What Is a Victim Entitled To?

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2015-03-19 – Someone hurts you. What now? What are you entitled to?

If you can get your assailant into court, you are entitled to be “made whole,” as they say in the law biz. That means that you are entitled to money to make up for your loss. The value of an eye for an eye. The value of a tooth for a tooth. It doesn’t quite do it, of course. Even if you win, you split that with your lawyer. And you might not win. The other guy has lawyers, too.

But that’s not what I’m asking about. It’s just background. My question has to do with what society owes you. The answer is pretty much nothing. You’re pretty lucky if society doesn’t add insult to injury. Especially if politics is involved. Especially if you are a discriminated-against class of people.

By coincidence, two articles on this topic appeared today. One is called “Stop Playing the ‘Race Card’ Card” by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times. The other is called “Why Are James Fallows and His Commenters Annoyed by the Holocaust?” by James Kirchick in Tablet. One criticizes whites who are put out by African-Americans who talk about centuries of mistreatment in this country. The other criticizes both left- and right-wingers who are put out by Jews who talk about the holocaust. It’s the same story when women talk about rape or job discrimination: people are put out by the victim talk.

What is a victim entitled to?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer to that. Maybe victimhood doesn’t entitle you to anything (except against the perpetrator of the injury). But personhood surely does.

Look, simple compassion says that you ought to at least say: “I hear you.” Recognize a person’s pain. Don’t add to it. These days we like to add to victim’s pain. “What did you do to deserve your victimhood?” we ask. We demand perfection as a key to our sympathy. But when perfection is offered, we demand more.

What do we demand of the perpetrators? Certainly not perfection.

There’s always two sides to these stories, of course. Against the black story, there’s the white story. Against the Jewish story (these days), there’s the Palestinian story. Against the woman’s story, there’s the man’s.

I’m not saying the stories are equal. Everyone wants to be seen as a victim. But maybe it’s not because of any rights of victimhood. Maybe it’s just a hope of being heard and understood. Maybe it’s a hope that others, at least, won’t take advantage of our victimhood to extract even more hurt.

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