Victim blaming on the Today Show

I’m sure everyone has heard about Mel Gibson being investigated for domestic violence. It’s hard to get online or watch the news without hearing clips from the released audio recordings. However, did any of you catch the victim blaming that took place on NBC yesterday morning?

Yesterday, Today Show Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, talked to Meredith Vieira and Judge Jeanine Pirro about Mel Gibson and the domestic violence investigation. The panel listened to a recently released audio recording of, allegedly, Mel Gibson threatening his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. For convenience, brevity and so I don’t have to keep typing allegedly, let’s just call the guy in tape, oh I don’t know, Mel. Here are a few statements that Mel made:

  • I’ll put you in a f*****g rose garden…cause I’m capable of that!
  • Get a f*****g restraining order!
  • I will make f*****g life miserable
  • You need a f*****g bat to the side of the head
  • Don’t you dare hang up on me
  • You f*****g deserved it.
  • You hang up, I’m coming over there.

After listening to the tape Dr. Snyderman completely dismissed what happened and blamed the victim. (Dr. Nancy is a medical doctor who specialized in pediatric ear, nose and throat surgery. Why is she even allowed a national forum to give her opinions about these issues? Nothing in her bio on the Today Show website suggests that she has any knowledge of violence, domestic violence, victim services, psychology, psychiatry, or anger issues). Here’s what she had to say:

This is not to excuse any of the behavior on either side, but she was very passive aggressive. She was baiting him and really knew which buttons to push. She kept pushing, pushing him. When questioned by Meredith, Dr. Nancy clarified by saying She knew how to engage the rage. She was very quiet, used a soft voice. She pushed him, pushed him, pushed him in a very passive aggressive way.

Behavior on either side? Oksana barely said 30 words in the entire recording! Click Read More to see exactly what Oksana said to push his buttons.

Let’s see how she passive aggressively baited him and pushed his buttons.

  • You need medication
  • I can’t listen to this anymore
  • I’ll call the police
  • What kind of man hit’s a woman when she’s holding a child in her hands?

But Dr. Nancy doesn’t stop there. She calls Mel’s behaviors rage, so primordial that you can’t control them and ends the segment by suggesting that this may be the result of brain damage from alcohol abuse, inflammation or a brain tumor.

Judge Pirro had a different take “At the end of the day, I listen to this tape and think, ‘This man is an angry, hateful batterer!’ He beats women. He says ‘You deserve it.’ This is a guy who at the end of the day will be a criminal.”

Dr. Nancy wasn’t the only person on TV defending Mel. On The View, Whoopi Goldberg completely downplayed and dismissed Mel’s behaviors saying “but I know Mel and I know he’s not a racist. He may be a bonehead. I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist, having spent time with him in my house with my kids.” Is that argument any different than me saying I can’t be racist or homophobic because I have black and gay friends? Or my favorite, “Yeah he’s racist, sexist and ignorant, but he’s a good guy.”

Domestic violence, child endangerment, death threats and verbal abuse make someone a bonehead? He admitted, on tape, to hitting her in the face while she was holding their child! He threatened to hit her in the head with a bat, kill her, and bury her in a rose garden!

Violence prevention educators often wonder why people have such firmly entrenched victim blaming and rape myth attitudes. Here’s why. A purported “expert” is allowed to go on national television to talk about something which they know nothing about and blame a victim for the crime.

You can watch the clip Today Show clip on Hulu here.

Update: We’ve had so many hits on the post thanks to our wonderful friends at feministing.com, I want to take advantage of that and hear some of your thoughts about victim blaming. What do you think the average person gets out of victim blaming? Why do it? What is the payoff? Post your thoughts below…

About mensantiviolencecouncil

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27 responses to “Victim blaming on the Today Show

  • Karen

    I am not a doctor, nor am I a national talk show host so my credentials may not qualify me to have an opinion. I only offer 19 years of domestic violence and sexual abuse experience (with both victims and offenders).

    Regardless of what the recipient of these threats and emotionally abusing words ssid, there is no justification for this type of verbal attack. These words serve no purpose but to incite fear and get the victim to bend to the will of the abuser.

    I am aware of the other recent reports of Gibson’a tirades against this woman many years his junior. The misogynistic, threatening and racist tones can logically only be seen as abusive tactics of a person attempting to get and maintain power and control. When these behaviors are examined together it is clear that Gibson is escalating his abusive behaviors that ultimately will result in death if some form of intervention/accountability are not put in place.

