Recognizing Victim Blaming in Our Own Thoughts
When it comes to sexual assault and other forms of victimization, we are often able to recognize victim blaming when we hear it in others’ words. But what about when it’s our own thoughts? It is easy to fall into the trap of victim blaming, particularly when we are insensitive or ill-informed about the situation.
Victim blaming refers to any type of response that blames a survivor of a crime or misfortune for their own experiences, whether it’s telling them they deserve the abuse or that they could have prevented the attack by doing something differently. Victim blaming can take many forms and can be directed towards people of any race, age, religion, or background. The motivations behind it vary, but typically involve the desire to maintain a sense of control over one’s environment and a belief that bad things only happen to bad people.
Survivors are constantly bombarded with messages from society, the media, and family and friends that place responsibility for their experiences on them. This can be overwhelming and leads to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and depression. Victim blaming also interferes with the healing process by disabling a survivor’s ability to acknowledge and accept their own victimization.
There are a number of factors that contribute to victim blaming, but one is the fundamental attribution error. This is the tendency to attribute someone else’s actions to their internal, personal characteristics rather than to external, environmental factors.
Another factor is the belief in a just world. People want to believe that their own and other people’s behaviour is rewarded or punished fairly, which gives them the comfort of knowing that the world around them is stable and orderly. This belief is so ingrained in our culture that it can even prevent us from acknowledging when injustice has occurred, especially if it comes from someone we know and trust.
The last major contributor to victim blaming is the desire to avoid uncomfortable emotions. This may be why we find it so hard to respond positively when a person tells us about a traumatic experience. For example, if a friend tells us about being verbally assaulted by a coworker, our instinct is to question their story or tell them how they could have avoided the situation. But these comments can come across as insensitive and may lead to further feelings of shame and guilt.
When a victim discloses to you that they’ve experienced violence, the best thing you can do is listen and believe them. Avoid asking questions that can be perceived as insensitive or blaming, and don’t use violent rhetoric (e.g. “I bet he’d do it again”). If you can, try to focus on moving forward and providing support. This will help to reduce feelings of post-trauma stress, depression, and health issues. If you are struggling to deal with a traumatic experience, seeking professional help is always recommended. Tasha Rube is a Licensed Social Worker with the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kansas.