Why Victim Blaming Is Not Okay

Survivors of sexual violence often feel like they have to carry the weight of their trauma and its aftermath on their own. They may be blaming themselves, or the people who hurt them, for what happened to them. But this is not the case—victim blaming is not okay, and it’s important to understand why it happens so that we can fight it.

Whenever an incident of victimisation makes the news, there’s always someone who is quick to put blame on the victim for what happened to them. It might be a journalist asking what the victims were wearing, or it could be a friend or relative who asks why they were out so late at night, or whether they knew the attacker well enough to avoid them. These are just a few of the many examples of victim blaming that we’re constantly exposed to through the media and in real life.

While it might seem obvious that some of those who victim blame have a vested interest in doing so (such as the perpetrators themselves, or their lawyers), what’s less clear is why and how so many other people do this. Some are unwitting, but others appear to actively enjoy victim blaming and use it as an emotional outlet. This type of person is called a “psychopathic victim blamer” and there’s evidence that they actually derive satisfaction from victimising others.

Even if a friend or loved one does not have a vested interest in victim blaming, they may still fall into the trap of it due to the fundamental attribution error. This psychological bias is a tendency to attribute other people’s behaviour to internal, personal characteristics and overlook any external factors that may have contributed to the situation.

This can be dangerous for victims who are trying to get help and support from their friends and family. For instance, if they are being victim-blamed and do not receive the support that they need, it may discourage them from reporting what happened to the police. It could also lead to feelings of post-traumatic stress, depression and health issues.

It’s therefore crucial that we try to prevent victim blaming at all times, not just in the wake of high profile incidents. To do this, we need to be aware of the signs that someone is blaming a victim and challenge their language and behaviour.

To make this easier, we’ve created a series of scenarios that can be used in a training session to identify the language and behaviours of victim blaming. By identifying these, professionals can learn how to respond in a more positive and supportive way and ensure that survivors are believed and understood. These are not to be used as a judgement on colleagues, but as a tool to encourage reflection and discussion about what they might need to change in their practice going forward. You can find our full list of victim blaming scenarios here. We hope that you find them useful, and if you have any questions about how to use them, please do not hesitate to contact us.