What victim-blaming is and why it only causes more violence

What victim-blaming is and why it only causes more violence

The criminal should be blamed for their crimes, not their victims, otherwise, the harassment will not only harm the victims but also society as a whole.Our blog explains what victim-blaming is and why it only causes more violence?

A student raped and murdered his girlfriend and neighbor before committing suicide. It would seem that everything is clear: the violence took place and only the criminal is to blame for it, who also confessed to what he had done. But the media and internet users have massively started to look for an excuse for the murderer: the victim “Friend zoned” him, provoked him, posted explicit pictures on social media.

Or here is another, more recent case. A 16-year-old girl blamed herself for being raped. After such incidents, there is often talk about victim-blaming. We figure out what it is and why people behave this way.

What is victim-blaming and how does it happen?

The word itself is a derivation of the expression victim-blaming, which means “blaming the victim”. It describes a situation where instead of blaming the criminal, people try to find excuses for the victim and claim that it was the victim’s fault for what happened to them – that they provoked them, that they behaved inappropriately, that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The term “victim-blaming” was coined by psychologist William Ryan in the 1970s when he wrote about racist crimes. Nowadays, the term is most often used when talking about women victims of sexualized and domestic violence. It is in this context that it has gained the most traction. But in a broader sense, anyone who has suffered a crime can be blamed.

What victim-blaming is and why it only causes more violence

This is what victim-blaming looks like:

  1. Police tell the victim she is to blame for rape, pressure her, laugh, refuse to take a statement, claiming nothing bad happened and it was “fake “She wanted to get to the end. 
  2. On the internet, when discussing cases of violence against women, people write that everything is not so clear-cut, the victim must have provoked the offender because she wasn’t dressed like that, she drank too much, she posted explicit pictures on social media, she talked to the wrong people, she didn’t resist well enough, she left home at night, she walked out of the house.
  3. Media personalities to a large audience are making statements along the lines of “What did you do to keep him from hitting you?” and supporting the criminals rather than the victims.
  4. Under news stories about murders, commentators try to find out what the murdered person did wrong, where he “screwed up” to deserve what happened to him: maybe he was drinking with shady characters, maybe he was loitering in the mean places, or did something bad to someone himself – and was “punished”.
  5. When it comes to fraud, some believe that the victims were too stupid and inconsiderate and that no one is to blame for transferring money to scam artists themselves or for not reading the reviews of poor services.
  6. If the victim of sexualized or domestic violence is male, he may be openly ridiculed as too weak, “not a man”. 
  7. If the victim is a child, the blame will go either to the child – “kids these days are very arrogant and immature” – or to the parents, usually the mother – she didn’t look after them.

Victimization has many faces and forms, but the core is always the same: the focus of attention shifts from the criminal to the victim.

Where does victim-blaming come from

People are sympathetic to criminals

Researchers have found that the abuser may be more sympathetic than the victim, as strange as it may sound, but the abuser is male and the victim is female. At least when it comes to sexual harassment mostly the abuser is a man and the victim is a woman.

People fall prey to the survivor’s mistake

It is a mental trap whereby we extend our own positive experiences to all other people. I never wore a short skirt, and I wasn’t raped – so neither should others. I have never wandered into dark alleys in the evenings and I have not been robbed.

Society approves of such behavior

In recent years, victim-blaming has been widely discussed and written about, so many people understand that blaming the victim instead of the criminal is absurd. Nevertheless, if you open the comments in the average newsgroup without heavy moderation, you can see how many participants in the discussion are still looking for flaws in the victim’s moral character and behavior.

Such an approach inevitably begins to be perceived as normal and socially acceptable – and others begin to reproduce it.

What are the consequences of victim-blaming?

It traumatizes victims

When a victim realizes that her surroundings – near or distant – blame her for what happened rather than the offender, she experiences difficult emotions: shame, horror, resentment, bitterness. In essence, she has to relive the same feelings she experienced after the incident. Psychologists call this phenomenon retraumatization and re-victimization of rape victims.

It normalizes violence

Victim-Blaming is based on a cannibalistic idea: the victims deserve what happened to them. If we develop this idea, it turns out that some people – the “wrong” ones – can be beaten, raped, robbed, killed. Because they were driven, provoked, failed to defend themselves, looked the wrong way, went the wrong way. And in general, there is nothing to break the life of a criminal and put him in prison. It sounds absurd, creepy, and unhealthy.

It restricts victims, not criminals

Victim-Blaming is like imposing a set of measures on victims, and those who may become victims, to ensure that nothing bad happens. Some of them are quite logical: walking alone through a forest belt at night, hitchhiking, walking home with strangers is indeed not too safe.

But some recommendations do not correlate with reality and hold the victims responsible for what happened. For example, advice to wear only loose clothing or not to leave the house in the evening. It is as if the authors of such rules forget that robberies and murders also happen in broad daylight and that victims of harassment and rape become “Your Fault?” – there’s an exhibition in Brussels of rape victims’ clothes, girls in children’s dresses, women in sweatpants or even a burka.

So, alas, victim-blaming does not do any good, on the contrary, it harms all adequate people. Because anyone can be a victim.

And every time you want to complain and say the admonishing “You should have stayed home at 11 pm”, it is better to pause, take a few deep breaths and think about what these words will lead to and whether you should keep them to yourself.

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