Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is the blame placed on victims of a crime or another wrongful act, and it can be toxic for survivors to internalize. This can delay the healing process and contribute to feelings of shame and guilt, as well as prevent a victim from reaching out for help. It is a harmful response, and it needs to be addressed.

While some people are more likely to victim blame than others, anyone can engage in it at some point. The underlying cause of victim blaming is a lack of empathy. People who lack empathy often struggle to cope with difficult situations and find it hard to relate to other people’s emotions, which can make them critical of those around them. They may also be quick to judge others and assume they would never do something bad.

Frequently, those who victim blame will try to rationalize the situation by attributing the perpetrator’s behaviour to their own personality or character traits. This is known as the fundamental attribution error. They are unable to take into account outside factors that could have played a role in the event, such as social norms, culture, environment, job, etc.

The most common way to victim blame is to say the crime was the victim’s fault or that they led it on. This type of statement is usually followed by a question like: “How could you have done more to protect yourself?” or “Did you drink too much alcohol?” These questions are designed to put the victim in the wrong and imply that they contributed to their own victimization. They can also be very difficult to hear when a survivor shares their trauma narrative.

Other forms of victim blaming include describing victims in a dehumanizing manner, such as with objectifying images and language that focus on their body shape or clothing. Research has found that these depictions lead to victim blaming, as people are more likely to see a person’s vulnerability as justifiable when they feel superior to them. This is often accompanied by a feeling of pleasure in another person’s suffering, called Schadenfreude.

It is also common for loved ones of a victim to blame them for their own abuse. This is usually done to make themselves feel better about their decision not to report the incident, or because they don’t want to believe that it happened at all. They are also quick to point out any flaws in the victim’s story, such as how she wore her bra or was wearing inappropriate clothes.

All of these reactions are rooted in a lack of empathy and a desire to distance themselves from an abhorrent occurrence. They can also be a defence mechanism to deal with a fear reaction caused by a real or perceived threat. Whether they are explicit in their victim blaming or not, these statements can have a devastating impact on a victim’s mental health and ability to heal. It silences them and makes it harder for them to seek help, which is one of the biggest obstacles to ending sexual violence.