Avoiding Victim Blaming
One of the Center’s main goals is to eliminate barriers and increase survivors’ access to safety, resources and support. Victim-blaming attitudes are one of these barriers and place survivors in greater danger.
First of All, Where Does It Come From?
In order to stop victim blaming, it is helpful to understand why people do it in the first place. One reason people blame a victim is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirm their own invulnerability to the risk. By labeling or accusing the victim, others can see the victim as different from themselves. People reassure themselves by thinking, "Because I am not like her, because I do not do that, this would never happen to me." We need to help people understand that this is not a helpful reaction.
Why Is It Dangerous?
Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames her for the abuse, s/he will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.
Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what the abuser has been saying all along; that it is the victim’s fault this is happening. It is NOT the victim’s fault or responsibility to fix the situation; it is the abuser’s choice. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows the abuser to perpetrate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for his actions.
What Does Victim-Blaming Look Like?
Example of Victim-Blaming Attitude: “She must have provoked him into being abusive. They both need to change.”
Reality: This statement assumes that the victim is equally to blame for the abuse, when in reality, abuse is a conscious choice made by the abuser. Abusers have a choice in how they react to their partner’s actions. Options besides abuse include: walking away, talking in the moment, respectfully explaining why an action is frustrating, breaking up, etc. Additionally, abuse is not about individual actions that incite the abuser to hurt his partner, but rather about the abuser’s feelings of entitlement to do whatever he wants to his partner.
When friends and family remain neutral about the abuse and say that both people need to change, they are colluding with and supporting the abusive partner and making it less likely that the survivor will seek support.
What Can I Do About It?
- Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear them
- Do not agree with abusers’ excuses for why they abuse
- Let survivors know that it is not their fault
- Hold abusers accountable for their actions: do not let them make excuses like blaming the victim, alcohol, or drugs for their behavior
- Acknowledge that the survivor is her own best expert and provide her with resources and support
- Avoid victim blaming in the media
Remember if you are aware of abusive behavior and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place.*
*Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
Exercise to Explain Victim Blaming in Rape Cases
Download this exercise as a PDF