Chris Uggen's Blog: gabriel schwartz and blaming the victim

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

gabriel schwartz and blaming the victim

the phrase blaming the victim refers to situations in which the victims of crime or injustice are unfairly held responsible for their own predicament. i've heard the phrase used critically with respect to daniel patrick moynihan's (1965) report on the negro family, but also in a more literal sense regarding rape myths that blame the targets of sexual assault.

the not-so-strange case of mr. gabriel schwartz, drugged and robbed at the republican national convention, seems to offer an ideal-typical case of an unsympathetic victim. from david hanners' pioneer press account:

He met her in the bar of the swank hotel and invited her to his room. Once there, the woman fixed the drinks and told him to get undressed. And that, the delegate to the Republican National Convention told police, was the last thing he remembered. When he awoke, the woman was gone, as was more than $120,000 in money, jewelry and other belongings. ... The haul included a $30,000 watch, a $20,000 ring, a necklace valued at $5,000, earrings priced at $4,000 and a Prada belt valued at $1,000, police said. Schwartz is a single attorney and a fixture in Colorado Republican politics. ...

In an interview filmed the afternoon of Sept. 3 and posted on the Web site, Schwartz was candid about how he envisioned change under a McCain presidency. "Less taxes and more war," he said, smiling. He said the U.S. should "bomb the hell" out of Iran because the country threatens Israel.

Asked by the interviewer how America would pay for a military confrontation with Iran, he said the U.S. should take the country's resources. "We should plant a flag. Take the oil, take the money," he said. "We deserve reimbursement." ... He said an attack on Iran was needed to protect Israel, and he offered how it could be accomplished through "strategical airstrikes." "Hopefully, just bomb the hell out of them from the sky. No troops," he said.

yeesh -- he's not just talking strategical airstrikes, but strategical nukular airstrikes. even if we grant that mr. schwartz was joking and/or inebriated when he made those comments, they don't make him a very sympathetic victim, do they? moreover, young mr. schwartz further offends our sensibilities with his staggeringly annoying personal injury law commercials -- and a blazer that only elroy "crazylegs" hirsch could pull off.

nevertheless, this loud man in loud clothing remains the victim of a serious crime. and, if you scratch the surface of crime reports, you'll see that many victims are far more foolish, annoying, and/or repugnant than mr. schwartz. that's why there's a real danger in drawing lines between worthy and unworthy victims: if this victim's account is accurate, somebody is robbing and drugging peoople at a hotel a few blocks from my department.

so, while some may snigger that mr. schwartz "got what was coming to him," i get a real cold chill whenever i hear a criminologist, a cop, or a correctional officer express such sentiments. to an even greater extent than mr. schwartz's fashion choices and political statements, blaming the victim is ugly business.


At 9:05 PM, Blogger Jay Livingston said...

I think William Ryan coined the term as the title of a book. Here, I don't blame the victim, though some of his fellow conventiongoers on the Christian right might (God punishing him for his intended sin). But if I knew that I couldn't prevent the criminal from committing the crime and I had to choose a victim, Mr. Schwartz makes a pretty tempting choice.

At 1:11 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

i hear you, jay, and you're probably right. though, you'll admit that you've specified a pretty contrived set of circumstances (an unpreventable crime in which you choose the victim). the thing that distinguishes mr. schwartz from other victims, i think, is his outsized sense of privilege and entitlement. i wouldn't drug him, of course, but i wouldn't mind taking his parking space or something.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Jay Livingston said...

"a pretty contrived set of circumstances (an unpreventable crime in which you choose the victim)"

Yeah, it's my happier version of Sophie's Choice.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Brad Wright said...

Wow, that's even more money that I bring to the ASA conference!

You raise a good point that we tend to justify blaming the victim under certain situations (such as this). I wonder if anyone has put together a list of factors influencing deservingness.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

brad and jay, i haven't seen a lot of research on perceived culpability or deservingness, but it seems a rich vein to mine in both teaching and research.

for me, working in a public defender's office blurred the lines between victims and perpetrators. i recall a domestic assault in which the "perpetrator" slapped the "victim" after said victim had buried a knife deep within said perpetrator. they were both crime victims, to be sure, but the whole thing was pretty ugly. and, in my experience, not all that unusual.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Krista Menzel said...

Does anyone else think that perhaps Mr. Schwartz was not the victim of a crime, but a perpetrator of one (i.e., insurance fraud)?


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