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There must be a schadenfreude-adjacent word for this!
June 12, 2014 2:45 AM   Subscribe

There's got to be a word or phrase for when someone chooses to sympathise with or prioritize the pain and suffering of a perpetrator over their victims. It's not "victim-blaming" which is about making a judgement of fault or cause of the act itself to reduce the level of the crime, but where people put the weight of their attention and efforts towards the perpetrator and there is comparatively little for the victims. I'm especially interested in a phrase or ethical/theological concept that addresses the hypocrisy of this, where this sympathy to the perp is viewed as a Great Moral Kindness in rehabilitating the sinner while refusing to acknowledge that that effort comes at the cost of further silencing and refusing voice, aid and power to the victims.
posted by viggorlijah to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Leniency. Mercy. Clemency.
posted by empath at 3:12 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]

It's selective mercy if anything because it's prioritizing mercy for perpetrators over their victims? The closest analogy I can come up with is people trying to comfort and help a hit-and-run driver, explaining that they were drunk-driving because they'd been at a celebration and didn't realise how much they were drinking, raising money to repair the car and labelling all these actions as merciful and compassionate because of the genuine pain and distress of the driver, while they ignore the pedestrian bleeding to death on the road behind them.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:26 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

This may sound argumentative, but it's intended just to clarify what you're seeking:

Would the word describe a situation where the victim had been tended to and handed off to a hospital, and is being taken care of as much as possible by the victim's family and friends, and then some people try to help the driver recover by saying comforting things?

Or are you really looking for a description of a more extreme situation?
posted by amtho at 4:30 AM on June 12

Definitely where attention and resources are being given to the perp and not to the victims with no recognition of the choice to exclude or diminish the victims.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:21 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

Maybe too general, but "misplaced sympathy"?
posted by lollusc at 5:38 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

Or misdirected sympathy is maybe better.
posted by lollusc at 5:39 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

Perpetrator-oriented selective empathy?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:45 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

Would this be like supporting the college student rapist by justifying the rape as "she was asking for it, she was dressed that way, she shouldn't have gotten drunk, etc."? And not giving support to the victim? I can't think of a word to describe this kind of loathsome behavior which does, sadly, seem all too common. Sociopathic delusions of superiority?
posted by mareli at 5:47 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]

You're not likely to find an objective term for this because nothing about the situation is objective (and, to be honest, the question sounds a little axe-grindy).

However, you could probably use the term "misplaced priorities" to characterize what you appear to be describing.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:59 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

I've definitely witnessed this, too - if it's what I'm thinking of, it's not even necessarily that the victim has or hasn't been taken care of, but the sympathizer doesn't even give the victim a second thought. The victim's needs don't figure into the equation at all.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:04 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]

This certainly does remind me of the discussions we had in my training sessions for rape crisis counseling, in which we talked about the propensity for people to justify/excuse/sympathize with the rapist while disparaging or ignoring the survivor. Although there were a few cognitive biases that came into play, the one that seems the most relevant to your scenario was the just world hypothesis, which postulates that, in order to preserve their vision of a just world, witnesses tell themselves that the rape survivors must have done something to deserve their suffering, while excuses are made to explain away the act of cruelty and make it seem "not that bad."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:40 AM on June 12 [8 favorites]

I know exactly what you are talking about, but I do not believe the word exists in English, although it surely should.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:09 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:30 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

The phrase that resonated with me is identifying with the perpetrator, with the flipside being a fear or unwillingness to embrace one's own vulnerability by identifying with the victim.

It's more about causes than descriptive of behavior, but I hope it helps.
posted by BrashTech at 9:50 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

I have also used and seen the Just World hypothesis to explain why this behavior occurs, but I haven't seen a word or phrase that describes the actual behavior, either.

I think the Just World hypothesis explains the victim-blaming part of it ("I need to protect myself from acknowledging that I could be a victim, so I cannot identify in any way with this victim"), and that "patriarchy" or "white supremacy" or even "Stockholm Syndrome" tends to cover the perpetrator-defending part of it ("People who look like me deserve the benefit of the doubt" or "If I acknowledge this person's actions as bad, then I have to acknowledge my husband's/friend's/father's actions as bad").
posted by jaguar at 9:52 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

The phrase I've always used, for lack of a better, is, "the man who did this needs our help." This is the punch line to an old joke about a man who falls among thieves and is robbed and badly beaten. When he stumbles away from his attackers, he runs into a couple of social workers who say...
posted by timeo danaos at 11:43 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

I am reminded of the Old Testament figures who were punished by having their wives and children killed.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:30 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting this question. It has helped me find a way of conceptualizing what I thought was inconceivable.
posted by Jewel98 at 3:36 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]

refusing to acknowledge that that effort comes at the cost of further silencing and refusing voice, aid and power to the victims.

This thread seems to be a pretext for arguing for your opinion under the guise of "is there a word for this?" I think the first answer (mercy, leniency, and clemency) is as close as you'll get. There's no need to add "selective" — the concepts of mercy, leniency, and clemency simply don't apply to the victim of a violent crime.
posted by John Cohen at 3:54 PM on June 12

John Cohen, it's not genuine mercy because it is about the choice to give aid that results in mercy leniency and clemency to the perpetrator at the cost of extending that aid to the victim. It is a choice to exclude, to favour the perpetrator's well-being over the victim.

I am definitely thinking of crimes against children as the clearest examples because children are vulnerable, so for example a relative who abused a child is declared reformed and the child is expected to keep silent and continue familial relationships for the forgiveness and redemption because the moral/psychological rehabilitation and well-being of the adult perpetrator is seen as a greater priority than that of the child.

However, I've been mulling over this for other things like theft and murder as well. It's the deliberate skipping of atonement or reparations to restore the social order, but I can't think of a phrase that refers to the people *outside* of the victim-perpetrator.

The recent threads made me think mefi people would be able to say "oh yes, you mean 'canis studia domestici devoravit'" because it seems to be such a consistent pattern of behaviour over and over in humanity - I have certainly done this and had it done to me. Scapegoating and just world hypothesis are close but not it.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:16 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

When I've seen this play out in families where there's been child abuse, it's usually a frantic scrambling to maintain the status quo. I wonder if something in the psychological concept of homeostasis would apply?
posted by jaguar at 6:31 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

I've heard the phrase "bully worship", which might not be a DSM-worthy trait, but apparently George Orwell used it. I thought of secondary trauma or vicarious trauma which could lead to lack of sympathy for the victim, but that isn't it, either. Stockholm syndrome toward the perpetrator? Just world hypothesis... hmm. I know what you're saying, but when I find a phrase that does better than to only circle around the phenomenon, I'll let you know.

One blog writer described the phenomenon or something similar to it as "Take her, not me." Forget sympathy for the victim. The abuser(s) must be right, or otherwise it could be me in her (the victim's) position.

I'd like to know the word, too.
posted by quiet earth at 7:40 PM on June 12

Is this like "Nellie Oleson's Mom Syndrome"?
posted by loquat at 10:16 PM on June 12

John Cohen, it's not genuine mercy because it is about the choice to give aid that results in mercy leniency and clemency to the perpetrator at the cost of extending that aid to the victim. It is a choice to exclude, to favour the perpetrator's well-being over the victim.

I don't see why "leniency" isn't the exact right word. It seems to exactly capture what you're describing, and there's no question of "leniency" for an innocent victim. Leniency is only for someone who has done something wrong and who you'd expect to be punished.
posted by John Cohen at 11:40 AM on June 13

Sympathy for the devil?
posted by Middlemarch at 1:24 AM on June 14

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