Blaming the victim

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Blaming the victim describes the attempt to escape responsibility by placing the blame for the crime at the hands of the victim. Classically this is the rapist claiming his victim was "asking for it" by, for example, wearing a short skirt. Until recently, blaming the victim was largely how most rape victims experienced the investigation and litigation into claims of rape - often leading to women and men becoming unwilling to report it. It was not uncommon for a victim of rape to face a defense attorney who asked the victim about her (or, in the rare cases that a male victim went to court, his) sexual history, sexual preferences, drinking habits and even social status, all to paint her as less of a victim. In 2013, a Montana Judge said a 14 year old rape victim seemed "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher who raped her[1], a perfect example of blaming the victim.

Denying the victim is similar, but has a slight difference in that the perpetrator attempts to assert that he or she is the real victim. Denying the victim is generally less of a one-on-one scenario, and more topical, ie. "The real victims of the supposed 'mistreatment of women' are the children who have to grow up in homes where their mother wants to work instead of care for them." Denying the victims, in this sense, is often an attempt at historical revisionism, to make those charged with the crimes, look more or even totally innocent in the light of modern society.

Denial of the victim can also take the form of minimizing the number of victims or the severity of the offense. For example, the Roman Catholic Church played this game, when trying to claim the systematic child abuse by some priests were simply isolated events both individually and by priests at large. They also pushed the issue that the boys should not be described as "children," but "young men" to minimize the sense of how horrific these rapes were. Both blaming the victim and denying the victim are specific instances of neutralization.


[edit] Examples

  • Blaming bullying and violence toward homosexuals on the homosexuals themselves. For instance, several homophobic activists (including Bryan Fischer) has claimed that the murder of 15 year-old openly gay eighth grader Lawrence King[5] must be blamed on King himself. In a column called “Who will protect straights from homosexual bullies” Fischer alleged that King's killer was a victim of King's relentless "sexual harassment,"[6] and as a solution of anti-gay hate crimes Fischer suggested “placing reasonable curbs on the public expression of homosexual behavior."

[edit] Motives

One motive for victim blaming is that it is easier to see a victim as blameworthy than to give up the belief that the world is fair and that people get what they deserve in life. The perceived alternative to victim blaming would be to believe that the world (or God) is unjust, unpredictable, and frightening.[7]

[edit] Criticism

Criticism of victim-blaming usually appears in two forms. One that it denies responsibility of the victim's actions and two that it discourages "behavioral victim-blaming." The former is a straw-man and a very toxic assumption when used in cases of rape and sexual assault while the latter is generally used by pseudo-intellectuals as an excuse as to why they can victim-blame someone.

A (bad) criticism of the movement against victim blaming is that victims should not be permitted to use their victimization as an excuse to disclaim responsibility for their reactions. For example, juries sometimes treat the abuse a perpetrator of retaliatory violence was subjected to by his victim as an extenuating circumstance. This is a bit of a straw man that stems from a misunderstanding of what victim blaming is especially in a social sense.

Also, there is some evidence that victims' self-blame is a predictor of good coping, as long as it is adaptive, "behavioral self-blame" that involves blaming one's own behavior (e.g. "'It might have turned out better if I had done something else. I should have cooperated / I should have fought back.'") rather than maladaptive, "characterological self-blame" that attributes the victimization to one's enduring personality characteristics (e.g. "I'm a poor judge of character; that's why I get raped"). The behavioral self-blamer is concerned with the future and the avoidability of misfortune, while the characterological self-blamer focuses on the past and the question of deservedness.

The issue of the former is that it still places a measure of guilt on the victim of rape when there shouldn't be any. The latter is much more self-destructive it assumes that they deserved their fate and that there is something wrong with them.

69% of rape victims blame themselves behaviorally, while 19% blame themselves characterologically.[8] Thus, one of the potential problems with discouraging victim-blaming is that it could interfere with victims' coping strategies by placing the locus of control on the perpetrator.

However, research shows that all types of self-blame for crimes such as rape are generally very toxic, behavioral vs characterological is usually used as a not as bad as argument.[9]. Neither type of self-blame is productive in cases of rape and it operates from a feeling of inadequacy that is pushed by social norms against rape victims.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Stanley Cohen. 2001. States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity Press. Pp. 96-97.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Judge hands down 30 day sentence in rape case
  2. News Report
  7. "Whereas Just World Theory suggests that the belief in a just world is the decisive motive of increased attributions of responsibility, the Defensive Attribution Hypothesis assumes that these attributions are motivated by the need to believe in internal locus of control."
  8. Janoff-Bulman, R. (1979). Characterological versus behavioral self-blame: Inquiries into depression and rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1798-1809
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