Blaming the victim

I read an article called Rescued Dog Bites NBC Anchor In the Face.  In the article, I read these important ideas:

  • “Basically, she did everything wrong,” Ron Berman, a canine behavior specialist, told NBC. “She went up to a dog she didn’t know–who didn’t know her–and she either tried to kiss him or hug him or put her face too close to his face. He felt threatened and bit her.”
  • But animal experts say it was Dyer [the anchorwoman who got bit] who was really at fault.
  • “The dog was trying to tell her, ‘I am going to bite you,'” Colleen Safford, a prominent New York-based dog trainer, told Yahoo News.

Let’s just pretend for a moment that the tables were turned.

What if the article was called Rescued Dog Stabbed by NBC Anchor in the Face, and it read something like this:

  • Basically, the dog did everything wrong.  He wagged his tail at a woman he didn’t know.  He ran up to her and placed his paw on her knee.  She felt threatened and stabbed him in the face with her pocket knife.
  • Human experts say it was the dog who was really at fault.
  • The anchorwoman was trying to tell the dog, ‘I am going to stab you’.

Would that anchorwoman have a job tomorrow?

Absolutely not.

What actually happened isn’t the anchorwoman’s fault any more than it would have been the dog’s fault if the tables were turned.  (Incidentally, it seems to me that if dogs have become as important as humans, the dog should be as responsible as the human would be if the tables were turned.  And if there are any complaints that the dog wouldn’t understand human behaviors, I would wonder why we say the human who stabbed the dog was responsible for understanding the dog behaviors.)

Even if the dog growled, even if the anchorwoman leaned in close, even if the anchorwoman tried to hug a dog she didn’t know, none of this means the dog biting her was her fault.

If I said to you, “I’m going to beat you up if you come one step closer,” and you come one step closer, I guarantee you I am going to be the responsible one in the eyes of the judge.  You may have been very foolish, but you did not somehow mystically “make” me beat you up.

Now, this story is about a dog, and dogs aren’t responsible the same way humans are.  Dogs are dogs.  They can be sweet and they can be vicious, but they’re not “evil”–or “good”.  They are not “moral agents”.  The dog is responsible for biting, but he certainly did not mean to be wicked.

But what about me?  Am I a moral agent?  If I am, I am doubly responsible when I do wrong: not just for doing wrong but for knowing I was doing wrong even if someone tries to provoke me to do wrong.

If someone else is somehow responsible for provoking us to do evil, then where would the line of responsibility be drawn?

In a make-believe story, suppose I go to MacDonald’s and order a cheeseburger.  I overhear the customer in front of me ordering their cheeseburger with extra mustard.  I hate mustard.  I have an allergy to mustard.  My mom used to make me eat mustard and I hate it.  So I immediately kill the person in front of me so I won’t have to think about mustard anymore.



But it’s no more justifiable to say I killed someone because they were unkind to me, or blackmailed me, or stole from me, or slapped me in the face.  Those are all bad things, yes, and there are consequences for them, but the other person’s bad behavior does not somehow entitle me to worse behavior.

It doesn’t entitle me to bad behavior at all, in fact.

I wouldn’t blame a dog for not knowing that . . but I would blame myself.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NIV)


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