Blaming the victim

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Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her?
—Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings[1]

Blaming the victim describes the attempt to escape responsibility by placing the blame for the crime or other abuse 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,[2] 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, e.g. "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 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.


  • Blaming bullying and violence toward gay people on gay people themselves. For instance, several homophobic activists (including Bryan Fischer) have claimed that the murder of 15-year-old openly gay eighth grader Lawrence King[6] 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",[7] and as a solution to anti-gay hate crimes Fischer suggested "placing reasonable curbs on the public expression of homosexual behavior."
  • Breast ironing: the idea that preventing girls from developing breasts will also make them less likely to be raped. Even though there is no evidence to prove this.
  • One tactic of Holocaust denialists is to claim the number of victims of the Holocaust has been exaggerated, a clear attempt at denying the victim.
  • Speaking of the Holocaust, another particularly egregious example came from the mouth of children's author Roald Dahl:Wikipedia "There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity; maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I'd rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me, but they were always submissive."[8]
  • In May of 2018, rapper Kanye West garnered controversy for an incoherent comment on how "slavery for 400 years […] sounds like a choice" on the slaves' part.[9]
  • Ward Churchill infamously got shitcanned from the University of Colorado at Boulder for characterising 9/11 victims as "little Eichmanns" who got what they deserved for not doing enough to oppose Uncle Sam's misdeeds.[10]


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.[12]


Defenses of victim-blaming have notably manifested in two forms. One is that victims should be considered partly responsible, but no foundation for this belief has been presented. The other is that absolving the victim of responsibility discourages "behavioral victim-blaming" that has been claimed to be a predictor of healthy coping on the part of the victim. However, research shows that all types of self-blame for crimes such as rape are generally very toxic, and behavioral (i.e. "My behavior caused it.") vs. characterological (i.e. "It happened because I am a bad person.") is usually used as a not as bad as argument.[13] 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.

Further reading[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  2. Judge hands down 30-day sentence in rape case
  3. News Report
  10. Ward Churchill, "Some People Push Back" On the Justice of Roosting Chickens., 3 February 2005.
  12. Blaming the victim: Belief in control or belief in justice? by Jürgen Maes (1994) Social Justice Research 7(1):69-90. "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."
  13. Self blame in rape victims: A bibliography, citing:Miller, Dale T., Simon Fraser U, Burnaby, Canada Porter, Carol A. (1983). Self-blame in victims of violence. Journal of Social Issues, 39(2) pp. 139-152.