations in America, America’s racialized history, police brutality, and the over-televised protests and riots that rained down American cities in the summer of 2020.

And yes, he is white.

In his mind, from his perspective, there was nothing to riot about. There was nothing to be upset or upset enough to demonstrate about. From his point of view, the people who were out there, crying, screaming, marching, and petitioning for changes to policy, policing, and calling for justice were out there for no good reason at all.

“I only see what I see and cannot understand why the black community is outraged.”

This brother was a prominent member of the church we attended. His influence was prominent on the church board, of which he was a member. He influenced certain ministries, more than one, to be exact, and had a history of being a voice of wisdom and clarity for the church. His persona was that of an amiable man whose sole purpose in life was worshipping Christ and loving his family. He loved God, and I believe he still does, and he loves his family. But there was a disconnect in his emotional capacity when it came to understanding the woes and troubles of a community that is hundreds of miles away from where we live in Edmonton. A community of a different race.

“I cannot see systemic racism in US or Canada, therefore I kind of take the opposite side.”

I’m curious what the opposite of systemic racism or the understanding of systemic racism is in his context. Are we to assume that the opposite is to disbelieve that racism has seeped into various fabrics of our society? To ignore the evidence when produced? Dismiss the stories of community members who suffered the harm of racial injustice when presented?

What, then, is the opposite of believing in the reality of systemic racism when systemic racism is an undeniable fact?

“Trying to educate myself these days… still cannot understand anything. I’m praying… asking God to search my heart… yet still cannot understand why (as I’m convinced) people want to live out [the] victimhood mentality?”

The “victimhood mentality” part of that last sentence is what stuck with me the longest. Not the fact that he ventures to learn more about an issue he understands little or nothing about but the conclusion he makes from his place of ignorance, namely, that people who are tackling the issue of race, pushing for change, begging for justice, and demanding action are simply revisiting the cyclical loop of “victimhood mentality.”

It is dishonest to categorize calls for justice and the people making these petitions as purveyors of victimhood mentality? It’s as if someone who has been slighted and wronged cannot exhibit emotions. They cannot speak about their hurt. They should not mention their abuser or violator. To do so, or to call for justice and clarity to the situation, makes them somewhat responsible for the wrongdoing they have suffered.

I’ve seen this level of disillusionment take place in areas where the perpetrator or the institutions backing the perpetrators of wrongdoing want to cover up wrongs and thus call into question the validity of the victim’s accusations.

Scott Barry Kaufman reiterates this problematic narrative where the blame or perhaps the revisiting of hurt is the victim’s fault alone because they are stuck in a cyclical state of hurt as of result of victimhood mentality. In his article published in Scientific American, titled, Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood: Focusing on grievances can be debilitating; social science points to a better way, Scott tackles the idea that victims retraumatize themselves and it’s their fault alone.

“Truth is, we currently live in a culture where many political and cultural groups and individuals emphasize their victimhood identity and compete in the “Victimhood Olympics.” Charles Sykes, author of A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American character, noted that this stems in part from the entitlement of groups and individuals for happiness and fulfillment. Building on Sykes’ work, Gabay and her colleagues note: ‘When these feelings of entitlement are combined with a high individual-level tendency for interpersonal victimhood, social change struggles are more likely to take an aggressive, disparaging, and condescending form.’

[…]

With a clear lens, we’d be able to see that not everyone in our out-group is evil, and not everyone in our in-group is a saint. We’re all human with the same underlying needs to belong, to be seen, to be heard and to matter.

Seeing reality as clearly as possible is an essential step to making long-lasting change, and I believe one important step along that path is to shed the perpetual victimhood mindset for something more productive, constructive, hopeful and amenable to building positive relationships with others.”

Scott Kaufman concludes his article with the sentiment that people vying for change, through a turmoil of emotions, are in reality seeing the world through “rose-tinted glasses.” Namely, victims of the offense, assault, rape, or injustice are operating from a place of brokenness and their method of operating is in and of itself broken, therefore, invalid and worthy of mockery. ( Victimhood Olympics) Within this paradigm, there is no proper way for a victim to behave because no matter how they decide to behave they’ll be disparaged and dismissed as promoters of victimhood, isolated within a mentality of division, schisms, and possible aggression.

It is also troubling to see Kaufman quote a man whose book claims that to be a victim or to employ what he considers “victimhood” is decaying the fabric of the United States of America. How daunting.

