Dear Senator Claire McCaskill,
While I applaud the accountability for one’s words and actions that was at the center of the Senate hearing on false advertising for weight loss products, I wonder if it didn’t do more harm than good. Specifically, I am concerned about your statement on his victimization:
“I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim. I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized quite as frequently.”
Those were your words to Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” during the June 17, 2014 hearing held on Capitol Hill.
Sometimes conduct invites being a victim? Since when? If you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized? Since when? When is any type of victimization justifiable? No one has the right to make anyone a victim.
Senator McCaskill, you have been a politician since I was five years old. Your name has been a household name very nearly my entire life. I’ve followed your career, looking up to you as a woman to be respected. Your path has cleared the way for other women to advance to positions of power.
I was pleased with your reaction and commentary following Todd Akin’s infamous remarks about “legitimate rape” and cast my 2012 vote in your favor partly as a result of that controversy. A corporate relocation meant it would probably be the last time I would vote as a Missouri resident. I wanted my vote to put those I was leaving behind in a good place, with representation that would matter, for someone who I felt had women’s and people’s interest at the forefront of their decisions – no easy feat for a politician. And while I don’t regret my vote, I’m pained that the lesson of careless words may not have been a lesson learned.
With power comes responsibility. That’s a fact, and one you quoted during the hearing with Dr. Oz. I believe you were irresponsible with your power yesterday, Senator McCaskill, and with that comes great consequences. While you chastised Dr. Oz for being irresponsible with his words, you were with yours.Your words could become the bully’s justification.
Dr. Oz maintained that his words were adulterated and used without his permission, that he was a victim of power and money hungry companies willing to put people’s health and lives at risk for the almighty dollar. You words, too, could be used out of context, and the consequences wouldn’t be someone not losing the weight promised in an advertisement.
People are being punched in the face at red lights. Those targeted are chosen because they have their vehicle windows rolled down. The words of a U.S. senator become justification for police indifference: “I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim. I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized.”
There’s a woman sitting on a park bench eating a banana and a man sees this and forces his penis in her mouth. His rationale is she looked like she wanted something long and hard in her mouth. She reports it to the police, who then respond, “I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim. I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized.”
A man exits his home, locks his door, and gets in his car. After he’s started the engine, he remembers he’s left his lunch on the kitchen counter. He then gets out of his car, leaving it running, and re-enters his house through the garage door by using the external keypad. Someone sees this, gets in the man’s car, and drives away. When questioned by the insurance claims adjuster as to how the car was so easily stolen, the man admits to leaving it running while he ran inside for just a moment. The claims adjuster then ends the conversation by saying, “I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim. I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized.”
A female college student reports a rape following a party. Campus authorities take her statement and refer her to counseling. She tells the counselor that she was wearing a sundress and heels, and had consumed a few alcoholic beverages preceding the rape. The counselor then dismisses her experience by saying, “I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim. I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized.”
Bullying, physical and sexual assault, rape, fraud, burglary, and more are all a very sad fact of life. Too often victims are blamed for the actions of their attackers. What you did yesterday was blame the victim. Your statement bolstered the argument of perpetrators. Victim-blaming is a rampant epidemic in this country, and many others. The door for victim-blamers needs to be shut, not propped wide open.
No victim ever in the history of victims deserved or earned the action against them that turned them into a victim. Not a single one. Not the victim of bullying, or the victim of assault, or the victim of rape, or the victim of fraud, or the victim of burglary, or any other victim of any other injustice. There are no varying degrees of victimization. Victims are victims and are not to blame for the wrongs done unto them.
You can’t take your words back. It’s too late for that. They’re everywhere now. You were filmed during the hearing, and that camera caught you in a moment of carelessness. I understand that in the heat of the moment it’s possible to talk without thinking, but you don’t get that luxury. You are on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, six years a term.
I’m worried for the future of victims, and have been for a while, but I’m more worried now than I was previously. Your words did not help the cause; they did not help anyone – anyone other than those seeking to excuse their bad behavior against others as other’s fault.
I hope you will take a moment and consider the ramifications of your words on Capitol Hill, that you will take greater care in the future to consider the consequences of your statements.
Featured Image – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill by richiec (CC BY-SA 2.0)
*Thank you to my Mom, an extraordinary writer whose level I hope to someday reach, for taking the time to provide feedback and edits on this letter. I listened to most of them.
**The ads (which may appear) below are not mine, but they keep this free for me. Do with them as you choose.