Victim Blaming in Fiction and Real Life

victim blaming

Victim blaming happens when someone places the responsibility of a crime, trauma or hardship on the victim rather than the perpetrator. It can be overt or subtle, and it can cause a survivor to question their own story, internalize the abuse and suffer from additional trauma. It can also prevent them from seeking help or reporting the experience to the authorities, and it can lead to feelings of isolation, stigma and self-doubt. In fiction, it can be present in a variety of ways, from directly blaming the victim to subtly establishing it through characters’ reactions or narrative implications.

For example, many people ask questions about a rape victim like “Why did she let it happen” or “Did she provoke it?” When a disaster strikes, it is common to blame survivors for being in an area prone to the event and for not preparing adequately. Similarly, victims of a robbery are often asked why they had things they could have been stolen or why they were out at night. There are even rumors about a rape victim’s state of dress or what they were wearing to the event being a factor in her attacker’s decision.

Research shows that people have a strong desire to believe that the world is a just place and bad things only occur if you deserve them. This belief can affect empathy, and can make it easier to judge others who are suffering because you think they should have been able to avoid the situation. It can also make you less likely to support policies that would protect vulnerable people and more likely to dismiss any evidence that the world isn’t fair.

The underlying mental model that causes people to engage in victim blaming is called “positive assumptive worldview,” and it might not be something they are aware of. It’s a framework that can shape their opinions and reactions, but it is not always beneficial to us or those around them.

Interestingly, research has shown that the more relevant a person’s circumstances are to what they are criticizing, the less likely they will be to engage in victim blaming (Gray, Palileo & Johnson, 1993). However, this doesn’t mean that everyone who does victim-blame is trying to be cruel or intentionally hurtful. They may simply not understand how the world works, or they might have a preconceived notion that people who do well deserve their good fortune and those who struggle must have done something wrong.

Learning more about victim blaming and how to recognize it can help you speak up for victims when it occurs, and end the silence that surrounds those who have experienced abuse or other trauma. It’s important to remember that victims are not responsible for the actions of their abuser, and that blaming them for their experiences only further alienates them from the people who want to believe in them. It can also be dangerous to their health and safety, which is why it is essential to seek professional assistance if you or someone you know has been subjected to this type of abuse.