Why do we Victim Blame by Ellie Rowe 

Victim blaming often involves false beliefs or thoughts that attempt to shift the blame from the perpetrator of the crime to the victim (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). An example of victim blaming, would be suggesting that it was the victim's fault because they were drunk, that they were ‘asking for it’ because they were wearing inappropriate clothing, that they had put themselves at risk by walking home alone at night. The sole person to blame for a rape occurring is the perpetrator and any attempt to put blame onto the victim in any way, shape or form is known as victim blaming.

Victim blaming can have detrimental effects on victims of sexual violence. Many victims find that they do not wish to report their experience due to fear of being blamed or not believed. This contributes to a low reporting rate of around 15% (Ministry of Justice, Home Office, & Office for National Statistics, 2013). In addition to this, many of the reported rapes are stranger rapes however, statistically, in around 90% of cases the victim knows their perpetrator (Home Office, 2003). There is also the term ‘secondary victimisation’ in which the victim can face victimisation at repeated points in time from different people (Ullman, 2010). It’s really important that we aim to reduce victim blaming as research shows it can have a negative effect on both the physical and mental health of a victim of rape (Campbell & Raja, 1999)

One thing that’s interesting is the reason why victim blaming occurs. Walster (1966) has suggested that the reason we victim blame is to try and keep ourselves safe and that victim blaming is a self-protective technique used by many. The theory behind victim blaming is that we, as humans, don’t like to think that it is possible for such traumatic, uncontrollable events to happen to us. What we attempt to do, when victim blaming, is find a cause or a blame for the event happening which then makes the event somewhat controllable or avoidable and therefore enables us to protect ourselves from it. It suggests that if we think of a reason as to why a rape has been experienced by someone else, we could simply not do that one thing that caused it and we will be safe. This theory explains victim blaming well, because rape is deemed to be an event with large consequences and it is much harder to accept that events with serious consequences (such as rape) can happen to anyone than events with minor consequences (Walster, 1967).

There are some interesting research findings displaying some differences in victim blaming. Some people are more likely to victim blame, some types of victims are more likely to be blamed as well as some gender and racial differences. Findings from Grubb and Turner (2012) indicate that males are more likely to attribute blame to victims than females. White people tend to attribute less blame to white people than they do black people (Varelas & Foley, 1998). Those that score high on ratings of homophobia will be more likely to attribute blame to a homosexual person than a straight person (White & Yamawaki, 2009). Victims of acquaintance rape are more likely to face blame than the victim of a stranger rape (Smith, Keating, Hester & Mitchell, 1976). Additionally, females that break traditional gender roles (for example, not being sexually conservative) are more likely to be blamed than females that do not break the gender stereotype (Jensen & Gutek, 1982). A well-known blame attributed to victims is that women that are intoxicated are more likely to face blame than those who were not (Grubb & Turner, 2012). Victim blaming also varies by culture (Ward, 1995) For example, South Africans are more likely to blame victims than Australians, Japanese more so than Americans and White American more so that Hispanic American. (Heaven, Connors & Pretorius, 1998;Yamawaki & Tschanz, 2005; Schneider, Mori, Lambert & Wong, 2009). Also, those that tend to have a higher level of education are less likely to victim blame (as research shows they tend to be more liberal) (Idisis, Ben-David & Ben-Nachum, 2007).

Research also shows that males and females tend to face victim blaming differently sometimes. Davies and Rogers (2006) found that men are often blamed for behavioural elements such as not fighting back or not being strong enough, whereas female victim blaming tends to focus on characteristics such as being careless or being too trustworthy.

How relevant a situation is to a person can also effect how much a person engages in victim blaming. Research suggests that the more relevant, or similar a situation is (that a victim was in) to someone, the less likely they are to victim blame (Gray, Palileo & Johnson, 1993). The reason being that if the person believes they could have easily been in that situation, they are less likely to blame the victim (which could have been themselves).

As much as research and psychology can predict and theorise as to why we victim blame and who may be more or less likely to blame or be blamed, the facts remain the same; anyone can be raped at any point in their lives in any circumstance and they are never to blame. The only person ever to blame is the perpetrator.

A key way to reduce victim blaming is to get to know the facts around rape myths as belief in rape myths is a precursor to victim blaming (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). It’s also good practice to question yourself when such thoughts occur.

Ellie Rowe is an MSc Investigative Forensic Psychology student at Bournemouth University and a STARS Dorset volunteer

All images by Jayne Jackson for the photography exhibition "Asking For It" which challenges victim blaming. Further details here: https://www.jaynejacksonphotography.co.uk/asking-for-it 



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