Victim blaming

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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.[1] The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the perception of victims as responsible.[2] There is a greater tendency to blame victims of rape than victims of robbery in cases where victims and perpetrators know one another.[3]

Coining of the phrase; racism[edit]

William Ryan coined the phrase "blaming the victim" in his 1971 book Blaming the Victim.[4][5][6][7][8] In the book, Ryan described victim blaming as an ideology used to justify racism and social injustice against black people in the United States.[7] 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).[9]

Moynihan had concluded that three centuries of horrible treatment at the hands of whites, and in particular 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.[citation needed]

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.[10][11]


Although Ryan popularized the phrase, other scholars had identified the phenomenon of victim blaming.[12] 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".[13][14] 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."[15] 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.[16]

Secondary victimization of sexual assault victims[edit]

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.[17] Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, military sexual trauma and statutory rape.[citation needed]

Sexual assault victims experience stigmatization based on rape myths.[18] 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.[19] However, even in many developed countries, including the United States, misogyny remains culturally ingrained.[20][21][22]

One example of a sexism-based 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.[23][24]

Victim blaming is also exemplified when a victim of sexual assault is faulted for performing actions which reduce the victim's ability to resist, or refuse consent, such as consuming alcohol.[25] Victims 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.[26]

Findings on Rape Myth Acceptance have supported feminist claims that sexism is at the root of female rape victim blaming.[27]

A 2009 study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence surveys on male victims of sexual assault states 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." [28] 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.[29]

Victims of an unwanted sexual encounter usually develop psychological problems such as depression or sexual violence specific PTSD known as Rape Trauma Syndrome.[30][31]

Opposing views[edit]

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.[32]


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.[33] "Like the spider and the fly. Wasn't she saying, 'Come into my parlor' , said the spider to the fly?", he asked a witness.[33] 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.[33][34]

In a case that attracted worldwide coverage, when a woman was raped and killed in India in December 2012, some Indian government officials and political leaders blamed the victim for various things, mostly based in conjecture. Many of the people involved later apologized.[35]

In 2015, a British judge described a woman as 'very unwise' for drinking too much prior to being raped by two men, noting that she had been 'throwing herself at a number of young men'. He nonetheless particularly faulted the convicted men for taking of advantage of someone who was 'vulnerable and defenseless'.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Fox, K. A.; Cook, C. L. (2011). "Is Knowledge Power? The Effects of a Victimology Course on Victim Blaming". Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi:10.1177/0886260511403752. 
  3. ^ 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. doi:10.1177/0886260510372945. PMID 20587449. 
  4. ^ ISBN 9780394417264
  5. ^ Cole (2007) pp.111, 149, 213
  6. ^ Downs (1998) p. 24
  7. ^ a b Kirkpatrick (1987) p. 219
  8. ^ Kent (2003)
  9. ^
  10. ^ Illinois state U. archives.
  11. ^ Ryan, William (1976). Blaming the Victim. Vintage. ISBN 0-394-72226-4. [page needed]
  12. ^ Robinson (2002) p.141
  13. ^ Adorno, TW (1947) Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler in Kenyon Review Vol.ix (1), p. 158
  14. ^ 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)."
  15. ^ Adorno and the political By Espen Hammer p.63
  16. ^ Nicky Ali Jackson (22 February 2007). Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Taylor & Francis. pp. 715–. ISBN 978-0-203-94221-5. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ "Rape Myths and Facts | wellwvu | West Virginia University". Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  19. ^ "Factsheets: Trauma of Victimization – Secondary Injuries". 21 August 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
  20. ^ "Power in Structured Misogyny: Implications for the Politics... : Advances in Nursing Science". LWW. Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  21. ^ "Male Hegemony through Education: Construction of Gendered Identities". Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  22. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (2014-12-03). Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. Routledge. ISBN 9781317675440. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Whitaker, Matthew. "Don't blame women's drinking for rape". CNN Opinion. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  26. ^ "Myths and Facts About Sexual Assault and Consent". Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ "Male Rape Victim and Perpetrator Blaming". Sage Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Sage Journal Publications. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ 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. 
  31. ^ Cling, B. J. (2004-01-01). Sexualized Violence Against Women and Children: A Psychology and Law Perspective. Guilford Press. ISBN 9781593850616. 
  32. ^ Baumeister, Roy (1999). Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7165-2. [page needed]
  33. ^ a b c 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. 
  34. ^ "NY Times Defends Victim Blaming Coverage of Child Rape Case". 10 March 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2013. [dead link]
  35. ^ "Amid rape fiasco, India’s leaders keep up insensitive remarks". Washington Post. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  36. ^ Evans, Martin. "Judge brands rape victim 'foolish' for drinking too much". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 


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