The Psychology of Victim Blaming

victim blaming

Victim blaming is when people hold the victim of crime or a traumatic situation partly or entirely responsible for what happened to them. They may make statements like “you had it coming to you” or “boys will be boys”. Survivors of crime and trauma are made to feel as though they were at fault for their experience, and can become discouraged from reporting it or seeking support because of this.

Whenever someone experiences something difficult, it’s natural to want to help them. However, there is a fine line between attempting to help and victim blaming. Victim blaming is when you blame the victim of a crime, traumatic event or hardship for what happened to them. It places the responsibility on the victim rather than the perpetrator and is a form of discrimination.

The reason why many people engage in victim blaming is because they want to believe that the world is fair, and that everyone gets what they deserve. This preference for fairness is a normal human characteristic, and children are very sensitive to unfairness at an early age. They may cry out, “That’s not fair!” when they see their younger sibling with a better toy. It’s no wonder then, that adults are so often guilty of victim blaming.

When it comes to victims of crime and trauma, it’s important that we understand the psychology behind their need for the world to be fair. It’s also why we need to be more aware of the language we use when discussing situations involving criminal behaviour and abuse. Rather than asking ‘what could she have done to prevent it’, you should be focusing on the criminal behaviour of the perpetrator. This is what will help to keep young people safe online and reduce the impact of harm that has been caused to them.

Another thing that effects how much people engage in victim blaming is how relevant the situation is to them. For example, if someone experiences a burglary at home and they hear someone saying, ‘you left the curtains open’, they are more likely to blame themselves for the incident than if they were sitting in a restaurant and watched a robbery take place (Gray, Palileo & Johnson, 1993).

It’s also thought that people who have higher levels of education are less likely to victim blame than those who do not have as high of an education level. This is likely because those that have a higher education tend to have a more empathetic understanding of others and are less likely to engage in victim blaming.

Victim blaming is extremely damaging to survivors and should be avoided at all costs. The best way to avoid this is by being aware of the language you are using and challenging it when necessary. This is especially important when working with young people. When discussing situations of online grooming, sexting or blackmail, it is helpful to discuss the circumstances around why the youth may have been attracted to the person they were communicating with and why they shared nude images of themselves, for example, if they were under pressure, forced or tricked into doing so. This will help to increase empathy and encourage them to seek help, rather than feeling that it is their own fault.