What is “victim blaming”? According to the Canadian Resource Center for Victims of Crime, the phrase is a “devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.” In other words, if something bad happens to a person, we automatically think it’s their fault. Sometimes we let it happen subtly. When you ask a victim or survivor what they could’ve done to prevent rape, sexual assault, or other forms of crime and injustice, that’s already some degree of victim blaming. Why exactly should we stop this behavior?
It downplays a horrible real-life experience
The crime, abuse, and trauma happened to another human being. They didn’t go through it only to be told after how “they didn’t have it that bad” because they got out alive. Downplaying what they went through or saying that it’s all in the past anyway won’t help victims get any better. In fact, you just invalidated their trauma.
It’s an attempt at making ourselves feel better
If we assign blame to someone, it’s easier to accept that what happened was their mistake. They got mugged because they went home so late that night. Their drink got drugged because they didn’t take better care of it. When you point fingers at the victim and start asking them questions that might make them doubt themselves, you send them a clear message — “You’re partly at fault here.” Self-preservation instantly has us believing it’s the victim’s fault so we can convince ourselves it won’t happen to us. They all did something wrong — you won’t be as vulnerable.
It diminishes a person’s value
Ever notice how a person’s reputation or gender is always tied to them getting the brunt of the media’s wrath when scandals happen? A couple gets a divorce due to a rumored third party, the internet’s wrath descends on the woman the husband cheated with. The husband almost gets away unscathed when he should’ve shared the blame because it takes two to tango. (You could even say that he should get more of the blame because he’s the one in a committed relationship.) Or how about an actress who has always been confident about flaunting her body getting sexually assaulted? It’s almost inevitable that some people would whisper “Maybe she deserved it.” Pinning the guilt on the victim based on prejudice never helps anyone.
It silences the victim
It’s frustrating when no one believes what you’re saying, you feel like your voice is useless. A victim who no one believes can fall silent and keep their pain to themselves. Instead of coming forward and opening up about another abuse, they keep their mouths shut to avoid being ostracized and criticized. It’s important we create a safe space for these people and make sure we always hear them out without judgment.
It teaches others to shift the blame
“Yes she was drugged at a bar but what was she doing there all alone in the first place?”
“Maybe she was an annoying partner that drove her boyfriend to punch her in the face.”
“She shouldn’t have exposed his wrongdoings at the peak of his career. She obviously wants to ruin it.”
See how this is victim blaming? This is why we have to fight back to shift the blame on those who are truly guilty. The person who drugged someone else’s drink, the person who think physical abuse is okay, and the person who is keeping a different image behind closed doors.
It sides with the abuser
Victim blaming is just wearing a sign on your neck that says “I side with the offender.” What makes us unconsciously defend these offenders? It could be because they’re a friend, they’re well-known, they’re so beautiful/handsome that they look incapable of hurting anyone.
Remember: Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, had an actual fan club of moony girls just because he was quite a looker. No matter how charming an abuser is or how you’ve known them from childhood, if someone comes and accuses them of a crime, use your judgment and hear the victim out.
It tramples on the victim’s bravery
Victim blaming shouldn’t be tolerated because the phrase itself already means damage has been done. A person is already a “victim”; they have been wronged and it’s not their fault. Crime happens because there is a criminal, rape happens because of rapists — a simple cause and effect. Victim blaming further tramples on the survivor’s courage in coming forward to share their story to get justice or help prevent it from happening to anyone else.
When people start asking questions like “But what were you wearking?” or saying things like “You shouldn’t have gone there at night,” their bravery gets trampled on by those who don’t understand what being a victim is like.
We don’t show the victim respect
Why we should stop victim blaming can be summarized in three words: survivors deserve respect. Instead of painting them as villains who probably “wanted it” or “deserved it,” we should help them in their healing journey. Victims have suffered enough at the hands of their offenders, they don’t deserve to live under the public’s judgment too.
Now, these situations aren’t black and white. But that’s all the more reason why we need to hold off on judgment and listen more before we react. Listen to the victim, they need to be heard. Listen to the alleged offender, what’s their excuse? (Of course, this varies depending on the situation. What excuse can a rapist give, right?) Victim blaming might be difficult to unlearn but retracting this instinct is definitely possible.