Victim Blaming is a process by which people hold the victims of wrongful acts – such as crime, assault, or discrimination – partially or entirely at fault for their misfortune. In many cases, victim blaming can prevent perpetrators from being brought to justice because it discourages victims from reporting their crimes out of fear of being blamed or shamed.
Victim blaming can occur in any situation where a person’s beliefs about right and wrong come into conflict with actual events. For example, someone may blame a victim for the death of their loved one by saying “She should have known better.” This ignores that the victim didn’t make a conscious decision to endanger their life, and it also downplays the role that social norms play in perpetuating violence.
The reasons why people engage in victim blaming are complex and varied. Some researchers believe that some people want to believe that the world is a fair place, and therefore if bad things happen to good people they must have done something wrong (known as the just-world phenomenon). This view can lead people to justify their feelings of resentment toward victims by arguing that they deserved what happened to them.
Other researchers have found that how relevant a situation is to the individual can determine how much they engage in victim blaming. For example, some studies have found that when a crime is well-publicized, people are more likely to blame the victim. This may be because people are able to relate to the circumstances of the crime more easily when they are presented with them in the media (Gray, Palileo & Johnson, 1993).
Some research also shows that certain characteristics of a victim can cause them to be more or less blamed by others. For example, a study found that people are more likely to blame rape victims who are virgins or married than those who are divorced, because they find it more difficult to believe that respectable, innocent women can be raped.
There are some steps that individuals can take to help reduce victim blaming. For example, if they are aware that they are engaging in victim blaming, some individuals can remind themselves that the behavior is not helpful and work to minimize it. Another step is to educate the public about the harms of victim blaming, because it can have lasting psychological consequences for victims and their families.