Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the perception of victims as responsible. There is a greater tendency to blame victims of rape than victims of robbery if victims and perpetrators know each other.
Coining of the phraseEdit
Psychologist William Ryan coined the phrase "blaming the victim" in his 1971 book Blaming the Victim. In the book, Ryan described victim blaming as an ideology used to justify racism and social injustice against black people in the United States. Ryan wrote the book to refute Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 work The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (usually simply referred to as the Moynihan Report).
Moynihan had concluded that three centuries of oppression of black people, and in particular with what he calls the uniquely cruel structure of American slavery as opposed to its Latin American counterparts, had created a long series of chaotic disruptions within the black family structure which, at the time of the report, manifested itself in high rates of unwed births, absent fathers, and single mother households in black families. Moynihan then correlated these familial outcomes, which he considered undesirable, to the relatively poorer rates of employment, educational achievement, and financial success found among the black population. Moynihan advocated the implementation of government programs designed to strengthen the black nuclear family.
Ryan objected that Moynihan then located the proximate cause of the plight of black Americans in the prevalence of a family structure in which the father was often sporadically, if at all, present, and the mother was often dependent on government aid to feed, clothe, and provide medical care for her children. Ryan's critique cast the Moynihan theories as attempts to divert responsibility for poverty from social structural factors to the behaviors and cultural patterns of the poor.
Although Ryan popularized the phrase, other scholars had identified the phenomenon of victim blaming. In 1947 Theodor W. Adorno defined what would be later called "blaming the victim," as "one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character". Shortly thereafter Adorno and three other professors at the University of California, Berkeley formulated their influential and highly debated F-scale (F for fascist), published in The Authoritarian Personality (1950), which included among the fascist traits of the scale the "contempt for everything discriminated against or weak." A typical expression of victim blaming is the "asking for it" idiom, e.g. "she was asking for it" said of a victim of violence or sexual assault.
Secondary victimization of sexual assault victimsEdit
Secondary victimization is the re-traumatization of the sexual assault, abuse, or rape victim through the responses of individuals and institutions. Types of secondary victimization include victim blaming, disbelieving the victim's story, minimizing the severity of the attack, and inappropriate post-assault treatment by medical personnel or other organizations. Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, military sexual trauma and statutory rape.
Sexual assault victims experience stigmatization based on rape myths. A female rape victim is especially stigmatized in patrilineal cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sex and sexuality. For example, a society may view a female rape victim (especially one who was previously a virgin) as "damaged". Victims in these cultures may suffer isolation, physical and psychological abuse, slut-shaming, public humiliation rituals, be disowned by friends and family, be prohibited from marrying, be divorced if already married, or even be killed. However, even in many developed countries, including some sectors of United States society, misogyny remains culturally ingrained.
One example of a sexist allegation against female victims of sexual assault is that wearing provocative clothing stimulates sexual aggression in men who believe that women wearing body-revealing clothes are actively trying to seduce a sexual partner. Such accusations against victims stem from the assumption that sexually revealing clothing conveys consent for sexual actions, irrespective of willful verbal consent. Research has yet to prove that attire is a significant causal factor in determining who is assaulted.
Victim blaming is also exemplified when a victim of sexual assault is found at fault for performing actions which reduce their ability to resist or refuse consent, such as consuming alcohol. Victim advocacy groups and medical professionals are educating young adults on the definition of consent, and the importance of refraining from victim blaming. Most institutions have adopted the concept of affirmative consent and that refraining from sexual activity while under the influence is the safest choice.
In efforts to discredit alleged sexual assault victims in court, a defense attorney may delve into an accuser’s personal history, a common practice that also has the purposeful effect of making the victim so uncomfortable they choose not to proceed. This attack on character, especially one pointing out promiscuity, makes the argument that women who lead “high risk" lifestyles (promiscuity, drug use) are not real victims of rape.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence of male victims of sexual assault concludes that male rape victim blaming is usually done so because of social constructs of masculinity. The article quotes "A man who fails to physically overcome his attacker is likewise seen as contributing to his own victimization; he must have secretly wanted it." Some effects of these kind of rape cases include a loss of masculinity, confusion about their sexual orientation, and a sense of failure in behaving as men should.
