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Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment are held entirely or partially responsible for the transgressions committed against them. Blaming the victim has traditionally emerged especially in racist and sexist forms.[1] However, this attitude may exist independently from these radical views and even be at least half-official in some countries.[2]

People familiar with victimology are much less likely to see the victim as responsible.[3] Knowledge about prior relationship between victim and perpetrator increases perceptions of victim blame for rape, but not for robbery.[4] Another common instance is its use as a defence by bullies.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

History and concept

William Ryan coined the phrase "blaming the victim" in his 1971 book Blaming the Victim (ISBN 9780394417264).[5][6][7][8] In this book, Ryan describes victim blaming as an ideology used to justify racism and social injustice against black people in the United States.[7] Ryan wrote this 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 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 unemployment, educational achievement, and financial success found among the black population.

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. Moynihan advocated the implementation of government programs designed to strengthen the black nuclear family. 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] The phrase was quickly adopted by advocates for crime victims, in particular rape victims accused of abetting their victimization, although this usage is conceptually distinct from the sociological critique developed by Ryan. Although Ryan popularized the phrase, the phenomenon of victim blaming is a well established in human psychology and history;[11] for instance there are plenty of examples in the Christian and Ebraic Old Testament, in which tragedies and catastrophes are justified and blamed on the victims for their faults as sinners.[11]

In 1947 Theodor Adorno defined what would be later called "blaming the victim," as "one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character".[12][13] Shortly after Adorno and others at the Berkley research group 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] After Adorno, also other authors, like professor Kriss Ravetto, have described victim blaming as a characteristic fascist trait.[15] A typical infamous expression of victim blaming is the "asking for it" idiom, used in phrases like "a raped woman in a short skirt was asking for it."

Baumeister's argument

Roy Baumeister, a social and personality psychologist, argues that blaming the victim is not necessarily fallacious.[16] He argues that showing the victim's responsibility can be insightful 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. In actuality, the situation is more complicated and it is mostly—though not always—the case that the victim has done something to provoke the ire of the "evildoer" (Just-world phenomenon) or to aid the offender's actions, although the subsequent actions may outweigh the scale of the "victim's" initial offense.

Secondary victimization

A rape victim is especially stigmatizing in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sex and sexuality. For example, 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 killed. This phenomenon is known as secondary victimization.[17]

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 behavior or language by medical personnel or other organizations with which the victim has contact.[18] Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated, acquaintance, military sexual trauma and statutory rape.

Rape shield laws

Main article: Rape shield law

In the United States and Canada, rape is unique in that it is the only crime in which there are statutory protections designed in favor of the accuser. These were enacted in response to the common defense tactic of "putting the accuser on trial". Typical rape shield laws prohibit cross-examination of the accuser (alleged victim) with respect to certain issues, such as her or his prior sexual history, or the manner in which she or he was dressed at the time of the rape. Most states and the federal rules, however, provide exceptions to the rape shield law where evidence of prior sexual history is used to provide an alternative explanation for physical evidence, where the defendant and the alleged victim had a prior consensual sexual relationship, and where exclusion of evidence would violate the defendant's constitutional rights.[citation needed]

Just-world hypothesis

Main article: Just-world hypothesis

The just world hypothesis describes the phenomenon that people believe that the world is one in which actions have appropriate and predictable consequences. This phenomenon has been widely studied by social psychologists since Melvin J. Lerner conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s.[19]

Much psychological research on this has focused on victim blaming and derogation.

Family honour and sexual purity

Another factor involving social relationships is a family response to sexual violence that blames women without punishing men, concentrating instead on restoring lost family honor. Such a response creates an environment in which rape can occur with impunity.

While families will often try to protect their women from rape and may also put their daughters on contraception to prevent visible signs should it occur,[20] there is rarely much social pressure to control young men or persuade them that coercing sex is wrong.Template:Where Instead, in some countries, there is frequently support for family members to do whatever is necessary including murder to alleviate the shame associated with a rape or other sexual transgression. In a review of all crimes of honour occurring in Jordan in 1995,[21] researchers found that in over 60% of the cases, the victim died from multiple gunshot wounds mostly at the hands of a brother. In cases where the victim was a single pregnant female, the offender was either acquitted of murder or received a reduced sentence.

See also


  1. Gregory Meyerson and Michael Joseph Roberto Fascism and the Crisis of Pax Americana
  2. (2011). Strengthening of local vital events registration: lessons learnt from a voluntary sector initiative in a district in southern India. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 89 (5): 379–84.
  3. (2011). Is Knowledge Power? The Effects of a Victimology Course on Victim Blaming. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
  4. (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.
  5. Cole (2007) pp.111, 149, 213
  6. Downs (1998) p.24
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kirkpatrick (1987) p.219
  8. Kent (2003)
  9. Illinois state U. archives.
  10. Ryan, William (1976). Blaming the Victim, Vintage.Template:Page needed
  11. 11.0 11.1 Robinson (2002) p.141
  12. Adorno, TW (1947) Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler in Kenyan 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. Kriss Ravetto (2001) The unmaking of fascist aesthetics (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2001), ISBN 13: 978-0-8166-3743-0Template:Page needed
  16. Baumeister, Roy (1999). Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Holt.Template:Page needed
  17. Factsheets: Trauma of Victimization - Secondary Injuries
  18. PMID 10606433 (PMID 10606433)
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  19. Lerner, M.J. & Montada, L. (1998). An Overview: Advances in Belief in a Just World Theory and Methods, in Leo Montada & M.J. Lerner (Eds.). Responses to Victimizations and Belief in a Just World (1-7). Plenum Press: New York.
  20. Wood K, Maepa J, Jewkes R. Adolescent sex and contraceptive experiences: perspectives of teenagers and clinic nurses in the Northern Province. Pretoria, Medical Research Council, 1997 (Technical Report).
  21. Hadidi M, Kulwicki A, Jahshan H (2001). A review of 16 cases of honour killings in Jordan in 1995. International Journal of Legal Medicine 114 (6): 357–359.


Further reading

  • (1985). Cognitive biases in blaming the victim. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 21 (2): 161–177.
  • (1994). Blaming the victim: Belief in control or belief in justice?. Social Justice Research 7: 69–90.
  • (1990). Understanding Attributions of Victim Blame for Rape: Sex, Violence, and Foreseeability1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 20: 1–26.
  • (1984). Blaming the Victim Versus Blaming the Perpetrator: An Attributional Analysis of Spouse Abuse. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2 (4): 339–47.

External links

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Articles related to Abuse

Types of bullying

Forms of bullying


Related concepts

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