    Never should we as a society allow alcoholism and mental health to be used to justify or excuse violence of this type. To hit another person is bad enough but do to do so when that person is holding a child surely we can agree this is dangerous and in-excusable. The response of Dr. Snyderman and Whoopi Goldberg serve the purpose of excusing this behavior, just because this man may have a talent that is valued/valuable we should not minimize his behavior or place responsibility on the victim.

    If one examines the film catalog of Gibson the films either contain gratuitous violence excused by historical necessity, insanity or the character’s violence is provoked justifying the violence. The other movies he has made are a story of a man who uses women and through charm wins the women over in the end of the romanitc comedy (Bird on a Wire, What Women Want). Even in Chicken Run he was a rooster using trickery to get women to do his bidding.

    Unitl we hold all offenders accountable regardless of notariety, this behavior is going to continue. All Snyderman, Goldberg adn other supporters will do is reinforce that dv victims are making too big a deal of violence.

    • Anonymous

      I listened in shock to Dr. Snyderman blame Mel Gibson’s victim. 20 years after being told by my abusive husband that I “made him do it”, that “he had no other way to get me to understand”, I’m concerned that her comments will cause other victims to step back in the dark and not get help. Dr. Nancy needs to apologize to this victim and others for her harmful and thoughtless comments.

    • Scott

      First, thank you for this blog. I just discovered you via Slacktivist.Regarding your qutoiesn: Many years ago, I was involved with a Wiccan group. I had some artistic skill, and enjoyed contributing paintings, props, etc. for rituals. A young woman in the group asked why I didn’t pursue it as a career. I explained that I had planned to, but my parents died when I was in my teens, first Dad when I was 13, Mom when I was 18. What little money they had saved went to Mom’s funeral, and medical bills since she died without insurance. I hadn’t been able to get back on my feet financially, and making a living was hard. She responded, You must not have wanted it bad enough. My first reaction was hurt and anger. I considered her a friend. Why didn’t she sympathize with me? I started to argue, but, truth be told, I was attracted to her. So I bit my tongue. I began to rationalize. I had struggled with depression for quite a while. I had spent many days where getting up and out the door felt like a battle. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was playing some poor me victim game. It still hurt. I never told her how I felt. I left the group some time later under bad circumstances. That was 18 years ago. I have had similar comments from mundane folk as well, mostly conservatives. On bad days, I believe they are right.

  • mensantiviolencecouncil

    Batterers have enough twisted excuses when it comes to minimizing the violence and denying responsibility. They certainly don’t need Dr. Nancy on tv spouting this nonsense too. Luckily, most non-batterers that I meet who hold victim blaming attitudes or rape myth ideas, hold them superficially. Most merely repeat them without ever considering the implications or impact. Those are the people that we can have some good conversations with and educate about the impact of their statements.

    I think the least that they should do is have her apologize. Then they need to invite victim service providers on to have a real discussion about these behaviors and attitudes. The very least they should do is screen their panel to make sure that they know what they are talking about!

  • alice smith

    I’m a survivor of domestic violence and a survivor of ‘victim blaming’. It makes me feel sick to hear people in the media minimize and even justify those phone calls. Domestic Violence is a serious problem. It’s not less criminal to hit someone you know! NO ONE deserves to be talked to the way he talked to her – those tapes are the voice of an abusive and dangerous man. Just because his ex-wife hasn’t complained about abuse doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – millions of women suffer in silence – afraid and ashamed to tell anyone. Oksana was smart to tape his calls – they’re evidence and I applaud the person who released them – I don’t see it as an act of retaliation, I see as an act of resistance to abuse.

    A.L. Smith – author of ‘Sleeping with a Psychopath’.
    -

  • Anonymous

    Victim Blaming is just a another manifestation/symptom/sign of the Tu quoque fallacy (aka “NO U”) which is trait commonly found in capitalist society. Also the media minimizing and even justifying the abuse is just further proof of it.

    It’s exactly the same where children reverse and shift the blame on others by pointing fingers and saying “s/he did it” as a attempt to avoid getting in trouble by their parents and this carries on to adulthood as if they never grew up or as (I said before) if it’s another symptom of capitalist society due to it’s (broken) individualistic mechanics how our society works.

