You know how you’re never supposed to read the comment section of an Internet article? Yeah, well, I do, frequently, for some of the most divisive and terrible stories. Why? Because I hate myself or something. But no, seriously, whether it’s the comment section of an article or a tweet to a controversial news Tweet, some of the most vile human specimens decide to deposit their terrible hot takes here and there like rabbit poop. Victim blaming is probably the most common phenomenon. Most recently, I stumbled upon people leaving some seriously disgusting comments on Trayvon Martin‘s birthday, when he would have turned 21 if he wasn’t killed by George Zimmerman for, frankly, the crime of walking while black. A bunch of people–who I assume are amazingly racist–went on and on about how he pretty much deserved what he got because he was a “thug.” Their proof of this thuggish behavior? Selfies of Trayvon smoking.
Um, plenty of teenagers take corny photos of themselves smoking. That doesn’t mean they deserve to get killed by a dude stalking them on the street!
It’s also common to see victim blaming when it comes to victims of rape or sexual assault–what was she wearing? Why was she walking alone at night? Why didn’t she just give the guy her phone number? This line of thinking is so common that we he start to think that blaming the victim of crimes or terrible events is okay. Newsflash: It’s not. Here’s everything you need to know about victim blaming; why we do it, why it hurts, and why we need to stop already.
What is victim blaming?
Victim blaming is exactly what it sounds like: Blaming a victim of a crime or general wrongdoing for what happened to them. Marginalized people are often the targets of victim blaming in cases in which there was an obvious power play involved.
What are some common examples of victim blaming?
Here are a few you might be familiar with:
- Blaming a woman for being raped because of what she wore, how much she drank, walking alone at night, etc.
- Blaming unarmed victims of police brutality–often black–for being hurt/killed because they’re a trouble maker, a thug, look dangerous, should live in a safer neighborhood, etc.
- Blaming victims of mass shootings for their own deaths because they didn’t have guns to defend themselves.
- Blaming a victim of revenge porn for daring to trust the partner they were sexting or making a sex tape with.
- Blaming Middle Eastern refugees for their harassment because of their religion or assumptions of terrorist ties.
- Blaming a victim of street/sexual harassment for attracting attention to themselves by the way they dress or walk.
- Blaming a mugging victim for wearing a nice watch or owning a smartphone.
There are plenty of other examples, but these get a lot of play.
Does it really happen all that much?
Yes, all the time. Just think about how often you’ve heard somebody say that a rape victim was asking for it for some ridiculous reason or another. Think about how politicians are seriously saying that mass shooting victims would still be alive if they were carrying a gun with them at all times. Think about how Tamir Rice–an unarmed black boy who was shot and killed by police who mistook a toy gun for the real thing–is blamed for his death because he shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun…instead of wondering why the police acted so brashly. Victim blaming happens all the time, even when it’s not an outright declaration that somebody deserved what they got. Something as simple as asking a rape victim what they were wearing when they were raped is a form of victim blaming and relieves the actual “bad guy” in a situation of responsibility.
Frankly, it’s gross and has become so normalized that we’re not even surprised by victim blaming anymore, it’s just part of the dialogue.
But aren’t there certain situations where it is actually justified?
Rarely. I mean, maybe if we’re talking about a situation akin to a guy tying raw meat onto his body and walking inside a lion’s den…then yeah, maybe thinking, “that guy shouldn’t have wrapped himself in raw meat and approached a lion” would be fair. Otherwise, it’s pretty much never really justified. Instead of blaming victims for what happened to them, we should be blaming perpetrators of bad behavior.
What’s so bad about it, seriously? It’s not like it changes what happened.
No, it doesn’t change what happened, but it changes the way that we–individuals and society as a whole–responds to bad situations.
For example, assuming that a rape could have been prevented if the victim did something differently–didn’t drink, wore a different outfit–can paint a rape victim as responsible for their own rape. This can lead to rape victims forgoing reporting their rape or having their behavior used against them in a rape trial. Think of the Stuebenville rape trial; the victim was repeatedly blamed for her own behavior by people in the media and even lawyers in the courtroom. Here’s another example: Blaming an unarmed black person for their own deaths at the hands of police because they shoplifted and smoked pot in the past dehumanizes black lives. That’s not the way we should be conducting ourselves or making sure that justice is served.
Also, victim blaming can perpetuate a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions. Most rapes don’t happen because of what somebody is wearing, but victim blaming ideology sure as hell would make you think so, wouldn’t it?
Why do people victim blame to begin with?
The short and sweet answer is that people are a-holes, but there’s actually a deeper reason as to why people victim blame. According to Psychology Today, victim blaming is a way of avoiding vulnerability. It’s a twisted way of coping with the fact that the world is unpredictable. That’s not excusing victim blaming, but it definitely can explain why some do it.
A friend/family member of mine tends to victim blame a lot and it gets on my nerves! What should I do?
This can be tough, but try to call them out on it. Tell them that they’re blaming the victim and that the only person at fault for a terrible incident is the person who decided to, you know, do that terrible thing. If that’s not your style, ask them questions instead: Why do they think that way? Is somebody’s death justified because of where they live? Is wearing a skirt an invitation for rape? Is a college frat dude really unable to control their ability to spike a classmate’s drink?
Also, sometimes it helps to ask them what they would think if you were a victim? Would they blame you for getting shot in a mass shooting because you weren’t carrying a gun? Would they say it was your fault for getting raped because you wore a fitted top? What if it was their mom, sister, brother who was the victim? It sucks to have to insert yourself or others into a scenario for somebody to see how effed up their line of thinking is, but sometimes it helps.
What should I do if I’m the victim of victim blaming?
Try to remain strong and seek support where you can find it. Several months ago I (a black woman)wrote about how I was groped in public (by a black man) as I was walking around with my boyfriend (a white man). Some in the internet peanut gallery blamed me for my assault because…I had a white boyfriend? WTF? It was really infuriating and hard to read, but I found solace in the comfort of people who reached out to me for support. Stick with those people, they’re your anchor, and remember that the losers attacking you are absolute idiots.
What else can be done to prevent victim blaming? What do you do if you witness somebody victim blaming? Tell us in the comments!