Blaming the victim

Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives

Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives

I am in an abusive relationship. It’s hard to spot. Nobody in my house is hitting anybody or neglecting anyone, or shouting, insulting, degrading. In fact, the abusive relationship does not involve my family at all, except as codependents.

What I’m addicted to is money, and my family can’t live with me unless I have some. And the abusers are my employers. And maybe even the society that enables them.

Lots of us are abused by our employers. They value money over labor, and please stockholders at the cost of, well, everything. Most people receiving “welfare,” the complex system of entitlements keeping Americans from experiencing the worst of poverty, are post-work elderly, the disabled, and children. Of those who remain, the majority are not Ronald Reagan’s welfare abusers but the working poor. It falls to society to subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonalds, a hundred more of the biggest abusers in the work world, and college faculty.

So many of us receive government assistance (such as Medicaid or food stamps) because of our abusive relationships with our employers that this bears talking about, yet again. When people find out about these relationships that keep employees working below the poverty line, interfere with their ability to seek alternate employment, deny them benefits or social mobility, push them towards government assistance to meet their needs… when people find out all of this, one of their first reactions is often to blame the victims.

If we all just quit our low-wage, dead-end jobs, they say, then we could get some change in the system. And that is certainly true. But how can we all quit our jobs? Where else would we go, what else might we do?

There are one million adjuncts teaching in the US today out of about 1.5 million college and university faculty. These numbers are trending upwards all the time, with contingent faculty an ever-increasing percentage of the overall figures. Let’s say one million people could get together on this despite our families insisting we pay rents and feed children. Where would one million professors suddenly get jobs in an economy that has one job opening for every three unemployed people, and where the vast majority of those jobs are low-paying service jobs so comparable to the jobs they are leaving that those industries are having identical discussions?

Never mind that some faculty align with the abusers, or don’t know they are being exploited, or have succeeded (by landing jobs that actually pay what they are worth) and so cannot imagine the rest of us are short on choices. The comments section on this page will be full of vituperation and sociopathic trolling within a few days of going up, for example (which is why I don’t read comments sections any more). Never mind that even agitation short of walk-off and strikes, when they are legal, are apt to result in repercussions because we are all contingent: they don’t even have to fire us. They can just stop assigning us any classes and we’re out.

On the small scale, each person is responsible for their own destiny and circumstances. At the larger scale, though, we behave statistically. And the numbers are against us here.

Lately, there is some much needed focus on the issue of domestic violence against women. The same folks who are going to flame this entry like to blame the women in the relationships. Why don’t they just leave? Wrong focus. Why don’t the men not hit them or restrict them through their finances or not jealously monitor all their phone usage? Or the thousand other things men do to keep women down?

The same is true in any relationship. I individually have the power to walk away, but the cost of doing so would be intolerably high. Change is not available through any action of mine, and I take a huge risk even talking about it. You’re welcome, by the way.

What you can do:
Stop blaming victims, any victims. Especially women who are abused by their domestic partners, and also the poor for their poverty. Put fault and responsibility where it belongs: voters, taxpayers, corporations, shareholders, and capitalism.

— Jason Dias

Read more stories by Jason Dias

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