Victim Blaming

The recent murder of backpacker Grace Millane reignited a national conversation about victim blaming, with people across the political spectrum weighing in on whether her death was ‘her fault’. While we all want to believe that the world is fair and that bad things don’t happen to us, this desire can often lead to a form of victim blaming where we blame victims for their own misfortune. Victim blaming can take many forms and be subtle, such as questioning why someone was targeted or asking what they could have done differently. This form of victim blaming is harmful and can silence survivors, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

There are many reasons why people engage in victim blaming. One reason is the desire to believe that the world is a fair place and that people get what they deserve, a belief known as the just-world phenomenon. Another reason is the tendency to believe that other people aren’t capable of harming themselves, a belief called the attribution of insanity bias. It is also common for people to engage in victim blaming as a way of coping with their own feelings, such as guilt or shame. For example, if you feel uncomfortable hearing about an abusive relationship, it can be easy to project those feelings onto the victim and blame them for staying in the situation.

A third reason for victim blaming is a desire to avoid exposing our own vulnerabilities. This can make people more likely to assume that others are responsible for their own misfortune, and it can make people unwilling to admit when they have wrongly interpreted a situation or abused their power. In a society that is increasingly afraid to talk about victim blaming, we need to be mindful of the impact of our words and actions.

If you see a loved one engaging in victim blaming, let them know that they are not helping their trauma recovery by saying such things. Rather, tell them that you believe them and are there for them, and offer to help in any way you can. Supporting and believing survivors is crucial, as victim blaming can lead to increased suicidal thoughts for some.

The more relevant a person’s situation is to them, the less likely they are to engage in victim blaming. This is because people who have directly experienced a traumatic event are more likely to understand the context of a crime or accident, and they may therefore be less inclined to blame victims for their own misfortune.

It is also important to be aware that some people find comfort in victim blaming, and even appear to derive enjoyment from it. A study found that those who had a high score on a measure of “everyday sadism” were more likely to engage in victim blaming, and they seemed to enjoy thinking about how the victim brought their own misfortune upon themselves. Those who engage in this type of behavior are damaging to society and should be held accountable for their actions.