“Blaming the Victim”
Blaming the victim is a major problem in our society today and has been for a long time. In the late 1970’s through the 1980’s there was an infamous case of a man named Joel Steinberg who abused his girlfriend and two illegally “adopted” children. When one of the children ends up dead, Joel and his girlfriend are both originally charged as criminals. What the detectives failed to see was that his girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum, was a victim. She was afraid of Steinberg and what he would do to her if she told anyone what had happened to little Lisa.
The short version of what happened is this: Joel gave Lisa a devastating blow to the back of the head that knocked her unconscious. He carried Lisa to the bathroom and lay her down on the floor then went out to dinner with some friends. Joel told Hedda that he would get Lisa up when he got home. Hedda was abused to the point that she had broken ribs and she had to ask permission to eat. She was afraid to call 9-1-1 because she didn’t want to show distrust or a lack of loyalty to Joel. Instead, she would check on Lisa in the bathroom and make sure she was still breathing. She never called 9-1-1. When Joel got home later that night, he went in to check on Lisa and she stopped breathing shortly after. Joel called 9-1-1 and had Lisa rushed to the hospital. By the time Lisa got to the hospital she was already brain dead and was put on life support. Lisa was taken off of life support and died immediately two days later. At this point, Joel was charged with 2nd degree murder and it was shortly after this that the prosecutors realized that Hedda was in the same position as little Lisa had been. She was being abused and was afraid to call 9-1-1. Hedda was granted immunity for her testimony against Joel.
Society likes to blame victims of abuse for their abuse because they don’t leave their abusers. The fact of the matter is that when someone is being abused, they hope that the abuse will stop. They hope that their abuser will change. They realize that the beatings are sporadic and they just “deal” with the beatings. Abused women sometimes stay with their abusers due to a lack of resources. In all honesty, in New York City (Manhattan specifically) there are currently at least 20 domestic violence shelters in New York City. Unfortunately, I am an unable to find out how many there were 30 years ago. Victims of domestic violence also stay with their abusers is a lack of finances. Before Nussbaum was abused, she was a children’s book author and illustrator. She wrote two children’s books and had great potential. Unfortunately, she was fired shortly after the abuse began due to her shoddy attendance at work; granted, her lack of attendance was due to the abuse. Since she was fired from her job, she did not have her own income and had no money to be able to support herself without Steinberg. Another thing that may have kept her there was the children. She wanted to be able to comfort the children and she knew that escaping with the children wasn’t a possibility so instead of leaving the children to deal with the abuse on their own, she stayed with them to comfort them when the abuse happened. There are many reasons that an abused woman stays with her abuser and, unfortunately, society doesn’t see many of these reasons unless it is a person who has been in the situation before.
Nussbaum was blamed for her abuse because she didn’t leave. She was blamed in part for the death of Lisa because she didn’t call 9-1-1. She was blamed for the abuse of the baby in the house as well because she never called anyone. The reality is that Nussbaum was a victim herself and was afraid, may not have had the resources she needed, and wanted to stay with the children. Nussbaum had nothing to do with the death of Lisa. She did what she could to help her after Steinberg hit her. However, at the same time, Nussbaum didn’t want to do anything that would anger Steinberg and make him abuse her or either of the children again that night.
Blaming the victim is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. It seems like the only way to get people to not “blame the victim” for their abuse and neglect is to educate them, or for a person to be in the situation for themselves. This is a very difficult social problem that needs to be dealt with and fixed. On average, 1,500 women are murdered every year as a result of domestic violence. This should not even be a statistic and unfortunately when most people see this, they will say, “Why didn’t she leave?”