Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Harvey Weinstein

Toxic Culture: The Significance and Damage of Victim Blaming


By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, Gwen Crider, and Dr. Chris Kilmartin

Dr. Kilmartin wrote and provided the powerful thoughts in this week’s article.  

One of the questions asked by outside observers of sexual harassment or assault victims is, “Why did the person take such a long time to come forward to talk about the incident?”

An excellent question.  A prevailing thought is that, “If this happened to me, I would have spoken up right away and taken care of the SOB.”

Not so fast, at least until you have walked in someone else’s shoes. Labeled “Victim Blaming,” this belief is holding the target of maltreatment or violence partially or wholly responsible for their own victimization.

Victim blaming is a psychological security operation.  “If I can find one thing that the victim did, and attribute the maltreatment to it, and I avoid that behavior, nobody will victimize me.”  

For sexual harassment or assault, Victim Blaming is rampant and an unconscious strategy for dis-identifying with the victim.  Common versions of victim blaming include the attributions that a woman was mistreated/assaulted because:

  • She is immoral.
  • She has poor judgment.
  • She accompanied the offender to the site of the attack.
  • She consensually kissed the offender and/or flirted with him.
  • She drank too much (people attribute more blame to a victim the more they are told that she drank; people attribute less blame to the offender the more they are told he drank).
  • She dressed provocatively.
  • It’s easier for her to “cry rape” than to look like a slut.
  • She liked it at the time but regretted it the next day.
  • She didn’t struggle or say no (up to 40% or more of assault victims show a “tonic immobility” or “freeze” response, which is an involuntary brain response rendering them physically unable to resist or speak).

Rose McGowen, the first woman, and well-known actress to bring rape charges against the now infamous Harvey Weinstein, described exactly this response.  She writes in her recently published memoir, Brave, “I did what so many who experience trauma do, I disassociated and left my body. Detached from my body, I hover up under the ceiling, watching myself sitting on the edge of the tub, against a wall, held in place by the Monster whose face is between my legs, trapped by a beast. In this tiny room with this huge man, my mind is blank. Wake up Rose; get out of here.”

Victim blaming is fueled by the Belief in a Just World: the belief that people get what they deserve.  It is a denial that sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Again, this belief maintains a false sense of security.  If I think of myself as a good person, nobody will victimize me.

Examples of Belief in a Just World (alternative explanations in parentheses):

  • A person is poor because they are lazy (as opposed to disadvantaged).
  • A person is rich because they are smart and worked hard (as opposed to being privileged and inheriting wealth).
  • A person needs extensive dental work because they haven’t taken good care of their teeth (as opposed to having a biological predisposition for dental problems).

When we encounter evidence that the world is not a just place, we either act to restore justice or maintain our belief in a just world and thereby blame the victim.

When people describe assaults in passive voice and/or language that focuses mainly on the target of maltreatment, victim blaming is more likely.  For example, in the sentence “she was attacked,” the person who attacked her does not even appear in the sentence.

Victims often become adept at blaming themselves for the same reason.  If I do not do that behavior again, I will be safe.  Many times victims become experts at blaming themselves and do not need help from others.

Many times, victims are seeking support from friends, family members, professionals, but if they are punished for their experience(s), the trauma and ultimately the ability to recover quickly, if at all may not occur.

We welcome your thoughts and comments. Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change. Please send them to WATExplorer@gmail.com and we will publish them. Thanks!

Toxic Culture: The #MeToo Movement


By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, Gwen Crider, and Dr. Chris Kilmartin

The #metoo movement exploded on social media shortly after Harvey Weinstein’s fall from his powerful position as the “movie maker” mogul creating Oscar-winning actors and movies. But long before this watershed event, women were harassed and assaulted, and it was perilous for many of them to challenge the prevailing thought that the victim was not telling the truth. 

What follows is an unfortunate, but all too typical, scenario.

Three women sit next to each other in the prescription alcove at the grocery store,  not knowing each other, but waiting to hear the number announcing their medicine is ready to be picked up. The oldest of the three, late forties, is neatly dressed in a grey wool sweater and matching slacks. Flipping through the newspaper, she pauses on a photo of a famous female celebrity standing in front of a #metoo sign.

“I just don’t get this #metoo movement,” she exclaims out loud. “I’ve been married for 15 years, my husband and I have a good relationship. Okay, sometimes men have whistled at me, but no one has ever crossed the line. Do you really think most women have experienced harassment?” she asks of no one in particular. 

