When someone blames a victim of a crime, abuse or assault for their experience it can be hurtful, offensive and downright dangerous. Victim blaming can occur in the form of questions like “How could they have known what was going to happen?” and “Why did they stay with the perpetrator? Surely they had some kind of warning.” This can also be seen in statements such as “They should have known better,” and “She asked for it”. This type of language is often heard when discussing issues of family violence, gender based violence or sexual assault. It reinforces harmful social narratives that a victim is somehow at fault for their own experience, causing them to feel shame and guilt that can be damaging and delay their recovery.
Research has shown that victim blaming can lead to increased feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame for victims, especially if they believe the comments are coming from someone close to them. It can also impact their willingness to seek help or support, as they may fear the judgement that will be placed on them. It can also deter them from reporting a crime to the police and can contribute to the cycle of re-victimisation.
There are a number of factors that can impact victim blaming and it can vary by situation, person, culture or religion. However, the most common factor is that people have been taught that there is a right and wrong and that someone must be to blame for any bad outcome. This can lead to people being more prone to victim blaming in particular situations.
This may be because they are trying to protect a view of the world that is morally correct. For example, if they are told that the victim must be at fault for their experience because she was a bad person or did something to cause her own harm, it helps them to maintain a belief that the world is fair and just.
Another factor that has been found to be important is a person’s own prejudices. For example, some studies have shown that people are more likely to victim blame victims who break traditional gender stereotypes (Jensen & Gutek, 1982).
Some researchers have found that the victim’s race and ethnicity can also impact their vulnerability to victim blaming. For example, White participants are less likely to victim blame than Black participants when reading a scenario that depicts a rape by an acquaintance. (Hammond, et al., 2011).
Other research has found that the length of the scenario in which participants read a victim blaming question can have an impact. For example, short scenarios in which a victim was accused of inviting her assault by wearing provocative clothing or being too intoxicated were more likely to result in victims being blamed than longer scenarios that did not.
The victim blaming rhetoric that surrounds these types of incidents can be especially detrimental to women who have been victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence because it can make them feel less safe and discourage them from seeking the help they need. It can also encourage predatory behaviour by allowing perpetrators to feel justified in their actions.