An ideal victim is one who is afforded the status of victimhood due to unavoidable circumstances that put the individual at a disadvantage. One can apply this theory to any crime including and especially sexual assault. Nils Christie, a Norwegian criminology professor, has been theorizing about the concept of the ideal victim since the 1980s. In his research he gives two examples, one of an old woman who is attacked on her way home from visiting her family and the other of a man who is attacked at a bar by someone he knew. He describes the old woman as an ideal victim because she could not avoid being in the location that she was, she did not know her attacker, and she could not fight off her attacker. The man, however, could have avoided being at a bar, knew his attacker, and should have been able to fight off his attacker, being younger and a man.
When applying the ideal victim theory to sexual assault victims, often judicial proceedings define an ideal victim as one who resists their attacker and exercises caution in risky situations, despite law reforms to extinguish these fallacious requirements. When victims are not ideal they are at risk for being blamed for their attack because they are not considered real victims of rape. Because they do not fit the criteria being laid out in the rape law, they cannot be considered real victims and thereby their attacker will not be prosecuted.
A victim who is not considered an ideal, or real victim,is one who leads a “high risk” lifestyle, partaking in drugs or alcohol, or is perceived as promiscuous. A victim who intimately knows their attacker is also not considered an ideal victim. Examples of a sexual assault victim who is not ideal is a prostitute because they lead a high risk lifestyle. The perception is that these behaviors discount the credibility of a sexual assault victim’s claim or that the behaviors and associations create the mistaken assumption of consent. Some of or all of the blame of the assault is then placed on these victims, and so they are not worthy of having their case presented in court. These perceptions persist in court rulings despite a shift in laws favoring affirmative consent- meaning that the participants in a sexual activity give a verbal affirmation rather than one participant who doesn’t answer negatively nor do they answer positively. In other words, affirmative consent is yes means yes and no means no.
In addition to an ideal victim, there must be an ideal perpetrator for a crime to be considered ideal. The ideal attacker does not know their victim and is a completely non-sympathetic figure- one who is considered sub-human, an individual lacking morals. An attacker that knows their victim is not considered an ideal attacker, nor is someone who seems morally ordinary. Cases of intimate partner violence are not considered ideal because the victim knows their attacker. Husbands and wives are not ideal victims or perpetrators because they are intimately familiar with each other.
Many different cultures across the globe have formulated different degrees of victim blaming for different scenarios such as rape, hate crimes, and domestic abuse. Victim blaming is common around the world, especially in cultures where it is socially acceptable and advised to treat certain groups of people as lesser. For example, in Somalia victims of sexual abuse consistently endure social ostracization and harassment. One specific example is the kidnapping and rape of 14-year old Fatima: when the police arrived, both Fatima and her rapist were arrested. While they did not detain the offender for long, the officers held Fatima captive for a month and a prison guard continually raped her during that time.
In February 2016, the organisations International Alert and UNICEF published a study revealing that girls and women released from captivity by Nigeria's insurgency group Boko Haram often face rejection by their communities and families. Their children born of sexual violence faced even more discrimination.
Acid attacks on South Asian women, when people throw acid on women in an attempt to punish them for their perceived wrongdoings, are another example of victim-blaming. For instance, in New Delhi in 2005, a group of men threw acid on a 16-year-old girl because they believed she provoked the advances of a man.
In western culture victim blaming has been largely recognized as a problematic way to view a situation, however this does not exempt westerners from being guilty of the action. A recent example of western victim blaming would be a civil trial held in 2013 where the Los Angeles School District blamed a 14-year-old girl for the sexual abuse she endured from her middle school teacher. The District's lawyer argued that the minor was responsible for the prevention of the abuse, putting the entire fault on the victim and exempting the perpetrator of any responsibility. Despite his efforts to convince the court that the victim must be blamed, the ruling stated that no minor student that has been sexually assaulted by his or her teacher is responsible for the prevention of that sexual assault.
