How to Stop Victim Blaming

When someone reports experiencing a traumatic event such as sexual assault or domestic violence, the people around them often respond in a way that victim-blames them. These responses may include speculation about what the victim could have done to prevent it from happening or asking what they might have been doing that “provoked” the perpetrator. These messages can lead to survivors feeling discouraged from coming forward in the future. They can also cause victims to experience feelings of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even physical health issues like high blood pressure or chronic pain.

Victim-blaming is a complex issue, but some experts believe it is rooted in a combination of factors including a lack of empathy, the desire to view the world as fair and the human drive for self-preservation. It can also be fueled by the desire to avoid the discomfort of facing one’s own unpleasant emotions. Those who blame victims might be attempting to rationalize the behavior of those around them or might feel it is easier to take pleasure in another person’s suffering (a phenomenon known as Schadenfreude).

Some people believe that because they want to think that the world is fair, bad things must happen to others only because of something the victim did. This is called the just-world phenomenon. It is similar to the way that people might explain a classmate’s failure on a test by claiming they were too hot or the teacher included too many trick questions.

Other people might engage in victim blaming as a way of coping with uncomfortable emotions like shame. This is called projection. It is a common coping mechanism that helps to avoid the discomfort of feeling guilty about one’s own behaviors. The fact that it is so difficult to admit the existence of these feelings can also contribute to victim blaming.

Regardless of its root causes, victim blaming is harmful for everyone involved. It can make victims and survivors feel less likely to come forward in the future and can contribute to a culture of abuse and oppression where perpetrators are not held accountable.

When it comes to responding to victims, there are better ways to handle the situation. By letting them know that what happened was never their fault, and by encouraging them to seek help from professionals, we can help them heal.

While it is often thought that victim-blaming is limited to violent crimes, it can occur in any type of situation. When news breaks of natural disasters or a murder, some people have trouble accepting that victims didn’t “cause” the incident to happen. Others might question why the victims were out so late at night or ask what they were wearing that made them susceptible to attack. This type of victim blaming can be just as harmful as the comments made by Inside Amy Schumer writer Kurt Metzger or by people in courtrooms or media interviews. Victim-blaming is an ongoing problem that can be addressed by increasing awareness and fostering conversations around it.