The 'Ideal Victim' hierarchy
The idea of victimhood is simply a social construct. The Criminal Justice System (CJS), the media and the public all play a part in deciding who is 'worthy' of victim status; the process being inequal and unfair. Two people could experience the same harassment or abuse, but be treated completely differently due to their race, gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, lifestyle etc. For some, their victimisation is depicted as an unavoidable by-product; creating the concept of victim blaming. For one to be ascribed victim status they must 1) be societally recognised as one and 2) self-identify as one. This is where a hierarchy of victimhood is formed. It leads to society only taking accounts of public sexual harassment and violence seriously and holding sympathy for those who fit the pre-set mould of the 'ideal' victim.
The top of the hierarchy features 'ideal' victims; those who are viewed as deserving and worthy of victim status by society. These are societally recognised as well as self-identifying victims. The victims are commonly portrayed as virtuous and 'blameless'. This template is highly misogynistic, racist, classist and transphobic. It depicts the perfect victim as a white virginal damsel in distress. The bottom of the hierarchy are 'non-ideal' victims. These are people who, whether they self-identify as victims or not, have been rejected the label by society. Victimhood is perceived through a Eurocentric lens, and any who do not fit the misogynoir mould are rejected. This commonly includes women and marginalised genders of colour, trans and queer folk, sex workers, and any who partake in the 'promiscuous party' lifestyle to name a few. Society tries to undermine these people’s victimisation by enforcing self-blame.
The ‘Ideal’ Victim
Firstly, by recognising the following victims as 'ideal' victims in our society, it in no way diminishes their abuse or implies their sympathy should be minimised. We fully support the outrage that occurred from these victims’ horrific traumas, we simply wish to show the difference in how others are treated by the CJS, the media and society as a whole.
Sarah Everard was a fatal victim of gender-based violence (GBV) in March 2021. Her face and name became the slogan for a new wave of feminism; sparking protests and activism. Her case drew so much online traction that it placed pressure on law enforcement, finding her killer just six days later. However, this feminist wave was not intersectional. Where was this same outcry when Blessing Olusegun went missing months earlier in September 2020? Or for sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman who were murdered in June 2020?
It is because Everard embodies the 'ideal' victim. She was "conservatively, even luminously, dressed, in a monogamous heterosexual relationship; white, sober, young, fit, healthy, pretty, a Durham University graduate working in marketing". Even the tagline that followed her murder was 'she was just walking home'. Whilst this may seem harmless and supportive, it holds undertones of misogyny that suggests if she was doing something else her victimisation would have seemed more deserving. Everard was still subjected to misogyny by those who argued she should have 'known better' than walking home alone at night; pushing the victim blaming narrative that male physical violence is simply an unavoidable by-product of oppression. However, the main reaction was, thankfully, of sympathy and anger. Yet this feeds into the phenomenon named 'missing white women syndrome'. This is when a white woman is missing, or subjected to violence, and is given full attention by the media through a sympathetic lens. Take the case of Madeleine McCann 2007 for instance. Nearly everyone in the UK knows her face and name, with case updates still making headlines. However, would she get this coverage if she weren't middle-class? If she weren't white? Studies show that intense media coverage places pressure on law enforcement to solve the case with harsh reprimanding. This means white women's cases are being taken more seriously in the CJS; with offenders of white women serving more time than those of Black women.
Sabina Nessa was definitely not given the same coverage or urgency as Everard, and it was only due to outcries from the Black and Brown communities that her murder became so well known.
Although she was a woman of colour, she was still a young, educated women who was a respected teacher. Whilst this makes her slightly 'higher' on the victim hierarchy, her victim centrality was largely down to the public calling out the prejudice of the CJS and media for not giving her case the same attention as Everard. Nessa and Everard saw the exact same terminology used in their trials, being named "wholly blameless victims". Whilst the sentiment is individually beautiful for the victims, the subconscious undertone is that certain victims are not seen the same. It should be a given fact that ALL victims of PSH and GBV are blameless, and not just those who society chooses.
The ‘Non-Ideal’ Victim
A non-ideal victim label can be ascribed to anyone who does not fit the previously discussed template, which places certain women on a patriarchal pedestal. The characteristics are highly feminised and racialised, the idealised feminine of the patriarchy, only protecting a certain subset of women whilst harming many others and marginalised genders. These 'others' tend to be suffering from "double discrimination", making their oppression intersectional. The slides that follow only cover certain areas of society, but please feel free to look at the sources provided if you wish to look into this topic further. Your victimisation and feelings towards it are always valid, even if we do not cover it.
Black Female Victimisation
Women of colour, specifically Black women, have been consistently subjected to higher rates of public sexual harassment (PSH) and gender-based violence (GBV) than white women. Misogynoir is rampant in our society, and as previously discussed, the media and Criminal Justice System (CJS) are primary perpetrators. A large factor for this is the theory of adultification. This includes the erasure of a Black girl's childhood to influence others into believing they are "less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers". This mistreatment carries on into adulthood, creating a template for Black female behaviour (such as 'the angry Black women') that marks them in the public eye as being 'undeserving' and 'unworthy' of victim status. Black girls being bigger targets for sexual violence leads into the theory of the abuse to prison pipeline, to which sadly the rates for Black women is much higher.
The women Blessing Olusegun, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were all previously mentioned as being let down by the CJS and media. Olusegun's case started not dissimilar to Everards; walking home on the phone to her boyfriend. However, that is where the similarities end. The coroner cited cause of death as drowning, refusing the family to carry out a private autopsy. Despite pleas from the family, the police refused to carry out a search or take forensic analysis of the scene or body, as they believed this was 'not a crime'. In fact, they had closed the case until public pressure forced them to reopen it. The police were repeatedly disrespectful, and borderline cruel, to the Olusegun family. On top of the clear classist and misogynoir response that was ignoring Blessings suspicious death, they consistently called Blessing’s mother the name of her dead daughter, as well as mocking her accent.
