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Victim blaming is holding the victims of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment to be entirely or partially responsible for the unfortunate incident that has occurred in their life. Victim blaming is a typical fascist trait,[1] infamously expressed in arguments like "a raped woman in a short skirt was asking for it". Historically victim-blaming has often emerged in racist and sexist forms.[2] It is also about blaming individuals for their personal distress or for social difficulties, rather than the other parties involved or the overarching social system in place.


History of the concept

The phrase "Blaming the victim" was coined by William Ryan in his classic book of the same title, as a critique of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 work The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, usually simply referred to as the Moynihan Report. Moynihan's book summarized his theories about ghetto formation and intergenerational poverty. Ryan's critique cast the Moynihan theories as subtle (and not so subtle) attempts to divert responsibility for poverty from social structural factors to the behaviors and cultural patterns of the poor.[3][4] 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.

Just-world hypothesis

It has been proposed that one cause of victim-blaming is the "Just-world phenomenon". People who believe that the world has to be fair may find it hard or impossible to accept a situation in which a person is unfairly and badly hurt. This leads to a sense that, somehow, the victim must have surely done 'something' to deserve their fate. Another theory entails the need to protect one's own sense of invulnerability. This inspires people to believe that rape only happens to those who deserve or provoke the assault (Schneider et al., 1994). This is a way of feeling safer. If the potential victim avoids the behaviors of the past victims then they themselves will remain safe and feel less vulnerable. A global survey of attitudes toward sexual violence by the Global Forum for Health Research shows that victim-blaming concepts are at least partially accepted in many countries. In some countries, victim-blaming is more common, and women who have been raped are sometimes deemed to have behaved improperly. Often, these are countries where there is a significant social divide between the freedoms and status afforded to men and women.

This idea dates from very ancient times: the biblical Book of Job offers a refutation of the Just World Hypothesis, in which the main character, Job, maintains his faith through calamity after calamity, all of which are explicitly unrelated to his behavior, which remains devout (that is, "just" from the perspective of the telling of the story).

Supporters of this view (once referred to as "Job's comforters") must perforce accept that to do otherwise would require them to give up their belief in a just world, and require them to believe in a world where bad things – such as poverty, rape, starvation, and murder – can happen to good people for no good reason. The cognitive dissonance in doing this becomes too great, and results in victim-blaming.

Though a form of attribution error, this incorrect attribution differs from the "Fundamental Attribution Error" principally in its focus. Both concepts however center around a tendency to ignore situational contributors in favor of supposed internal failings on part of the subject being judged. In the Just-World Hypothesis the subject's actions are not being scrutinized, but their situation; whereas those making the Fundamental Attribution Error tend to focus primarily on attributing actions to personal qualities and ignoring situational causes. Crimes or other events that create a victim give opportunity for both attribution errors – in blaming the victim for "allowing" themselves to be victimized by crime as well as the inability to cope afterwards. Despite their frequent simultaneity though, they remain two distinct attribution errors.

Different legislatures

In the United States, rape is unique in that it is the only crime in which there are statutory protections designed in favor of the victim (known as "rape shield laws"). These were enacted in response to the common defense tactic of "putting the victim on trial". Typical rape shield laws prohibit cross-examination of the victim with respect to certain issues, such as his or her prior sexual history, or the manner in which he or she 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 victim had a prior consensual sexual relationship, and where exclusion of evidence would violate the defendant's constitutional rights.

See also


  1. ^ Kriss Ravetto (2001) The unmaking of fascist aesthetics
  2. ^ Gregory Meyerson and Michael Joseph Roberto Fascism and the Crisis of Pax Americana
  3. ^ Illinois state U. archives.
  4. ^ Ryan, William. Blaming the Victim. Vintage, 1976. ISBN 0-394-72226-4.

Further readings

External links

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