What Is Victim Blaming?

Victim blaming occurs when the blame, fault or responsibility for a crime is placed on the victim rather than the perpetrator. For example, the victim may be told that he or she could have done something differently to prevent the crime, such as being more careful or behaving in a different way. This misplaced blame on the survivor of a crime or traumatic event can have devastating effects. Victim blaming can ultimately interfere with bringing a perpetrator to justice.

Examples of Victim Blaming

Victim blaming unfairly places fault for a crime, such as rape or sexual assault, with the person who was attacked rather than the perpetrator who committed the crime. Victim blaming is often more nuanced than simply alleging that the victim is at fault for the attack, however. Various words, phrases and reactions can have a negative connotation to a victim that results in self-blame or doubts

Examples of victim blaming include:

  • Questioning the victim’s actions and behaviors leading up to the assault. 
  • Making comments about what the victim was wearing.
  • Focusing on the fact that the victim was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
  • Pointing out supposed “weaknesses” that could make the victim an easier target.
  • Implying that the assault was justified by the victim’s behaviors.
  • Asking why the victim didn’t fight back.
  • Minimizing or downplaying the severity of the attack.
  • Wondering if the victim actually gave his or her consent.
  • Discrediting or attacking the victim’s character.
  • Trivializing sexual assault, such as a “boys will be boys” response.
  • Tolerating sexual harassment and encouraging the victim to do the same.
  • Making the victim question whether the sexual assault really happened.
  • Assuming that the victim is lying, exaggerating or making things up.

Victim blaming can create a toxic environment for survivors that discourages them from coming forward and encourages a culture of disbelief. This can hurt not only the individual survivor but many future victims of sexual assault and domestic violence by showing them the doubt, backlash and hate they may face if they speak up. Victim blaming effectively silences sexual assault and abuse survivors and gets in the way of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Why Do People Blame the Victim?

An individual may exhibit victim-blaming behaviors for a variety of reasons. They may be friends with the perpetrator and reluctant to come to terms with rape or assault allegations. Victim blaming may also be an attempt to put distance between themselves and the attack; if the victim was somehow at fault for the incident, the person blaming the victim feels reassured that the same thing could never happen to them. It is important, however, to understand that victim blaming is not a helpful reaction and could cause a great deal of harm.

How to Combat Victim Blaming

Be an active bystander – if you witness an incident of victim blaming or someone trivializing an assault after a person you know comes forward with a claim, say something. Explain victim blaming to the person who reacted badly and encourage them to be more respectful of the person and situation

Then, offer your help to the victim. This may involve going with the victim to report the crime or obtain a sexual assault forensic exam, or simply talking with the victim and being there for them. Express to the victim that what happened was not their fault, that they in no way invited or encouraged the attack, and that help is available.

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