Roy Baumeister, a social and personality psychologist, argued that blaming the victim is not necessarily always fallacious. He argued that showing the victim's possible role in an altercation may be contrary to typical explanations of violence and cruelty, which incorporate the trope of the innocent victim. According to Baumeister, in the classic telling of "the myth of pure evil," the innocent, well-meaning victims are going about their business when they are suddenly assaulted by wicked, malicious evildoers. Baumeister describes the situation as a possible distortion by both the perpetrator and the victim; the perpetrator may minimize the offense while the victim maximizes it, and so accounts of the incident shouldn't be immediately taken as objective truths.
In context, Baumeister refers to the common behavior of the aggressor seeing themselves as more of the "victim" than the abused, justifying a horrific act by way of their "moral complexity". This usually stems from an "excessive sensitivity" to insults, which he finds as a consistent pattern in abusive husbands. Essentially, the abuse the perpetrator administers is generally excessive, in comparison to the act/acts that they claim as to have provoked them.
Leigh Leigh, born Leigh Rennea Mears, was a 14-year-old girl from Fern Bay, Australia, who was murdered on November 3, 1989. While attending a 16-year-old boy's birthday party at Stockton Beach, Leigh was assaulted by a group of boys after she returned distressed from a sexual encounter on the beach that a reviewing judge later called non-consensual. After being kicked and spat on by the group, Leigh left the party. Her naked body was found in the sand dunes nearby the following morning, with severe genital damage and a crushed skull. Leigh's murder received considerable attention in the media. Initially focusing on her sexual assault and murder, media attention later concentrated more on the lack of parental supervision and the drugs and alcohol at the party, and on Leigh's sexuality. The media coverage of the murder has been cited as an example of victim blaming.:131
In a case that became infamous in 2011, an 11-year-old female rape victim who suffered repeated gang rapes in Cleveland, Texas, was accused by a defense attorney of being a seductress who lured men to their doom. "Like the spider and the fly. Wasn't she saying, 'Come into my parlor', said the spider to the fly?", he asked a witness. The New York Times ran an article uncritically reporting on the way many in the community blamed the victim, for which the newspaper later apologized.
In a case that attracted worldwide coverage, when a woman was raped and killed in Delhi in December 2012, some Indian government officials and political leaders blamed the victim for various things, mostly based on conjecture. Many of the people involved later apologized.
In 2016, in the wake of New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Germany, the mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker came under heavy criticism, as her response appeared to blame the victims. She called for women to follow a "code of conduct," including staying at an "arm's length" from strangers. By the evening of January 5, #einearmlänge ("an arm's length") became one of Germany's top-trending hashtags on Twitter. Reker called a crisis meeting with the police in response to the incidents. Reker called it "completely improper" to link the perpetrators to refugees.
Coverage of the 2016 Murder of Ashley Ann Olsen, an American murdered in Italy during a sexual encounter with a Senegalese immigrant, focused on the victim blaming in cross-cultural encounters.
- Abusive power and control
- Backlash (sociology)
- Contributory negligence
- Guilt trip
- Just-world hypothesis
- Labeling theory
- Mind games
- Negativity effect
- Penal couple
- Post-assault treatment of sexual assault victims
- Psychological projection
- Rape shield law
- Rationalization (making excuses)
- Self-serving bias
- Victim playing
- Fox, K. A.; Cook, C. L. (2011). "Is Knowledge Power? The Effects of a Victimology Course on Victim Blaming". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 26: 3407–3427. doi:10.1177/0886260511403752.
- Bieneck, S.; Krahe, B. (2010). "Blaming the Victim and Exonerating the Perpetrator in Cases of Rape and Robbery: Is There a Double Standard?". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 26 (9): 1785–97. PMID 20587449. doi:10.1177/0886260510372945.
- ISBN 9780394417264
- Cole (2007) pp.111, 149, 213
- Downs (1998) p. 24
- Kirkpatrick (1987) p. 219
- Kent (2003)
- http://www.blackpast.org/primary/moynihan-report-1965 Archived 18 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine.