Racism in the police force during this case came as no shock, if the treatment of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman are anything to go by. These two women were murdered in a park in London, and when they first went missing the police showed little interest in finding them. In fact, it was a search led by the family, not the police, that found their bodies. Their mother has publicly stated she is positive it is due to their race that their missing status was not taken seriously by the force nor given attention by the press. If their disinterest wasn't horrid enough, two disgraceful police officers took pictures of and selfies with the two dead bodies; later shared on their WhatsApp group. This treatment of Black female victimisation is nothing less than vile, and the differences shown in white women's cases are staggering.
Marginalised Genders, Trans and Queer Folk
The LGBTQIA+ community are constantly 'othered' in our society. The behaviours and lives of queer folk differentiates wholly from the perceived ideal victim; who is a cis, straight, white woman. Part of this ideal heavily revolves around feminine energy, hence the damsel narrative. If one does not conform to this, such as portraying masc behaviours, they will be denied victim status.
Trans folk in particular are cast aside by society treating their lives as "disposable and insignificant", shown in their exclusion from the 2022 Government conversion therapy ban. The CJS and media have a track record of treating transgender, specifically people of colour, victims horrendously. They hold little care or respect for these victims and, whether purposefully or through ignorance, use their incorrect pronouns, misgender and deadname them. In fact, 79% of trans individuals do not report their hate crimes due to fear of further discrimination from police and/or media, incited by the knowledge of past negligence and indifference shown to crimes against trans people. Take the case of Naomi Hersi for example, a Black transgender woman who was drugged and stabbed to death in a hotel. Her death was only reported three days after the attack, and only a handful of mainstream press covered it.
Coverage constantly deadnamed and misgendered her (that's if they mentioned her name or gender at all), as well as comparing her case to male victims. In fact, the articles that came from this murder mainly focussed on the white male offender as this was 'so out of character' for the A-grade student.
Another instance of police failure for the LGBTQIA+ community was apparent with The Grindr Killer of 2014., who r*ped multiple men he met on the Grindr app and killed at least four of them. Friends and families of the victims criticised how the police handled the investigation. An inquiry report published in 2021 concluded there were "failures which cannot be overlooked" in the police handlings. In fact, it was revealed that the police failing to investigate the death of the first victim probably affected the fate of the other three. They had arrested the correct offender after the first murder, but decided the death 'wasn't suspicious' and therefore let him go; killing three more young, gay men. The families have come forward to state they wonder if their boys would be alive today if the police had taken the case seriously; which they believe they would have done if they weren't gay.
Those who partake in sex work are denied victim status due to the victim blaming narrative. Rather than looking into prevention methods of predators and holding men accountable in male violence, the police and media push the agenda of what women and marginalised genders should do to make sure they don't get harassed or assaulted. Placing the emphasis on victim behaviour suggests certain people are to blame for not altering their lives, when it is clearly the predators who should be changing. Due to the illegal and 'promiscuous' areas of sex work, it arises feelings of prejudice in society who believe they are deserving of their victimisation because they 'know' what they are getting into.
Sex workers are depicted by the media and CJS as being disposable in our patriarchal society simply for their occupation. In reference to the Ipswich murders of 2006 where five sex workers were killed, journalists labelled these victims as "disgusting, drug addled street wh*res", undeserving of victim status and sympathy but rather deserving of the violence they endured.
Violence against sex workers is an issue that is growing, and is a prominent part of the occupation. Then why are we not hearing more about how to prevent and aid violence against sex workers? It is a worry that people’s feminism is 'intersectional' until it calls for the inclusion of a group that they don't respect (which in itself is internalised misogyny). This 'unworthy' narrative runs through the CJS as well as the public and media. Due to police negligence, sex workers reporting their victimisation had fallen to 7.7% in 2020, and it is likely to keep falling. Sex workers stated they had a very unhealthy relationship with the police based on distrust and judgement which adds to the lack of reporting, whilst many also claimed police were included in their victimisations. Many women and marginalised genders who are not sex workers are still subjected to victim blaming and 'slut' shaming after an assault or harassment with questions such as "what were you wearing?", "were you drinking?", "did you willingly leave with him?". Can you imagine how this would increase as a sex worker?
Sadly, the reality is women and marginalised genders will be sexually harassed, assaulted and killed anywhere at any time no matter what they are wearing, what they have been drinking, who they do and do not know, and what they do for work. NO responsibility of abuse should be placed on a victim. Are the government, media and police simply afraid to hold men accountable for their behaviours and actions because they too are afraid of them and the power they hold? Or is it because these sectors are occupied with predators who thrive of patriarchal power and would rather see thousands of people be sexually, domestically and physically abused than change their own ways.
Writer: Harriet Clark
I am a recent Criminology and Sociology graduate who is passionate about actively practicing intersectional feminism in all sectors of my life. I believe education is the greatest tool of change, and the implementation of prevention methods are key for the limitation of violence against women, girls and marginalised genders. This is why I am such an avid follower and admirer of the Our Streets Now team and all they have accomplished through this campaign. I am honoured to be a part of it, and whilst I feel incredibly honoured to use my own voice, I also think it is incredibly important to amplify others who remain silent. That is what I try to achieve through my writing and I hope I am able to produce content that resonates with many.
Karolina Jonc Buczek- 44% trans people
EbrulIllustrates- Sabina Nessa, 92% disabled girls, 88% of girls of Black heritage
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