Who does an article like this suit? Who benefits when we send traumatized people into time-out? Who benefits when we tell people experiencing pain that they are simply regurgitating false narratives that should ultimately be dismissed because they do not operate within the scope of what we deem acceptable and factual?

Of course. The beneficiaries of such terminology are guilty perpetrators and the unjust systems that protect them. They offer few solutions to the gravity of the problem, instead, they place the blame for the situation and the collateral damage of an offense on the victim.

I would have loved to see Scott write as lengthy an article on the mindset of perpetrators and unjust institutions. Namely, the “Guilthood Mentality.”

It’d gain little to no traction.

I never did get to sit down with that friend, whose comments I revisit above. Shortly after that conversation, I left that church because the racial animus there was too much for my soul to bear. No, seriously, it was bad.

The brother in question was simply one of several prominent and high-ranking, respected members of that community and to challenge the gravity of racism — within America and Canada — and the racism inside that church was not only inconceivable but to my estimation, impossible.

This man was a gatekeeper at our church. He and others who thought just like him were also gatekeepers, influencing the socio-intellectual formation of our church community. What they said and how they thought spread because of their position of authority within that community.

How could I, one of two Black attendees of that church tackle racism when the church refused/refuses to admit it even exists?

Do you see the demoralizing effect “dismissal and minimization” can have on victims of wrongdoing? They would rather leave the place of hurt and harm than confront it!

To best understand why gatekeepers dismiss and disregard victims by name calling or naming their situation as a “mentality” instead of a reality, we must visit the work of Dr. Jacki Tapley, Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth.

She wrote a book called Victimology: Research, Policy and Activism where she lays out the myth behind this so-called victimhood mentality and its damnable aftermath on the life of a victim.

“Lingering Victim Myths

Despite decades of empirical research to the contrary, there are three persistent sets of myths underscoring attitudes to victims. First, victims are often assumed to be driven by punitive or vengeful motives (Herman 2005; Ere 1999). Second, there is the lingering suspicion that victims are at least partly to blame for the situation in which they find themselves and so are undeserving. Finally, victims are perceived to be ‘emotional’ — anathema to a legal system which prides itself on objective, ‘rational’ and impartial decision making (Bandes. 1996).”

Dr. Jacki visits these three myths about victims which I will cover in more detail below. But to reiterate, victims are dismissed and ignored because they are presumed to be vindictive, somewhat responsible for their violation, and/or too emotional about having suffered a wrong.

What… the hell?

Before I proceed I want to pause here to allow you to think about the three-layered cake of misery victims are forced to consume when they come forward about some form of wrongdoing or violence they endured.

They’re called vindictive.

They’re accused of being somewhat responsible for whatever wrong they’ve suffered.

They’re too emotional.

Let that sink in to better understand why so few sexual assaults, acts of racial violence, and other forms of abuse are seldom reported. Just allow that to sink into your ethos.

Now, let us return to Dr. Jacki’s work.

In respect to “Myth 1: Victims Are Vengeful and Punitive” she states, “victims most commonly seek validation rather than retribution; they also wish to be accorded dignity, respect, and recognition, rather than to lobby for harsher punishment of their offenders.”

In respect to “Myth 2: Victims Are Blameworthy” she states, “Victims do not bring their victimization upon themselves. The most pernicious and prevalent of these assumptions is that women who are victims of domestic abuse are ‘asking for it’ and are to blame because they do not leave or if they return to their abuser. Myths about rape and victim precipitation and provocation are likewise widespread and stubbornly problematic, resistant to victims’ attempts at denial.

[…] The overwhelming majority of persons who are victimized do not become victims because of any criminal involvement. Furthermore, when victims do not report victimization, or report it with significant delay, is not because they are responsible for their misfortune, but often due to shame, fear of retaliation, or because they do not think the incident is important enough or will receive an adequate response from police.”

In respect to “Myth 3: Victims Are Emotional” she states, “There is no denying that crime causes harm, pain and anguish to victims. And there is a natural human need to express such sentiments and have them heard and formally validated.

Underlying legal fears about emotional display is the risk that victims’ emotions will inject subjectivity into the trial process, which according to legal ideology, is meant to remain ‘objective.’”

Victims are thus not allowed to call for justice because their calls will be seen as vindictive, meaning, wanton, and filled with hate, therefore invalid. They cannot call for justice because they must be somewhat culpable in the situation. They must’ve done something to deserve or invite the wrongdoing. A dress, a skirt, an ankle? Lastly, victims cannot cry, scream, shout, or show anger or frustration, matter of fact, they cannot behave in any which way, emotionally speaking, because their behavior will be seen as an instrument to sway public and legal opinion on their behalf, because, of course, if they use emotion they must therefore be lying about their story or that which they tell about their abuser.

