Am I My Brother’s Keeper? A Victim’s Moral Obligation

Credit: Tina Leggio

Credit: Tina Leggio

I’ve participated in a few discussions lately around the topic of responsibility.

One discussion centered around an abusive youth pastor and included the question of a victim’s responsibility to report rape.  Two other conversations were about a community’s responsibility to protect vulnerable people from potential harm.

I think we can all agree that the person who commits a crime is responsible for their own actions.

But what about the people who might be able to stop it from happening again? Are they also responsible? If so, how responsible?

A Victim’s Obligation

Ideally, if a victim reported the behavior there would be authority figures who would put a stop to it. Realistically, this often doesn’t happen. In the case of rape, reporting the crime hardly ever leads to a conviction and the stress of reporting the crime can be a secondary source of trauma.

The same is true of stalking cases. In fact, reporting stalking activity to the police can sometimes result in more violent behaviors, putting the victim in even more serious danger.

Is a victim morally obligated to try to stop their abuser from harming others if doing so may cause further harm to them? Should we place potential future victims above the welfare of the already known victim?

I can’t say what other people should do. However, I can say what I believe my obligation is.

I believe I do have some responsibility when it comes to intervening in the case of my stalker. But how far does that go?

That’s a question I’ve thought about for a long time.

Is it enough to report it to the police, even when I know that didn’t do any good? Do I just file a report and wash my hands of the whole thing when I know this is a pattern of behavior for him?

Should I out him publicly? (It’s something I’ve seriously considered, and I have reasons for referencing Voldemort instead of naming him on the blog.)

When it comes to what a victim is and is not obligated to do, we have to weigh the benefit against the risk. What is the risk (physical or psychological) involved with the action? What is the likelihood of a positive outcome? Each situation has to be evaluated on its own.

While I can’t say that every victim must act every time, I do believe I have a (calculated) obligation to act. But not because I’m a victim. It’s an obligation I have as a member of a larger community.

A Community’s Obligation

When a rape is committed or someone stalks and threatens someone else or someone beats his wife, we often take a narrow view of the events. We see two parties involved: the abuser and the victim. Really, there are three parties: the abuser, the victim, and the community.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12;26

We tend to place the burden entirely on the victim when it comes to intervention. They were hurt, so they have a responsibility to prevent others being harmed.

Why is a victim of rape responsible for preventing your rape? Why am I responsible for preventing that stalker from threatening your family?

When we’re part of a community, we’re all responsible for keeping each other safe. This is especially true in Christian communities.

Should I have reported my stalker to the police? Yes (and I did.) But the people in my community also had a responsibility to intervene, not only to protect me but also to protect our community and any women he harmed after me.

When community support breaks down, it’s difficult for a victim to gain any traction while trying to stop a dangerous person.

When there is real potential for harm, we are all obligated to intervene. There is no such thing as an uninvolved party.

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