Victim blaming is an unconscious habit of putting the blame on someone else, instead of trying to understand and empathize with what they went through. It can be a natural reaction to crime, but it is a dangerous and harmful one that should be avoided at all costs.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
One of the most common reasons why people blame victims is because they have a fundamental attribution error. This tendency is to attribute behaviours to internal, personal characteristics while ignoring external factors that might have contributed to the problem.
It isn’t just crime that causes this tendency to occur, it can be caused by everyday occurrences and even things like the way you speak or your appearance.
This can be hard to spot, especially when a victim is still living in their nightmare. It can be a natural response to something that has happened, but it can also cause you to feel guilty, shamed and alone.
The most obvious example of this is when people say, “Why didn’t she leave?” or “She was asking for it.” These statements are often used in the context of sexual assault and rape, but they can apply to all kinds of crimes.
Psychologists have found that a simple experiment with a video monitor can actually help you to identify when you are engaging in victim blaming. During the experiment, people were asked to watch a person receiving a series of electrical shocks.
Once the experiment was over, participants were asked to give their opinion of what they saw. They were divided into two groups; the first group was given an opportunity to vote to stop the shocks, while the second group was not.
Those who could vote were less likely to engage in victim blaming than those who did not have the opportunity. Researchers attributed this to a need to maintain the belief that the world is a just and fair place where you get what you deserve.
It can be very difficult to avoid victim blaming, but it can be helpful to understand why it happens and how to recognize it. Understanding why it occurs can help you to feel less self-blaming and may even encourage you to speak out about the issue.
Recovering From Abuse
Victim blaming can be particularly damaging for survivors of sexual violence. It can make it more difficult for them to seek support and can even prevent them from reporting their abuse in the future.
There is a strong link between victim blaming and sexual assault, with many survivors reporting that their experiences of this type of abuse have led to feelings of fear, shame and self-blame. In fact, a 2006 study by Professor Courtney Ahrens at California State University found that the pervasiveness of victim blaming can be a barrier to those who are survivors of sexual assault and want to report their abuse.
In addition, the act of blaming can lead to further harm, as it can contribute to a cycle of crime and silence victims. This can lead to further abuse and a greater chance that the perpetrator will escape justice.