Using terms like “Victimhood Mentality” is a signifier that people are siding with perpetrators in an attempt to discredit victims. Gatekeepers are vying for the longevity of their positions of leadership and power by protecting abusers and criminals, in hopes of saving face and saving money in lengthy and costly legal disputes against victims. Gatekeepers will condemn and/or ingratiate the abuser in private and they will condemn the victim as a seductress or equal participant in the wrongdoing in public.

The victim of racial violence or racism is somewhat responsible for the racist invective they received because they willfully entered and remained within a white majority space. They should’ve known better by now.

The woman who was assaulted at a party should’ve known better than to fall asleep around young men incensed by youthful passions and fueled by alcohol.

The victim, according to gatekeepers, is always somewhat if not entirely at fault.

Gatekeepers operate in many ways to protect their image, their funds, and their alleged abusers, as a way to hold on to the power of narrative, namely, the ability to control the story, the victim, the abuser, and the outcome of it all which typically benefits them and them alone.

Anytime someone other than the gatekeeper has a voice that contradicts their story or their narrative, whether the voice is alone or backed by millions, Gatekeepers enact a defensive/offensive mechanism known as DARVO.

DARVO was introduced to the world of psychology by Jennifer J. Freyd, professor emerit of Psychology, University of Oregon. Although her use of the term applies mostly toward institutions and individuals protecting themselves from accusations of sexual violence, it is safe to assume and deduce that members of every facet of society have used this tactic in just about every area of wrongdoing to save face and demonize victims to discredit them.

DARVO stands for: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

How many times have we seen this horrific tool used to not only discredit victims but also glorify offenders?

My buddy up top, discerning his understanding or misunderstanding of Black pain denied the existence of systemic racism, went on to attack the entire movement as promoting perpetrators of unnecessary violence and uproar, and switched the victim-offender reality by dismissing the reality of racist killer cops and amplifying the discussion by making it about Black behavior, not racialized police brutality and cruelty.

Deny. Attack. Reverse Victim and Offender.

This tactic is used by Gatekeepers in religious circles (Christian, Muslim, Jewish), cultic environments (Jehovah Witness’s, Mormons, Scientology), secular circles (Republican Party, Democratic Party, political campaigns, corporate America), and just about every facet of society where those in power benefit from staying in power even if it means destroying the life and image of a victim to save face.

They deny the reality of abuse, dismiss the victim by demonizing them and switch those who are responsible and guilty of wrongdoing for those who are innocent.

Their sole purpose is to control the narrative, protect themselves, the perpetrator, and dismiss the victim.

That is why my friend up above was so unwilling to even question the possibility of systemic racism being real because if systemic racism is true, which it is, it affects various aspects of human life for African Americans in the US and Canada, which, thus, validates their anger with their local and federal governments. And, if systemic racism is that endemic, could it be that such evil is present in his church, his family, and his life?

Instead of tackling these possibilities, he said, “I see and cannot understand why [the] black community is outraged. I cannot see SYSTEMIC racism in US or Canada, therefore I kind of take the opposite side.”

Gatekeepers will sooner implode than they will admit that they are protecting nefarious agents of evil. And when they do admit wrongdoing, it is to them a minor infraction, “We’ve made some mistakes,” or in religious circles, Christian ones, in particular, you will hear, “We are all sinners saved by grace. None of us are guiltless.” As if to warn the victim that his or her “vindictive” nature is equal to the sin or wrong committed by the perpetrator.

Their calls for justice and truth are equal to and just as damnable as the acts of violence they endured.

Gatekeepers who stand at the entrance of every issue, not as guides and navigators of truth, love, and justice, but as agents of lies, hate, and injustice are the catalysts of the decay of our societies. In reality, they are to victims what the devil is to humanity: constant adversaries and accusers.

We must understand not only why so many people refuse to acknowledge wrong and evil but also what their tactics are when they do.

In analyzing their tactics we can combat those tactics and fight for the preservation and dignity of victims, validating their hurt and pain, and joining them in their fight for what is right, true, and just.

That is how we prevent the retraumatization of victims.

Resources for victims and survivors:

Resource.

Originally published at http://olivettheory.com on July 26, 2022.

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Jarrel Oliveira

Jarrel Oliveira

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Husband | Girl Dad x4 | Dude | Dilettante | Blogger | Brazilian living in Canada. Life motto: Jesus said cool things.