Why do we put our focus on the victim in abusive situations rather than the abusers?

It happens in domestic violence cases. We ask, “Why does she (or he) stay?” instead of “Why does the partner keep abusing? It recently happened in an Albany middle school where a girl was so bullied that  she hid in a bathroom terrified she’d be beaten and called her parents on her cell phone to rescue her. The bullying was not a one-time incident. The Times Union’s , Scott Waldman, reports the biracial girl’s tormenters, fellow honors students, had donned KKK hoods and made comments about her skin color and family during classes.

The school officials viewed this as a “joke gone bad’ and solved the problem by promoting the girl to the 9th grade, with a transfer to the high school away from her abusers, three months before the end of the school year, and offering her the option of talking about how the incident made her feel in a ‘sensitivity circle’. The harassers were not disciplined. However, the US Department of Education had a different view of this. They felt the school officials should have recognized harassment and implemented corrective actions, including disciplining harassers or finding a viable alternative.

It’s a common problem. We think that if we can just remove the victim from a situation the problem will end. But that’s only a temporary remedy. Relationship violence of all kinds: bullying, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, are not one-time incidents. These behaviors are often a pattern of power and control; until we focus on the root case, working with the abuser to stop the behaviors, they’ll just find another victim.

The positive take-away from all this is that because of the Dept. of Education’s investigation, Hackett Middle School now will have racial discrimination training for all staff, a student led committee to address harassment, and counseling for students who previously complained of racial harassment.