“Well, I’m an emergency room nurse,” the second woman says. She has black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and is wearing a sweatshirt, blue jeans, and running sneakers. She yawns. “I had the night shift last night. I patched up five women two because of their possessive boyfriends, one because of a jealous husband, and two others whose stories I didn’t learn. The women were ashamed to tell even the police the names of the men who assaulted them. What depresses me is that even since the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, the women keep coming through the door with swollen lips, cuts, bruises, and more.” 

“Do you know how #metoo came about?” inquires the first woman. “I have two daughters and a son. Even though it hasn’t happened to me, if this is as widespread as you suggest, I would like to educate my kids about this kind of behavior.”

The third women, wearing sunglasses, a black pullover, black slacks, and, until now silent, sarcastically asks, “Seriously, you think? Have you checked their social media lately?”

“No kidding,” explains the nurse. “Trust me, your kids are seeing and hearing things that’ll make your mind spin! Actually, the #metoo thing goes back a good while to a civil rights activist who was working to help victims get over the pain of sexual trauma. She was really ahead of her time. I think her name was Tarana Burke.  Then that actress, Alyssa Milano, who accused Harvey Weinstein, encouraged women to tweet the #metoo phrase to show how huge the problem is. It took off like wildfire. Over 32 million people worldwide have posted online, and lots of them added their own story of being harassed or assaulted. #Metoo has been a game changer for sure and women now have their voice. The other really good news is the support that is growing among `good men’ who want to help drive the change, which Is awesome!”

“Opps, the pharmacist just called my number, so gotta’ go,” says the first woman. “But thanks for talking with me about this. I will be sure to teach my children about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, what to say and do. Have a nice afternoon.”

The third women stared straight ahead as the older woman left, then turns to face the nurse, slowly removing her sunglasses. Her left eye is swollen shut, and the skin around it is black and blue. “Please help me,” she asks through tears.

From Author Dr. Chris Kilmartin:  I think this issue is framed really well. I’m starting to see the expected backlash now, some of it coming from women basically saying, “boys will be boys; women just need to get over it.” It’s always easier to tell women what to do, than it is to expect men to be decent human beings. And the people missing from the conversation are the good men, those in the vast majority, who are not confronting other men on their behavior. It’s MLK Day and I just saw a quote from him saying that he was more disappointed in the White moderate than in the KKK.  I think there’s a parallel there in that we have a lot of passive men who are afraid of confronting their friends and colleagues on their sexism and/or don’t know what to do. This is an eminently solvable problem.

The preceding is based on Kilmartin, C. T. (2017).  Male allies to women.  In J. Schwarz (Ed.), Counseling women across the lifespan: Empowerment, advocacy, and intervention. New York: Springer.


We welcome your thoughts and comments. Each contributes to the conversation which is the key to understanding and culture change. Please send them to WATExplorer@gmail.com and we will publish them. Thanks!

In our past article – How Shall the Punishment Fit the Crime? – we learned about the Red, Yellow, and Green Light way of evaluating sexist behavior. Then, we “listened in” as three men were presented with various scenarios and had to decide what color light should be assigned to each situation. One episode involved replacing the face of a bikini-clad Miss Universe with that of a female employee. Other examples dealt with compliments – what’s appropriate, what goes too far. Here are some reader comments:

1) Head on an image – what if someone put a guy’s head on Miss Universe? Is that demeaning? These days with software being what it is, people superimpose faces on all sorts of images. I think the key for me would be consent. If a person (woman or man) agreed to the gag or was routinely part of the joking around, then this should be a yellow not a red. Use caution, common sense, and assess context. 

The compliment is really tough. I routinely, for example, compliment women and men. Am I guilty of abuse? I think that people enjoy being told something positive about themselves and I have the philosophy that you can always find something nice to say to someone and brighten their day. Often it is related to them personally. People appreciate simple comments. It’s not intended to be abusive or sexist or discriminatory. I think there is a difference between acknowledging politely (and professionally) a new hairdo or tie or shirt – and something like “you look hot today,” which can be considered inappropriate. I worry that any personal interaction is coming under negative scrutiny. It’s the human element that makes the world – otherwise we will all just become machines. Saying something politely and nicely shouldn’t be negative. 

Thanks for this continuous stream of thoughtful dialogue in your articles!

2) The traffic light analogy is a provocative way to frame behavior. Thinking about your examples, and depending on your point of view, it might be that yellow light should not only be caution but thought of as seriously approaching red. But serious caution is called for. I like this analogy because it is simple, and can be used in a lot of different  situations.