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).[citation needed]

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.[9][10]


Although Ryan popularized the phrase, other scholars had identified the phenomenon of victim blaming.[11] 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".[12][13] 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."[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

Secondary victimization of sexual assault victims[edit]

A rape victim is especially stigmatized in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sex and sexuality. For example, a society may view a rape victim (especially one who was previously a virgin) as "damaged". Victims in these cultures may suffer isolation, be disowned by friends and family, be prohibited from marrying, be divorced if already married, or even be killed.[17]

In the United States, an allegation against female victims of sexual assault is that wearing provocative clothing stimulates sexual aggression in men who believe that women clothed in body-revealing dress are actively trying to seduce a sexual partner. Accusations against victims assume that sexually revealing clothing conveys consent for sexual actions, irrespective of verbal consent, and that the only women who are targets of sexual assault are those who wear sexually revealing clothing. Research has yet to prove that attire is a significant causal factor in determining who is assaulted.[18][19] Additional areas of debate in this topic include actions such as drinking and drug-taking, which may reduce a victim's ability to resist or make clear that they do not give consent.[20] For this reason, some campaigners have promoted the concept of affirmative consent.

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 "male rape myth acceptance". 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." [21]

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 and inappropriate post-assault treatment by medical personnel or other organizations.[22] Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, military sexual trauma and statutory rape.[citation needed]


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.[23] "Like the spider and the fly. Wasn't she saying, 'Come into my parlor' , said the spider to the fly?", he asked a witness.[23] 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.[23][24]

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 conjecture for which most later apologized.[25]

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 defenceless'.[26]

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. ^ Illinois state U. archives.
  10. ^ Ryan, William (1976). Blaming the Victim. Vintage. ISBN 0-394-72226-4. [page needed]
  11. ^ Robinson (2002) p.141
  12. ^ Adorno, TW (1947) Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler in Kenyon Review Vol.ix (1), p. 158
  13. ^ 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)."
  14. ^ Adorno and the political By Espen Hammer p.63
  15. ^ Nicky Ali Jackson (22 February 2007). Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Taylor & Francis. pp. 715–. ISBN 978-0-203-94221-5. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  16. ^ Baumeister, Roy (1999). Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7165-2. [page needed]
  17. ^ "Factsheets: Trauma of Victimization – Secondary Injuries". 21 August 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Whitaker, Matthew. "Don't blame women's drinking for rape". CNN Opinion. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  21. ^ "Male Rape Victim and Perpetrator Blaming". Sage Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Sage Journal Publications. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ "NY Times Defends Victim Blaming Coverage of Child Rape Case". 10 March 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  25. ^ "Amid rape fiasco, India’s leaders keep up insensitive remarks". Washington Post. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  26. ^ Evans, Martin. "Judge brands rape victim 'foolish' for drinking too much". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 


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