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Judith Herman on Perpetrators and Victims

August 11, 2010

I recently came across the following quote from Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, that seems to me to be very applicable to the present situation where victims who are coming forward and blowing the whistle on therapy abuse are being targeted by internet smear campaigns, as well as those of us who dare to challenge and speak out against the perpetrators. Although I take issue with some aspects of her trauma model, I really think she got it right and is spot on when it comes to her understanding of the mentality of perpetrators of abuse and how society often blames the victims and the whistle blowers. For people who want to join the mob and mindlessly pile on against those of us who are speaking out against such abuses or people who merely want to avoid or evade the issue and rationalize that we are just being sensationalistic or too “negative”  here are some words to consider:

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. . . .  In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail (Herman, 1997, Trauma and Recovery, p.7-8).

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One Comment
  1. The desire to see, hear and speak no evil may be universal, indeed.

    Making sure no-one listens is “effective”: as long as there is not one person to listen!

    “To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on.”

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