Victim-blaming is when people place blame for a crime on its victim instead of its perpetrator.
Victim-blaming also involves making potential victims, rather than perpetrators, responsible for the prevention of the crime.
One common victim-blaming response is when people question what a victim of sexual assault was doing or wearing when they experienced assault. This is victim-blaming because it suggests that what one does or wears can lead to them being assaulted. In reality though, anyone can be sexually assaulted and the victim’s behaviour never justifies the crime committed against them. Many anti-rape campaigns which suggest that potential victims avoid getting drunk, dress modestly, carry pepper-spray or take self-defense classes all play into the harmful victim-blaming attitude which makes the victim responsible for avoiding the assault.
Another way in which many people victim-blame is in response to cases of domestic violence. Many people may question why victims of domestic abuse do not leave their partners or why victims don’t report the crime to the police. This victim-blaming approach draws attention away from the fact that only the perpetrator of abuse is responsible for the abuse. Victim-blaming makes it more difficult to prevent crimes because it wrongly shifts attention away from the actions of the perpetrator.
But victim blaming goes beyond gender-based and sexual violence – oppressed, abused and marginalized people are often victim-blamed. Poor people, for example, are often victim-blamed for their poverty. This manifests in the belief that if you work hard enough, you won’t be poor, and the idea that poor people are poor because of their own faults and not because of structural poverty and oppression.
Victim-blaming is problematic because it places the blame in the wrong place. It can cause the victim a great deal of psychological damage and prevent them from seeking help. For this reason, it’s imperative that we challenge victim-blaming attitudes in our society.