Why Do People Blame Victims?

victim blaming

When someone shares that they’ve been victimized, what you say can either bolster their sense of resiliency or compound their feelings of shame. The way you respond to a survivor of violence, sexual assault or any other type of mistreatment can help determine whether they continue seeking justice, support and treatment.

One of the most common reasons people blame victims is because they believe that a victim should have been able to prevent or predict what happened. This is a type of hindsight bias called the fundamental attribution error. It’s important to understand that bad things can happen to anyone, and it’s not the victim’s fault.

Other reasons people may blame the victim include:

They want to be right: It’s a basic human desire to be right, especially when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. This can lead to a form of victim-blaming known as the just-world phenomenon. It’s based on the idea that you should get what you deserve, and that good people don’t suffer tragedy.

A subset of people may derive pleasure from others’ suffering: In an experimental study, researchers found that a certain group of participants who scored high on a scale of “everyday sadism” were not only more likely to engage in victim-blaming, but also seemed to derive enjoyment from it. This may be a way to cope with their own suffering, but it’s not productive for victims or those around them.

It’s a normal human reaction to fear: When something terrible happens, it’s only natural to want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from similar harm. However, victim blaming can contribute to this reaction by causing us to disengage from empathy with others.

For example, if a friend of yours is in a dangerous relationship, you might ask them what they could have done differently to avoid the abuse. This is a classic form of victim blaming and it can make the victim feel like you don’t think they’re worthy of having trusting relationships.

Victim-blaming is not only harmful to the survivor, but it’s also harmful to society. It discourages survivors from reporting crimes and keeps people from getting the help they need. It can also cause a person to internalize the message that they are to blame for what has happened to them, which is detrimental to their mental health. This can lead to post-traumatic stress, depression and health issues. Taking steps to reduce victim-blaming, such as adjusting our mindsets or challenging the victim blaming of others, is essential for building a culture that supports all people and respects their rights. The most important thing is to remember that when someone chooses to share a personal story of trauma, they’re doing so in trust and should be believed. Treating their words with compassion and believing them is vital to their healing journey. You can also take action by being a supportive community member and encouraging survivors to seek out support and justice.