Victim blaming happens when society deems that the victim of a crime is either partially or fully responsible for the circumstances in which they now find themselves.
Examples of victim blaming include rape victims who find that their past sexual activity is being called into question, homeless people being regarded as lazy, and addicts not having enough willpower to quit.
Victim blaming is a relatively new phenomenon, as in the past we tended to presume a victim was just that, someone who had experienced a terrible crime through no fault of their own. But in today’s society, there seems to have been a tipping point where we are much more cautious and discerning when it comes to affording victims their true status.
So why are we so intent on blaming a person, even when it has no bearing on our own lives?
Of course, there are circumstances in which the victim could have been more responsible in their actions to avoid becoming a victim, but why the tendency to view them in a harsher and more cynical light?
When we afford a victim some of the blame, we are reassuring ourselves that horrific acts or heinous crimes are not random where anyone can be affected. They target those who let their guard down. Victims show us that the world is a scary place and we are all vulnerable. Horrible crimes can happen to anyone, but by blaming the victim, we are putting the reasonability for these random acts onto the victim.
Perhaps if that rape victim had not drunk too much at an office party, she would have been safe. If that homeless person got any job, they would not have to live on the streets. We have to afford blame because if we don’t then all these misfortunes could happen to us, and this is a terrifying thought.
Psychology behind victim blaming
In order to understand victim blaming, one study, conducted by Dr. Marvin Lerner in the 1960’s saw participants observing another person receiving electric shocks and were then not allowed to help them. The more severe the shocks the person received, the more the participants began to disrespect the victims.
Further studies where people were asked to examine victims of rape, car accidents, domestic violence, poverty or illness, showed that this attitude continued.
Dr. Lerner posited from the results of these studies that in general, people want to live in a fair and just world where you can predict things and make yourself safe by your own actions.
We want to believe that if we act in a certain way, treat people how we want to be treated, stay within the law and follow the rules, we will be rewarded. It makes sense to us that wrongdoers should be punished, not good people who are honest and law-abiding.
It is believed that those who live their lives thinking in this manner are typically happier and do not suffer from depression. However, living this way of life is really a lie, as we all know that the very nature of a random horrific act is that it can strike anywhere or anyone.
So what is the alternative to living this lie?
Do we have to be scared at every corner that we are going to be the next victim of some horrible crime?
The problem appears to be that we try to rationalise what has happened in order to make sense of the world, but we have to realise that some things simply do not make sense.
Rather than attempt to understand the crime and how it could have possibly happened, we should instead try to put ourselves in the victim’s shoes.
Although that can be upsetting, it really is the only way to connect with another person’s suffering. This way we recognise that although we cannot control the world around us, we can at least be compassionate to those who have suffered.