Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is any language or behaviour that implies that a victim is partially or fully responsible for abuse they have experienced. It is harmful because it can silence victims, making them feel that they should not speak out about the experience and may also prevent them from seeking professional help.

According to RAINN, every 98 seconds someone in the US experiences sexual assault or violence. This is a terrifying statistic, and one which makes it all the more disturbing that victim blaming is so common. Victim blaming is a reaction whereby people hold victims of crime or other wrongful acts responsible for their own harm, usually by asking how they could have prevented the incident from happening in the first place.

For example, when women are reported as a group being targeted by perpetrators of sexual violence it is common for others to ask them what they were doing out so late or what they were wearing that may have ‘provoked’ the attack. Victim blaming also occurs when young people are being shown scenarios or films for online safety education and express victim-blaming attitudes towards the characters in these scenarios (Kenney, 2013).

While the reasons why people victim blame are complex and vary by gender, culture, environment and job, one key factor is that they do not empathise with victims. This lack of empathy is often driven by a fear reaction, which can be triggered when a person feels threatened.

A victim is a threat to the societal belief in a just world, where people get what they deserve and are rightly punished for their wrongdoings. This is why some people find it so difficult to accept that they have not caused the suffering of a victim.

The reason people believe in the just world is that it allows them to pursue their long term goals and commit themselves to tasks like getting up and going to work in the morning. It also allows them to cope with a world that is often unstable and unpredictable, so they are reluctant to abandon this belief.

One way that people can reduce their tendency to victim blame is by helping victims, because this restores the belief in a just world. This is why it can be effective to educate people about victim blaming and provide them with immediate and easy ways to aid victims.

However, this is not always possible. Some victims of victim blaming will have been victimized in their own family, causing them to internalize the blame and make it their own. For this reason, it is important for all of us to understand victim blaming so that we can spot it and challenge it when it occurs. Victim blaming is not acceptable and it should be stopped as soon as it happens. The sooner it is stopped the less damage it can cause to individuals and society as a whole. To learn more about victim blaming and how to challenge it please visit our resources section.