Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is when someone believes that a victim of a crime or traumatic experience is partly or entirely to blame for what happened. This belief can be made by people of all ages and backgrounds, but it’s more common when people are highly critical or lack empathy towards others. People can also hold victim blaming beliefs without even realising that they do so, especially if they’re struggling with mental health issues or a history of trauma themselves. For example, it’s not uncommon for victims to be blaming themselves for their sexual assault or domestic abuse, which can be very damaging to their wellbeing and confidence in their own abilities.

A major problem with victim blaming is that it makes it harder for victims to come forward with their stories, and can make them feel ashamed or guilty about what happened to them. It can also reinforce predator-like behaviour and allow perpetrators to escape punishment by blaming the victim for what they have done.

It’s important to remember that when a person is victim blaming someone, it is based on a set of values and beliefs about how the world works. Studies have shown that people with more individualistic values are more likely to blame victims, while those with more binding values are more likely to protect others’ well-being. These values can be influenced by a person’s background, culture and upbringing too. Intersectional identities such as being LGBTQ+ or being a Black, Asian or minorityitised ethnic person can also contribute to the prevalence of victim blaming attitudes and harmful stereotypes, as they may be more prone to un/conscious biases.

The root causes of victim blaming are complex and multifaceted, but some of the main ones include an unwillingness to believe that good, wholesome people can be victims of violent crimes and cruelty, a desire to avoid feeling uncomfortable or anxious about emotional situations, and a general lack of empathy for others. Studies have found that people with more empathy tend to be less likely to derogate victims, and a simple prompt to empathise with a victim can help reduce the likelihood of victim blaming.

Survivors can face victim blaming from family, friends, neighbours and strangers alike. It’s particularly damaging when it comes from those close to them, such as their abusers or people in their abusers’ social circle. It’s also a common tactic used by abusers to isolate and control their victims, and can often lead to feelings of shame, guilt and isolation for survivors, and may cause them to hide their experiences from the outside world.

There are many ways that we can all help to end victim blaming. This can be by adjusting our own mindsets, using accountable language to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions, and supporting and guiding survivors toward safe support systems. For professionals, it is recommended that we take the opportunity to practice and champion anti-victim blaming language and behaviours where possible. The following guidance for professionals offers advice on best practice in this area.