“The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable and forever entitled to sympathy.”
– Dr Ofer Zur, “The Psychology of Victimhood”
As I said here just the other day, many of those who feel hard done by by the family justice system like to think it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the system, which they consider is at best biased against them, and at worst totally corrupt. In short, they are victims of the system.
Unfortunately, victimhood does not just attract sympathy. It also attracts those who seek to use its narrative to attract business for themselves. In just the last week I have come across two possible examples of this in relation to the family justice system.
I mentioned the first example in my post here last Friday. Academic research by Dr Angela Melville, senior lecturer at Flinders Law School in Adelaide, Australia, has found that ‘professional’ McKenzie friends associated with fathers’ rights groups play on their “uncertainty and sense of victimhood” to attract business. According to Dr Melville the fathers involved were frequently vulnerable, lacking in other means of support and poorly educated. She said:
“…some of these fathers may also feel that they have lost control over their ex-partner and children and believe that the family court and family lawyers are against them, and thus feel especially aggrieved and victimised.”
And so these vulnerable people fall for the victimhood narrative of unscrupulous and untrained McKenzie friends, who eagerly take their money. This is what can happen when the person offering legal help is not subject to proper regulation. (Note that I am not for one moment saying that all McKenzie friends are unscrupulous. As I have said here previously, there are some very good McKenzie friends out there.)
But regulation can be no guarantee that the offeror of legal help will not play the victimhood card when seeking business. In another story this week a lawyer who set up her own firm specifically to help men in divorce proceedings has reportedly said that men rather than women are often the “biggest losers” in divorce cases, both in terms of arrangements for children and finances. She is, of course, entitled to an opinion, but the clear implication, it seems to me, is that the firm is there to fight this injustice. I’m not suggesting that the firm are trying to take advantage of ‘victim’ husbands, but obviously such words are going to be music to the ears of potential clients who see themselves that way, and are likely therefore to attract business for the firm.
Now, whether or not the family courts are biased in favour of men or women is neither here nor there. It’s an argument that is likely to run and run with, as far as I can tell, a pretty much equal number of supporters of each side. What is important though, is that portraying a party as a victim from the outset is surely going to do them no favours at all. It is likely to encourage an aggressive adversarial outlook, seriously harming the chances of the matter being resolved amicably. Such an outlook is unlikely to meet with favour from the judge dealing with the case. And if matters go badly for the ‘victim’, then that is just proof to them that the system is at fault, rather than them. The aggrieved victim may then embark upon some fruitless attempt to circumvent the system, rather than engage with it.
The system is not going to change just because you think it will victimise you. The system will still deal with your case in the same way as every other case. Approaching the system with a victim mentality will make no difference to the outcome of the case in terms of the principles the court will use to decide it. However, it may make it more likely that the outcome will be unfavourable, and it is highly likely to make the proceedings more expensive because they cannot be resolved by agreement.
The system isn’t perfect, and it’s true that some people have been failed by it, but it also isn’t ‘against’ anyone. It tries its best to treat all who use it fairly and the best way to approach it is with that in mind. Surely, with such an outlook you are more likely to get the best from the system?