The Psychology of Victim Blaming

Victim blaming can be subtle or overt, it is any language that implies (even if unintentionally) that a person who has experienced abuse was partially or fully responsible for their own trauma. It is harmful and can discourage victims from coming forward for fear of being blamed. It can also lead to toxic self-blame and can be especially harmful for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Despite the outcry over victim-blaming, it is still common to hear people speculating about what a victim could have done differently to avoid being hurt or to get their attacker caught. It is a part of human psychology to think this way, but it can be trained out with empathy training and an openness to seeing things from perspectives other than your own.

Even those who work in the field of victim services and re-enactments of crime scenes have to be careful not to victim blame, as therapists who tell women that they should have been more careful are a classic example. And even well-intentioned people, like a professor of psychology named Liane Young and postdoctoral researcher Laura Niemi, who recently published their research on victim blaming in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, have had to deal with victim blaming in their work.

The researchers found that one key factor in victim blaming is a psychological reaction based on a desire for self-preservation. Niemi and Young tested this theory by running a series of experiments. In one of their experiments, they presented participants with a story about someone who was hurt. They then asked the participants to characterize the victim, focusing on their personality traits and behavior. Those who were exposed to the victim-blaming comments were more likely to describe her as less likable and morally worthy than those that saw the perpetrator-blaming comments.

In addition to this, the researchers also conducted an experiment in which they asked people to read a story about someone who had been hurt and then to guess how much responsibility that person should bear for their own actions. They found that those who were exposed to victim blaming tended to say that the person should take more responsibility for their own actions than those who were exposed to perpetrator-blaming comments.

This pattern of victim blaming is pervasive, not only in the media, but also in courtrooms and families. It is a major obstacle that prevents victims from getting the help and justice they deserve. It also contributes to the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence by preventing victims from reporting crimes and by reinforcing predator-like attitudes.

We need to stop victim blaming. It’s not only hurtful to victims, but it is dangerous for society as a whole. If you know a survivor, let them know that what happened to them was not their fault and encourage them to talk about it. And to those who have not yet had the opportunity, it is crucial to learn how to recognize and challenge victim blaming when it happens so that we can stop this cycle and begin to make real change.