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Professional victim is a snarl word for someone who seems to be making their living off something negative that happened to them. It is commonly used to discredit feminism and social justice and the legitimate concerns brought to light by those movements. This is in essence an escape hatch to evade the necessarily uncomfortable questions brought up by those people.
The term "victim mentality" is also used in psychology, to denote an unrelated condition wherein people display low self-esteem, refuse to take personal responsibility, and see the world as always being "against them" (and thus the reason for their unhappiness). However, in the absence of compelling evidence, accusing someone of being a "professional victim" is an appeal to motive fallacy.
What is supposed to categorize the people who this term is used on is the constant use of victimhood as advantageous to their own lives. For example: Anita Sarkeesian has been harassed out of everywhere and eventually went on to do several presentations, talks, and even got a spot on The Colbert Report about this subject.[note 1] Calling her a professional victim is essentially saying she is milking her harassment for personal gain.[note 2]
It typically works in a four stage cycle.
- Person is made a victim of some sort and says something about it.
- Person is harassed about problem or something they said about it.
- Person is then given a chance to speak on less of a free-for-all scenario to not be drowned out amongst all the vitriol.
- Go To 2.
You know, they wouldn't be such professional victims if you didn't make them into one.
All of that said, there are people who are professional victims. Collecting insurance money is predicated on being the victim of some sort of mishap, which has proven to be quite tempting for many fraudsters. People with Münchausen syndrome by definition deliberately misrepresent themselves as victims, and often there is some personal gain to be had. Then there are a few who knowingly and maliciously lie about themselves in various ways; Treva Throneberry, the con artist who got one person wrongfully convicted of statutory rape and multiple people wrongfully arrested for the same, was one such person.
These people, though, are not usually the ones people have in mind when bandying about the term "professional victim". Actively claiming to be a victim of something that didn't happen or intentionally harming oneself for the specific purpose of being a victim is one thing, getting oneself on the wrong side of vitriolic hatred simply for attempting to bring some sanity to a discussion is quite another. Given how simple this distinction is, it is unclear why so few people seem to grasp it. Oh well.
Other forms of this term
"Victim feminism" - used by feminist writer Naomi Wolf to describe women "seek[ing] power through an identity of powerlessness...on the basis of feminine specialness instead of human worth."
Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, in a New York Times essay: "...victimhood culture makes for worse citizens — people who are less helpful, more entitled, and more selfish."
- For the record, they came to her.
- This video is an example of such an accusation. The author claims that Sarkeesian disabled comments on all her videos except the one for her KickStarter campaign, because the torrents of undeserved abuse in those comments might convince more people to donate out of sympathy.
- For example in her 2004 article "Capt. Yee's whiny sympathy circle" and 2011 blog "Flash mobs, grievance-stokers, and RAAAAAACISM!" and 2008 blog "May Day, May Day: All-purpose, left-wing grievance day; West Coast port shutdowns expected; in-your-face illegal aliens in Chicago; 29 ports down; Los Angeles fizzle"
- Judith Orloff, Strategies to Deal with Victim Mentality. Psychology Today, 1 October 2012.
- Garfield, Bob. "Munchausen by Internet." On the Media. WNYC. Sept. 25, 2015.
- The Conservative Cult of Victimhood: Trump was a perpetrator who thought himself a victim, and American society has indulged that same illusion among Trump supporters. by David Frum (January 11, 20210 The Atlantic.
- Naomi Wolf: Power Feminist or Victim Feminist?
- "Victim: Will's rape column 'grotesque'." Politico: July 1, 2014. See also George Will, "Colleges become the victims of progressivism." June 6, 2014.
- Brooks, Arthur C. "The Real Victims of Victimhood." New York Times: Dec. 27, 2015.