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All aboard the victimhood bandwagon

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IT SEEMS as if almost everyone wants to be a victim these days – except real victims. Somehow we have become a society in which victimhood is our most valuable currency. Yet those who earn the most from this, in terms of status, fame and bank balance, are nearly always not actually victims at all. 

Identity politics is the driving force behind this grievance Olympics. The more marginalised and discriminated against you present yourself to be, the more you are listened to and the more immune you become from criticism. I give you Meghan Markle’s Oprah interview!

Modern ‘victimhood’ bestows a type of moral superiority. However the problem is that ‘being a victim’ has become an elastic catch-all concept that can be applied to any feeling or construct. With significant numbers of young people who believe that ‘words are violence’, that ‘silence is violence’ and  that ‘micro-aggressions’ can lead to ‘trauma’, we have a victim culture. Once the word trauma was reserved for severe shock. Today the language around mental distress has turned into alphabet soup.

An online ‘victimhood’ test, a psychological assessment of to what extent one perceives oneself to be a victim from the website IDRLabs.com created by academics, is a ‘potage’ of itself. Even in a purportedly expert study the words ‘hurt’ and ‘offence’ are used interchangeably. Yet being offended doesn’t necessarily mean being hurt, another newly subjectively wide-ranging concept. ‘You really hurt my feelings by asking if I’d put on weight’ is very different from ‘my partner cheating on me really hurt’. Much has been written about the pernicious culture of easily taking offence. The problem is not just the ease with which offence is taken but the extreme reaction to being offended. Offence immediately becomes ‘hurt’ which immediately becomes ‘trauma’ which slides into ‘victimhood’. 

The saga of sexual harassment and assault accusations against the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is but one example of exaggerated modern ‘non victim victimhood’. Alannah Jeune, a 29-year-old PhD student, claims that in October 2020 Professor Percy stroked her hair in the sacristy for a full ten seconds, remarking: ‘Have you done something different to your hair today? It’s looking glorious.’ A crossing of boundaries – what we might call an invasion of space unless it was encouraged. But that was it. Yet in the eyes of the Church and college hierarchy and her own eyes it made Ms Jeune the victim of sexual assault: ‘The whole thing was weird and creepy. He assaulted me while wearing a collar in a cathedral.’ She could have left it at ‘weird and creepy’, reported him for unprofessional conduct and left it at that. But no, it was an ‘assault’ – which left her so ‘traumatised’ that she her job, housing and PhD. 

Getting inappropriate attention from a senior academic is without doubt unpleasant. During my nearly seven years at Oxford I had several such experiences, ranging from inappropriate compliments during seminars to a drunken hand where it should not have been. It may be controversial to say so but none of these registered as ‘hurt’ or even especially upset me. On the other hand a real assault by a doctor when I was 14 has cast a dark shadow over my life. Genuine scars give one perspective.

We could all regard ourselves as ‘victims’ of the last two years of inhumane lockdowns. There are indeed many children and adults who have suffered grievously. The danger, however, is that we lose our grip on perspective as well as on language. 

Recently the Royal College of Speech Therapists reported that toddlers’ speech and motor skills have dropped sharply as a result of a lack of socialisation due to Covid restrictions. These infants could be described as lockdown victims. Those suffering social isolation, on top of existing deprivation and disadvantage certainly were. Yet I witnessed hysteria amongst parents of perfectly healthy children anchored during the pandemic storm in loving, stable, secure homes. Many of those children might have benefited from the extra time at home despite missed events and activities. 

Once we start using the language of trauma and victimhood, where is there left to go when serious illness, abuse or poverty strike? Joanna Grey has recently written a heartbreaking article for TCW about the failings in child cancer care. The victims of Covid vaccine harm are also facing a wall of inertia and even outright hostility from Government, media and the healthcare system, as TCW has reported, most recently here. There are enough real victims in society without a hyper indulgent victim culture to distract us from where help is truly needed. 

In my online ‘victim test’ I scored below average in several categories indicating perceived victimhood although my early assault categorises me as one to the various professionals who treated my trauma. I am sure it is because I refuse to be defined by it.

It says a lot, not just about how this concept has lost its way, but how the easy use of words now lessens the very situations and people, like the child victims of the grooming gangs to which – to retain any meaning and respect – they should exclusively apply. 

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Romy Cerratti
Romy Cerratti
Romy Cerratti is half German, a quarter Italian and a quarter Peruvian but is proud to be British. She has a masters degree in medieval history from Oxford and is a passionate campaigner on issues of mental health and NHS reform.

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