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Victim blaming

Victim blaming

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Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, an accident
An accident or mishap is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention or necessity. It implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its...

, 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
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 and sexist
Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is the application of the belief or attitude that there are characteristics implicit to one's gender that indirectly affect one's abilities in unrelated areas...

 forms. However, this attitude may exist independently from these radical views and even be at least half-official in some countries.

People familiar with victimology
Victimology is the scientific study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, the interactions between victims and the criminal justice system — that is, the police and courts, and corrections officials — and the connections between victims and other social groups...

 are much less likely to see the victim as responsible. Knowledge about prior relationship between victim and perpetrator increases perceptions of victim blame for rape, but not for robbery. Another common instance is its use as a defence by bullies.

History and concept

William Ryan
William Ryan
William Ryan may refer to:*William Fitts Ryan , congressman from New York*William H. Ryan , U.S. Representative from New York*William H...

 coined the phrase "blaming the victim" in his 1971 book Blaming the Victim (ISBN 9780394417264). In this book, Ryan describes victim blaming as an ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 used to justify racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 and social injustice
Social injustice
Social injustice is a concept relating to the claimed unfairness or injustice of a society in its divisions of rewards and burdens and other incidental inequalities...

 against black people
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 in the United States
Racism in the United States
Racism in the United States has been a major issue since the colonial era and the slave era. Legally sanctioned racism imposed a heavy burden on Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latin Americans...

. Ryan wrote this book to refute Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick "Pat" Moynihan was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times . He declined to run for re-election in 2000...

's 1965 work The Negro
The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not...

 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
Social structure of the United States
Social class is a controversial issue in the United States, having many competing definitions, models, and even disagreements over its very existence. Many Americans believe in a simple three-class model that includes the "rich", the "middle class", and the "poor"...

 factors to the behaviors and cultural patterns of the poor. 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; for instance there are plenty of examples in the Christian and Ebraic Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

, in which tragedies and catastrophes are justified and blamed on the victims for their faults as sinners.

In 1947 Theodor Adorno defined what would be later called "blaming the victim," as "one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character".
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
The Authoritarian Personality
The Authoritarian Personality is an influential sociology book by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford, researchers working at the University of California, Berkeley, during and shortly after World War II.TAP "invented a set of criteria by which to define...

(1950), which included among the fascist traits of the scale the "contempt for everything discriminated against or weak." After Adorno, also other authors, like professor Kriss Ravetto, have described victim blaming as a characteristic fascist trait. 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
Roy Baumeister
Roy F. Baumeister is Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, and...

, a social and personality psychologist, argues that blaming the victim is not necessarily fallacious. 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
Just-world phenomenon
The just world hypothesis describes a cognitive bias in which people believe that the world they live in 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...

) 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
Solitude is a state of seclusion or isolation, i.e., lack of contact with people. It may stem from bad relationships, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, neurological disorders or circumstances of employment or situation .Short-term solitude is often valued as a time when one...

, 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.

Secondary victimization is the re-traumatization of the sexual assault
Sexual assault
Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. Although sexual assaults most frequently are by a man on a woman, it may involve any combination of two or more men, women and children....

, abuse
Abuse is the improper usage or treatment for a bad purpose, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit. Abuse can come in many forms, such as: physical or verbal maltreatment, injury, sexual assault, violation, rape, unjust practices; wrongful practice or custom; offense; crime, or otherwise...

, or rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

 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. Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of drug-facilitated
Date rape drug
A date rape drug is any drug that can be used to assist in the execution of a sexual assault, such as date rape. Drugs used to facilitate rape may have sedative, hypnotic, dissociative, and/or amnesiac effects, and can be added to a food or drink without the victim's knowledge.The act of adding...

, acquaintance
Date rape
"Date rape", often referred to as acquaintance rape, is an assault or attempted assault usually committed by a new acquaintance involving sexual intercourse without mutual consent....

, military sexual trauma
Military sexual trauma
Military Sexual Trauma is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military...

 and statutory rape
Statutory rape
The phrase statutory rape is a term used in some legal jurisdictions to describe sexual activities where one participant is below the age required to legally consent to the behavior...


Rape shield laws

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.

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
Melvin J. Lerner
Melvin J. Lerner, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Waterloo between 1970 and 1994 and now a visiting scholar at Florida Atlantic University, has been called "a pioneer in the psychological study of justice"...

 conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s.

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, there is rarely much social pressure to control young men or persuade them that coercing sex is wrong. 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, 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

External links