Blaming the Victim

By Jean Blish Siers *

“I don’t think there’s a lane here!” Elise said as she steered the rented van from I-77 onto I-85, leaving Charlotte for Durham, NC, for a couple days of meetings. I assured her that the two lanes extended all the way until we were completely on I-85. “But that truck is coming over!” Elise said. Sure enough, we were well on the way to being squished between a concrete barrier on our left and an 18-wheeler on our right. I could have touched the truck; it was that close and getting closer. Elise braked and when we felt the impact, I was certain the truck had sideswiped us. Instead, the car behind us had rear-ended the van.

The three vehicles pulled to the shoulder; the truck driver climbed from the rig and immediately began berating Elise for “trying to get around him.” We couldn’t convince him that because there were two lanes, we weren’t doing anything more than trying to stay safely in our own lane, expecting that he would as well.

I kept thinking, “He’s blaming the victim!” and felt frustrated that he wouldn’t listen or try to understand what we said.

An hour later, we were back on the road, still shaken. I started thinking how often in our society we blame the victim. I think it makes us feel better, more invulnerable to the breezes of fate, if we can find a reason for someone else’s troubles.

The other day, I heard someone say that if the working poor simply managed their money better, they wouldn’t always need government handouts. Check out this graphic from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In North Carolina, a single mom or dad, working full time with one child, would need to make $23.80 an hour to afford food, housing, medical care, etc. That’s about $49,500 per year. Someone working in food preparation can expect to earn a bit less than $20,000 a year. Healthcare support costs (for those folks who take care of our parents and grandparents in nursing homes, for instance) average $24,800 a year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that SNAP benefits are increasingly going to the working poor. In 1989, 19.6% of folks receiving food stamps were employed. In 2015, that number increased to 31.8%.

Others make the argument that if fast-food wages aren’t high enough, folks should simply find better jobs, as if all they need to do is snap their fingers to find a living wage. Often they need more or different education, and those opportunities are hard to come by, while doing shift work and caring for children or aging parents.

Obviously, people are working. They just can’t live on what they earn. Instead of trying to solve what is becoming a worsening crisis of inequity, stagnant wages, and rising medical and housing costs, current budget proposals focus on dismantling the social safety net.

Why do we blame the victim? Because we think we can never be that person, struggling to put nutritious food on the table for our family or pay the rent on a safe place to live. If we thought that might be us someday, we’d respond differently right now, wouldn’t we?

Lent begins this week and it would do all of us good to remember to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” What if it’s you next year who needs that helping hand, that moment of understanding and kindness? How would you want our society to respond to you?

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s gleaning coordinator in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.



In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.