- Illinois state U. archives.
- Ryan, William (1976). Blaming the Victim. Vintage. ISBN 0-394-72226-4.[page needed]
- Robinson (2002) p.141
- Adorno, TW (1947) Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler in Kenyon Review Vol.ix (1), p. 158
- James Martin Harding (1997) Adorno and "A writing of the ruins": essays on modern aesthetics and Anglo-American literature and culture, p.143 quotation: "The mechanisms of this ideological affinity between Baraka and Wagner can be seen in a short critique of Wagner that Adorno wrote directly after the Second World War—at a time when Adorno was perhaps his most direct in singling out the proto-fascist tendencies in Wagner's corpus and character. Adorno criticizes Wagner's having bated his conductor Herman Levi so that he would seem to bear the responsibility for Wagner's subsequent insulting dismissal of him. This, for Adorno, is a classic example of blaming the victim. The anti-Semitic sub-text to the dismissal, viz., that as a Jew Levi supposedly desired and brought the dismissal upon himself, "bears witness to the existence of one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character even in Wagner's time: the paranoid tendency of projecting upon others one's own violent aggressiveness and then indicting, on the basis of this projection, those whom one endows with pernicious qualities" (Adorno "Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler" 158)."
- Adorno and the political By Espen Hammer p.63
- Nicky Ali Jackson (22 February 2007). Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Taylor & Francis. pp. 715–. ISBN 978-0-203-94221-5. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
- Campbell, R.; Raja, S. (1999). "Secondary victimization of rape victims: insights from mental health professionals who treat survivors of violence". Violence and Victims. 14 (3): 261–275. PMID 10606433.
- "Rape Myths and Facts | wellwvu | West Virginia University". well.wvu.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "Factsheets: Trauma of Victimization – Secondary Injuries". Svfreenyc.org. 21 August 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
- "Power in Structured Misogyny: Implications for the Politics... : Advances in Nursing Science". LWW. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "Male Hegemony through Education: Construction of Gendered Identities". hipatiapress.info. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Jeffreys, Sheila (2014-12-03). Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. Routledge. ISBN 9781317675440.
- Moor, Abigail (2010). "She Dresses to Attract, He Perceives Seduction: A Gender Gap in Attribution of Intent to Women's Revealing Style of Dress and its Relation to Blaming the Victims of Sexual Violence". Journal of International Women's Studies. 11 (4): 115–127.
- Beiner, Theresa (2007). "Sexy Dressing Revisited: Does Target Dress Play a Part in Sexual Harassment Cases?". Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy. 14: 125–152.
- Whitaker, Matthew. "Don't blame women's drinking for rape". CNN Opinion. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
- "Myths and Facts About Sexual Assault and Consent". Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Randall, M. (2010). "Sexual Assault Law, Credibility, and "Ideal Victims": Consent, Resistance, and Victim Blaming". Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. 2 (22): 397. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
- Suarez, E.; Gadalla, T. M. "Stop Blaming the Victim: A Meta-Analysis on Rape Myths". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 25 (11): 2010–2035. doi:10.1177/0886260509354503.
- "Male Rape Victim and Perpetrator Blaming". Sage Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Sage Journal Publications. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
- Davies, Michelle; Austen, Kerry; Rogers, Paul (2011). "Sexual Preference, Gender, and Blame Attributions in Adolescent Sexual Assault". Journal of Social Psychology (151.5): 592–607.
- Davies, Michelle; Austen, Kerry; Rogers, Paul (2011). "Sexual Preference, Gender, and Blame Attributions in Adolescent Sexual Assault". Journal of Social Psychology (151.5): 592–607.
- Cling, B. J. (2004-01-01). Sexualized Violence Against Women and Children: A Psychology and Law Perspective. Guilford Press. ISBN 9781593850616.
- Christie, Nils (1986). The Ideal Victim. London: Macmillian Press. pp. 17–30.