    • Anonymous

      Overall, Mel Gibson and the Media are bunch of 9 year old children sticking their tongues out and pointing fingers at the victim saying “she did it” as a attempt to go unpunished so Mel can abuse more women which is like a murderer or rapist going unpunished so they can kill/rape more people.

      What a sick society we live in.

  • Rick

    Good lord. As if you didn’t get enough of this sort of nonsense from Youtube comments, now there are professionals saying it too?

    This sort of thing fries me more than anything I can think of.

  • mensantiviolencecouncil

    I just don’t understand the automatic attempts to discredit and blame victims. What purpose does victim blaming serve someone who is not affected by the case or crime? For some it preserves a “just world hypothesis” and others their sense of invulnerability to violence. Some people just spend so much energy coming up with excuses for why someone “deserved” what they got. Why? Wouldn’t it be easier to just assume the accused did it and look for evidence that supports or refutes the claim? The Gibson case is even more clear. There are tapes of him threatening to kill her and admitting that he hit her. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just assume he is guilty? Does victim blaming really make people feel safer or superior?

    • Jeanette

      “Does victim blaming really make people feel safer or superior?”

      I think this is it exactly. All of us, maybe women especially, deal with a lot that makes us feel unsafe (catcalling, various types of harassment at work, ever-present fear of rape, etc.) that anything that gives the illusion of control is very, very tempting, even if it’s totally irrational.

  • Athenia

    Thank you for speaking out about this–normally I love Dr. Synderman, but I was completely *shocked* by what she said.

  • 14545

    victim blaming in the most classic sense, my abuser used to say if i hadn’t provoked him he wouldn’t have beat me up . i cannot believe this woman.

  • Tessa

    Thank you for making me aware of this, it is really disturbing. At the bottom of this page that is linked below you can contact The Today Show and let them know victim-blaming is not okay and credible sources are deserved in all stories:

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/29055142/

    ^(CONTACT THE TODAY SHOW)

  • elmiragultch

    I’m disappointed to hear that Whoopi sides with him (or at least defends him). It reminds of the saddness I feel when people support Roman Polanski just because he’s talented. Just because they didnt assualt YOU doesn’t mean they’re good people. I dont know how anyone could say Mel isn’t racist and abusive at this point.

  • Cactus Wren

    There is a whole category of urban legends based on the concept of being in some sense prepared ahead of time for some danger, so that it can only affect other people:

    http://www.snopes.com/crime/gangs/lightsout.asp: “If I don’t flash my headlights at oncoming cars I won’t be attacked by street gangs”.

    http://www.snopes.com/rumors/perfume.asp: “If I don’t try free perfume samples I get in the mail I won’t be poisoned”.

    http://www.snopes.com/rumors/mallrisk.asp and http://snopes.com/rumors/warning.asp: “If I stay away from such-and-such a place on such-and-such a date I’ll be safe from terrorism”.

    Victim-blaming, I suspect, can arise from the same notion: *I* know better, so *I* am safe. Other people are at risk, but not me: *I* know better than to try the perfume samples, *I* know better than to go to the mall on Halloween, *I* know better than to push a man’s buttons (or alternately, *I* know better than to let any loudmouthed bitch push my buttons). As Mensantiv pointed out, it’s a way of both preserving one’s own illusion of safety and clinging to the equally illusory notion of a just world: *I* am safe, *I* am protected. Bad things can happen to *other* people, to uninformed or unwary people, but not to *me*.

  • Tapati

    It is so much easier to blame the victims, I think, because as a society we have no clue what to do with the violent men. We’ve written them off. So we focus on things like why women stay, what they said to bring on the violence, and so on.

    As a survivor of domestic violence I do a lot of writing about the issue and when I talk to people about it they invariably dismiss batterers as incurable.

    I just don’t believe that. It isn’t easy to face down that kind of rage and anger but I sense that underneath it, every time, is a ton of hurt that the abuser feels he can’t face. With help, it can be done and it has been done.

    It’s also important to reach out to troubled boys from backgrounds with violence and alcoholism and help them before they grow up to be violent men.

  • cabaret voltaire

    At this point, any evidence of domestic abuse is pure speculation. Also, there are reports she tried to extort 10 million dollars from him. Still, no excuse for his behaviour, but lets not make her out to be some victimized angel.

