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Jaevion Nelson | Don’t blame the victim

Published:Thursday | April 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There is a tendency to blame victims of theft, rape, spousal abuse and other incidents for the violence and abuse that they experience. Quite often, when someone is robbed, beaten, raped or otherwise abused, we castigate them for not knowing better, for wearing such revealing clothes, for not defending themselves, etc. Consequently, many of us have grown to accept a perspective about violence and abuse that forces us to blame ourselves whenever we experience abuse and violence.

What is most frightening in all of this is that the police also help to perpetuate narratives that suggest that it is quite possible that the incident occurred because of that the individual who was targeted did.

Last week, while listening to the midday news, there was a report about students in specific areas who are being targeted by thieves and robbed of their phones and other valuables. I believe one student, in an incident, was severely hurt and had to be hospitalised. The police used the opportunity to remind the public not to brandish their cell phones and other valuables. Apparently, use of one's possession is somehow an invitation to thieves to rob you and, therefore, puts you at risk.

The seeming victim-blaming by the police needs to be addressed. There is absolutely no doubt about students' personal responsibility - as well as that of the rest of us - regarding when and where we use our devices, but that doesn't mean we are to be blamed when we are targeted or robbed. If use of mobile phones, laptops, and other electronic devices in public puts you at risk, how do the police then explain when people are robbed and battered for their possessions when they weren't using or brandishing them?




Should people not wear name-brand shoes to school because it might expose them to danger, to a thief? Should a student not answer a phone call or take a selfie in public because thieves are lurking around to see who is brandishing their mobile phone? Should students who walk with a laptop bag not do so because a thief will automatically know that you have a laptop and want to steal it?

I was hugely disappointed last week when I heard the news about increased attacks on students and hearing the police's warning. Students are vulnerable. They naturally are targets, easy targets, in fact. When they are being set upon, the response isn't to blame them when they have been robbed, but to find ways to increase their safety and security.

Perhaps deploying more police in the areas where there is a problem is a better option. Such drivel coming from the police is unacceptable. It's not the students' fault if a thief decides to rob and attack them for their possessions. They are targets, and the police should, therefore, do more to protect them.

This reminds me of a release from the Jamaica Constabulary Force in February in which they were outlining measures the public - women and girls especially - should take to stay safe. I was dumbfounded by one in particular, which said: "Keep a low profile. There are many ways to avoid highlighting your attractiveness to an abductor by downplaying your financial status, dressing modestly, not wearing expensive jewellery, and not openly carrying expensive electronics.'

While it is completely rational to expect individuals to take responsibility for their personal safety, especially in areas where and times when such incidents are likely to be perpetrated, we must be careful we do not suggest that they cause or allow themselves to be harmed.

Blaming victims for crimes perpetrated against them is unacceptable and facilitates the abdication of responsibilities by relevant entities like the police. It also discourages people from coming forward to make formal reports and seek support.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and