- Gotell, Lise (2008). "Rethinking Affirmative Consent in Canadian Sexual Assault Law: Neoliberal Sexual Subjects and Risky Women". Akron Law Review. Akron: Akron University Press. 41 (4): 865–898.
- Stringer, Rebecca (2013). "Vulnerability after Wounding: Feminism, Rape Law, and the Differend". SubStance. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 42 (132): 148–168.
- Randall, Melanie (2010). "Sexual Assault Law, Credibility, and "Ideal Victims": Consent, Resistance, and Victim Blaming". Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 22: 397–434.
- "Rape victims are still being blamed for sexual violence in Somalia". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
- Liz Ford (16 February 2016). "Women freed from Boko Haram rejected for bringing 'bad blood' back home". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
- Laxmi. "Laxmi's Story". Acid Survivors Foundation India. Acid Survivors Foundation India. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
- "JUDGE: School district 'wrong' to blame student for having sex with teacher EAGnews.org". eagnews.org. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
- Baumeister, Roy (1999). Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7165-2.[page needed]
- Carrington, Kerry (24 July 1998). Who Killed Leigh Leigh? A story of shame and mateship in an Australian town. Sydney, New South Wales: Random House Australia. ISBN 978-0-09-183708-2.
- Adams, Sam (29 November 2012). "Cleveland, Texas rape case: Defense attorney calls pre-teen victim a spider, but that's his job". Slate. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "NY Times Defends Victim Blaming Coverage of Child Rape Case". Mediabistro.com. 10 March 2011. Archived from the original on 13 September 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Amid rape fiasco, India's leaders keep up insensitive remarks". Washington Post. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Mayor of Cologne says women should have code of conduct to prevent future assault". Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- "Twitter storm as Cologne mayor suggests women stay at 'arm's length' from strangers". Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- "Stoning victim 'begged for mercy'". BBC News. November 4, 2008. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
- "A 'new dimension' of sexual assault in Cologne". Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- "Cologne sex attacks: Merkel disgust at New Year gang assaults". BBC News. 5 January 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Grisafi, Patricia (25 March 2016). "The myth of the good victim: As an American facing street harassment abroad, I wondered what it meant to be a "good victim"". Salon.com. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
- Nadeau, Barbie Latza (15 January 2016). "Ashley Olsen Didn't Deserve to Die, No Matter How Hard She Partied". Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
- Cole, Alyson Manda (2007) The cult of true victimhood: from the war on welfare to the war on terror
- Downs, Donald Alexander (1998) More Than Victims: Battered Women, the Syndrome Society, and the Law
- George Kent (2003). "Blaming the Victim, Globally". UN Chronicle online. United Nations Department of Public Information. XL (3). Archived from the original on 24 December 2003.
- Kirkpatrick, George R. and Katsiaficas, George N. and Kirkpatrick, Robert George and Emery, Mary Lou (1987) Introduction to critical sociology
- Robinson, Daniel N. (2002) Praise And Blame: Moral Realism and Its Applications
- Durham, Meenakshi G. (February 2013). ""Vicious assault shakes Texas town": the politics of gender violence in The New York Times' coverage of a schoolgirl's gang rape". Journalism Studies. Taylor & Francis Online. 14 (1): 1–12. doi:10.1080/1461670X.2012.657907.
- Janoffbulman, R (1985). "Cognitive biases in blaming the victim". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 21 (2): 161–177. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(85)90013-7.
- Maes, JüRgen (1994). "Blaming the victim: Belief in control or belief in justice?". Social Justice Research. 7: 69–90. doi:10.1007/BF02333823.
- McCaul, Kevin D.; Veltum, Lois G.; Boyechko, Vivian; Crawford, Jacqueline J. (1990). "Understanding Attributions of Victim Blame for Rape: Sex, Violence, and Foreseeability1". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 20: 1–26. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1990.tb00375.x.
- Summers, Gertrude; Feldman, Nina S. (1984). "Blaming the Victim Versus Blaming the Perpetrator: An Attributional Analysis of Spouse Abuse". Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 2 (4): 339–47. doi:10.1521/jscp.1922.214.171.1249.