    As for the comment above. If we teach young boys not to engage in violence, we also must teach girls not to engage in a similar behaviour. For some reason a fallacy exists that only men are abusive.

    • mensantiviolencecouncil

      There are all kinds of reports, including the kind you mentioned, which would all fall under the category of speculation. We have no way of knowing whether or not the reports you mentioned are any more legitimate than the pictures she has of damage to her front teeth. That’s not what we are discussing. The purpose of the post was to shed light on how people, even purported experts, despite a tape that included a death threat, verbal abuse and an admittance of physical abuse immediately created excuses for why the victim must be to blame. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear those tapes is not “What did she do to deserve this and how can we make her somewhat responsible.” It is “Why did he choose to abuse her?” Just because she doesn’t meet your definition of “victimized angel” isn’t part of the discussion.

      No one who does any work with violence, victims or survivors claims that only men are violent. You are creating an argument where one doesn’t exist. There are plenty of people who need to learn about healthy relationships. However, we engage men and boys, because they have largely been ignored when it came to prevention efforts. If they were engaged it was mainly as potential perpetrators, not potential allies. Men need to be involved if we want to make our communities safer. If you want to have a discussion about the evidence for gendered violence, we can have that too.

  • mensantiviolencecouncil

    The problem with the idea of the “perfect” victim is that there isn’t one. Everyone’s definition of appropriate behavior, dress, attitudes, language, etc. are so different, people could blame the same victim for completely different reasons, none of which have to make any sense. “Well, you wouldn’t have had your car stolen, if you didn’t own a car.” What sense does that make? How does focusing on what the victim did address the real issue, prevent it from happening again or hold the perpetrator accountable? It doesn’t. Victim blaming sidetracks the conversation and places the attention on the wrong party. The person or people responsible for violence and abuse are the people who chose to perpetrate it.

  • JimII

    I think you have to look at things differently depending on whether you are the victim or an outsiders. If you are the victim–of physical abuse, systematic discrimination by race, gender, religion, etc.–you much rise up and overcome it. You have to say, “I’m going to be strong in spite of this.” On the other hand, if you are a witness to these things, you have to fight the injustice or the wrongdoing. Unfortunately, those on the outside often take the easy road of telling the victim to be stronger–which admittedly, the victim must do for herself, or himself–because this doesn’t put any responsibility on the outsider.

    • mensantiviolencecouncil

      When discussing these issues with “outsiders” I always try to get them to consider what actions they took to help support the victim or survivor as they were navigating this difficult time. There are many ways to offer support, but there are also many ways to harm the victim, by blaming them, ignoring or denying it is a problem or trying to force them to take the course of action that you think is the best. I’m not sure why it is so hard for some people to empathize with victims and recognize that sometimes bad things happen to good people and they may need some support to get back on their feet.

  • lc

    Im insenced and disgusted by anyone- male or female- trying to justify or excuse his behavior. All these “experts” (lets roll our eyes on some of them, Dr Drew, etc) keep saying that he needs “help” and should be forgiven. Why are we so hell bent on fixing this behavior? I have female friends that arent outraged at this behavior. This last tape (7/20) clearly shows she is an articulate, sane woman who is in fear of her life and has had it with this long-term behavior. I dont care what she looks like or if she has fake boobs or what she does…she deserves respect like any other woman. Being a Jewish woman I was disgusted by that first arrest. But he doesnt single out the Jewish people anymore. He really makes a mockery of everything he stands for.

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  • Dana

    Why do people blame the victim? Because they haven’t experienced similar abuse and they don’t understand the concept of boundaries. These are the same women who had better count their lucky stars that they haven’t been a victim of abuse – because it is attitudes like theirs that make them prime targets of abusers. That means YOU Whoopi and Dr.!

    If Whoopi and the Dr. HAD boundaries – then they would understand that under no circumstance should a man threaten to kill a woman… PERIOD. Under no circumstance should a man hit a woman (child in her hand or not) … PERIOD (self defense is an exception).

    So, Whoopi and Dr., if you read this – go study domestic violence thoroughly – and get yourselves some BOUNDARIES before you both become victims some day.

  • Corinne

    I stand in total disbelief that these powerful women make excuses for men to ABUSE women. Im so thankful to see many mens organizations seeing the serious problem we have and I THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP! We need programs in schools for boys to learn that violence is not how to get the girl =)

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