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Victim shaming comments and questions focus the blame on the wrong person.

When women began stepping forward late last year accusing comedian and actor Bill Cosby of various incidents of sexual assault in the 70s, the public’s opinion was swift and clear: These women were eager for their 15 minutes of fame, or they were seeking money. Many asked why the alleged victims waited so long to come forward with their accusations. It seemed few wanted to believe that Cosby could be anyone but the sweet and loveable father and husband he had portrayed on TV for so many years.

Victim shaming happens across the globe every day. Survivors of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence face ridicule and judgment for stepping forward and speaking out about abuse. Sometimes this shaming comes from not just anonymous commenters on the Internet, but their own family and friends as well.

Ignorance is at the root of victim shaming. The horrible part about victim shaming is that many victims are afraid no one will believe them, which is why they don’t come forward in the first place. That’s why they wait … and then get blamed for waiting.

Victim shaming can also be the effect of denial by those who have never experienced domestic violence or assault. They don’t want to admit that it can happen to them, but 24 people every minute are abused [by an intimate partner] in the United States. That’s something for people who say “I’ll never be a victim” to consider.

Victim shaming can be masked by seemingly innocent questions such as, “What was she wearing?” or “Was she drinking?” These comments assume the victim had a choice in becoming the victim, when in truth, the abuser is the one who chose to be violent, coercive and abusive.

Intimate partner and domestic violence victim shaming can appear as pressure from friends and family to make a relationship “work”. Survivors end up feeling like the violence is their fault and that if they open up about it, they’ll let everyone down. Meanwhile, survivors are also judged for staying. People see survivors staying with an abusive partner as weak and stupid. They say, “I wouldn’t put up with it,” but it’s never that easy. If you have not experienced it, you cannot look in from the outside and say what you would do.

The fact is, victim shaming makes it harder for the next victim to come forward. We need to encourage survivors, let them know that it’s not their fault and they’ve been mentally manipulated by their abuser. We need to let survivors know what options are available to them and that they’re going to be taken seriously.

You are not alone.

Laura Baxter, Executive Director, Project Woman