It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot. “She’s playing the victim card.” “He was victimized by…”

As a side note, I’m still waiting for my deck of Victim Cards. I hope there’s some rares in it, I paid enough for the damn things.

Ok, I thought I was going to make it through this post without swearing, but no deal, folks. Because what the past year has made abundantly clear is that people cannot fucking correctly identify the goddamn victim in a narrative. And that makes me sad as a writer, an editor and a human being.

1. a person or thing that suffers harm, death, etc, from another or from some adverse act, circumstance, etc: victims of tyranny
2. a person who is tricked or swindled; dupe
3. a living person or animal sacrificed in a religious rite

Ok. Now that the definition is on the table, let’s talk about what isn’t a victim. A person who is suffering adverse consequences for a volitional act. Let me back that up a little for you: Not everyone who is suffering is a victim of something.

Victims are people who need protection. One way that society protects victims is with police. For example, if someone beats you up and robs you and then is arrested and goes to jail, you are the victim. Your attacker is a criminal being punished. Not the victim. Right? Ok.

Let’s get more complex. Another way that society protects victims is by creating social consequences for the attacker. This fills the gap between “things that are no big deal” and “things that should have legal consequences.”

Here’s how that works. Say you’re at a party. You’ve had a little too much to drink and you say you like a Taylor Swift song. (It’s okay. We’ve all done it. You’re fine.) Some woman starts screaming at you that Taylor Swift is the devil and you are the worst person in the world and how dare you contemplate having children. Now, there’s nothing legally punishable about what she’s doing. There’s no point in wasting police time with this. Instead, her friends grab her arms and pull her back, telling her to chill the fuck out. The host doesn’t invite her back to his next party because she can’t be trusted. No-one else at that party invites her over either.

You guys, she feels bad. She feels really bad and sad because nobody likes her. But she’s not being bullied by anyone. She’s just suffering the social consequences of her bad acts.

When someone does something actually wrong, and is shunned or mocked for that, that’s not bullying. That’s society’s natural antibody for antisocial behavior. It can be easy to confuse the two if you’re not paying attention, though, because from a mile off they look pretty similar: a whole bunch of people on one side and a single person on the other. Here, visual aid time:


I know your first instinct is to see that red dot as a helpless baby bird and come to its rescue.

save the fuck out of me, I'm not actually going to do well!

save the fuck out of me, I’m not actually going to do well!

But dial it back, there, Danger Mouse. Sometimes when one person is insisting on a position and two hundred thousand are saying they’re wrong? They’re wrong. You have to look at the actual positions. Way more people are a Unabomber than a Galileo, I’m sorry to say. Before you blindly jump in to defend someone who is being repeatedly told that they’ve done something horrible, please. Stop to ask yourself: was the thing horrible? Because it’s entirely possible that it was. It’s not only possible, but probable, that if a broad and diverse community of people is saying that a person’s acts, which that person has acknowledged, are pretty fucking terrible? Well. The red dot starts looking a little more, uh…



Nixon: Not the victim of a huge journalistic slander campaign.

Other non-victims: George Zimmerman. Eric Casebolt. Tim Hunt. Justine Sacco. Rachel Dolezal.

People who are victims: Every woman in STEM that has been denied a position because Tim Hunt was responsible for reviewing applications and hates women in the lab. Michael Brown. Taja DeJeus. Ty Underwood. Lamia Beard.

Society can and should protect victims of abuse and bullying. Before you jump in to do that, make sure you’ve identified the victim correctly and aren’t just supporting the bully because you don’t like the odds. The odds should disfavor bullies. They should be aware that society strongly disapproves of their actions and they should feel the social consequences of those actions.

The only people afraid of “call-out culture” are people who know they should be called out and don’t want to change their behavior.