Addressing the Myth of the “Perfect Victim”

By Oviasuyi Glory | Nov 21, 2023
TW: Sexual assault, Abuse

“Our brains immediately go to all the things we know about this person. We ask ourselves, does she really deserve it?” - Dr Laura Robinson

When Tolani turned 20, on her birthday, she went out with a friend. He was really nice at the time or so she thought. She states that he wanted to take her out to celebrate the big day. They stopped by his house and that was when things took an ugly turn. 

She says; 

“He wanted us to go out and celebrate the big day. He just seemed nice at the time and I considered him a friend.  We stopped by his house and then he just started telling me he liked me and wanted us to be together. Then he just reached out and kissed me. I did not want to kiss him and pulled away but in that moment, I was genuinely afraid.

 He looked like such a totally different person with this look in his eyes.  At this point, he had locked the door and he had this big ferocious dog in his compound. So I just allowed him to kiss  and touch me. I was so scared. When he eventually let me leave, I was going to report him, then all these thoughts suddenly flooded me. 

What will you say when they ask you why you followed him to his house? What were you expecting? I just suddenly doubted myself. I know what its like to see people just discredit the truth. I guess I just was not ready, so I let it go. I wish I didn’t but I just saw no other way.” 

For Ebose, she was a victim of domestic abuse. He would often hit her and this led to family mediation a couple of times. However, when she began to protect herself and hit him back, she was chastised and told that she was wrong. 

She says

“He would hit me and I would just take it, but when I started to throw words back at him and protect myself by hitting him back, I was suddenly the problem. I was told I had a sharp mouth and brought it upon myself. They termed me an aggressor. What did you do to him they would ask. So I just stopped telling them what he was doing to me.”

The examples above show how ‘the perfect victim’ trope  continues to silence victims. Society has an obsession with victims being perfect. There is such an erroneous portrayal of what a victim should look and act like to be seen as worthy, believable and credible. This is very dangerous to the overall safety of women and girls and the pursuit of justice for victims. 

When 21 year old Augusta Osedion was reportedly murdered by her boyfriend of three years, Benjamin Best – known also as Killaboi, it sent a shockwave across the country. However within days, several outlets and people began to suddenly stir up stories about her.  

She was branded a model and a girl who was involved with a ‘yahoo boy’.  It was a deliberate attempt to paint her as an imperfect victim who had no one but herself to blame and was directly responsible for her death. That she had sought out the fast life and paid the ultimate price with her life. 

Within days, her story was used in a very sick and twisted attempt at further cautionary tales to other women. The spotlight has been continuously on her and not her killer who confessed to his crime. It took the police months before they would even release a statement on the murderer and it will take further interventions by Nigerians on social media mounting further pressure on the police to take action. 

The problem with parroting the perfect victim trope is that it puts women and girls at risk. It is very much rooted in victim blaming. Victims are reluctant to pursue justice because it casts so much aspersions on their character and because it seeks to silence them. Even in death, there is no relief of justice. 

The perfect victim story portrays that for victims to be considered ‘true victims’,  they must be  irreproachable, devoid of mistakes  and meet certain societal standards.  

Why are only women held to these standards? Why does society get to choose who should be victims?

Dr Laura Robinson, a Researcher at Duke University, believes that there is the obsession with finding people worthy.  

Robinson says; 

“Caring about and helping someone requires effort.  People are prone to thinking that if we are going to extend effort for someone, it had better be really worth it, they better deserve it and they better be good people. I see this all the time with women who have been abused.” 

She added that people gather information about a person and decide if they are worthy. 

“Our brains immediately go to all the things we know about this person. We ask ourselves, does she really deserve it?” She added.

There is so much misogyny when it comes to treating issues affecting women. Society holds women to much different and higher standards. There is a certain expectation of perfection and virtuousness from women. When these expectations are not met by victims, they are branded as undeserving. 

Society must begin to re – evaluate the way it treats victims. Over time, victims have often been treated with so much disdain and lack of empathy. Justice for victims remain elusive when it keeps parroting ‘the perfect victim’ story. 

We must continue to push back at discussions undermining victims. With every question asking why a woman was alone with a man, what she could have said to be hit or why she was murdered, we must continue to challenge these  erroneous narratives. This  narrative only serves to protect the abuser. 

The perfect victim story puts so much burden on the victims who risk so much to have their voices heard. We must therefore encourage more women to speak up and actually stand by them. We must also shred the idea of ‘the perfect victim’ because it does not exist. It is a myth conjured to protect abusers and dangerous men. 

I don’t see how we can make real progress if we don’t get rid of the idea of the perfect victim. We have to get rid of the idea that some people deserve life, safety and kindness more than others,” Dr Robinson added.

The rights of women are enshrined in the constitution. The fundamental human rights of women as human beings. This should be enough, and not the worthiness scale that society seeks to continually measure women on. 

There are no perfect victims, just victims.