Blaming the victim is a phenomenon in which victims of crime or tragedy are responsible for what happened to them . Blaming victims allows people to believe that such events could never happen to themselves because they would be unable to do such a thing … Victim’s blame is known to occur in cases of rape and sexual assault, where the victim of the offense is often accused of inviting attack because of their clothing or behavior.
The tendency to blame the victims
A psychological phenomenon that contributes to this tendency to blame the victim is fundamental attribution error. This bias involves attributing other people’s behaviors to internal personal characteristics, while ignoring external forces and variables that could also have played an important role.
When a classmate reviews a test, for example, you probably attribute their behavior to a variety of internal characteristics. You might believe that the other student did not study enough, is not smart enough, or is simply lazy … But is this the reality? If you are the one who fails an exam, who is to blame for the poor performance? In many cases, people blame outside sources for their failures. You could protest that it was too hot and that I could not specify you, that the teacher did not give you a good score or that the exam was too complicated or the questions too far-fetched.
Another problem that contributes to our tendency to blame the victim is hindsight bias:
- When we observe an event that happened in the past, we tend to believe that we should have been able to see the signs and predict the outcome.
- This hindsight makes it appear that victims of a crime, accident, or other form of misfortune should have been able to predict and prevent any problems that might have occurred to them.
This is not just something that happens when we are seeing things like rape or theft. When someone gets sick, people often try to blame past behaviors for the person’s current state of health. Cancer? They should have quit smoking . Heart disease? Well, I guess they should have exercised more or eased so much stress in their life. Contaminated food? I should have thought twice before going to eat at a restaurant …
These are clear examples of guilt cases and seem to suggest that people simply should have known or expected such things to happen because of their behavior, while there was actually no way to predict the outcome.
Life isn’t fair, but we like to believe that it is.
Our tendency to blame the victim is also partly due to our need to believe that the world is a fair and just place. When something bad happens to someone else, we often believe that they must have done something to deserve such a fate. Social psychologists refer to this trend as the just world phenomenon. Why do we feel this need to believe that the world is fair and that people get what they deserve?
Because if we think that the world is not fair, then it is more evident that anyone can be the victim of a tragedy. Yes, even you, your friends, your family, and your other loved ones. No matter how cautious and conscientious you are, bad things can happen to good people.
But by believing that the world is fair, by believing that people deserve what they get, and by blaming the victim, people can protect their illusion that such terrible things could never happen to them.
But bad things can and probably will happen to you at some point in your life. So the next time you’re wondering what someone else did to hurt you, take a moment to consider the psychological attributions and biases that affect your judgment. Instead of blaming the victim, try to put yourself in that person’s shoes and maintain the empathy they deserve.