Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or other unjust conduct is deemed totally or partially accountable for the misfortune that has befallen them. It can take various forms and is frequently very subtle. It is predominately seen in rape and sexual assault situations, but it can also apply to more ordinary crimes, such as if a person is pickpocketed and then chastised for carrying their cash in their back pocket. When someone defaults to wondering what a victim could have done better to prevent a crime, they are engaging in victim-blaming. So what are some examples of victim-blaming?
When someone is engaging in victim-blaming, you may hear them say things like this:
- “Well, if she dresses like that, she’s begging for it.”
- “He ought to have enjoyed it.”
- “She was inebriated; she couldn’t be recalling things accurately.”
- “What did she think would happen, the way she was flirting with him?”
- “I know Blake is a really good person who would never do something like that. She’s only trying to make him out to be a bad person because he broke off their engagement.”
- “Women like that just regret having sex and are attempting to cover up their bad decisions by calling it rape.”
Let’s take a look in more detail about the things people say to blame a victim of a crime.
Victim Blaming in Relation to Sexual Assault and Rape
When we hear the term “victim-blaming,” we generally associate it with blaming the victims of a sexual assault. Here are some common things often heard by people who have been raped.
- The victim was just asking for it.
- Men have these biological urges to rape. They just can’t help it.
- The victim probably made it up.
- The victim is ruining the accused rapist’s life. He has so much potential.
- The victim should not have been in that area or should have known not to be with that boy.
- People of that race/age/background are more likely to engage in that type of conduct.
- The victim didn’t say no.
- The perpetrator was only a child himself. It’s not serious.
- The victim should have been aware of what she was getting herself into.
- The victim’s parents should have taught her to look out for things like that.
An Example of Victim Blaming in a Rape Case
There was a rape case that took place in a Pennsylvania prison in 2013. The attorney general’s office blamed the former state prison clerk for her own rape.
When the then 24-year-old typist was attacked, she worked at the state correctional institution, Rockview, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. She was strangled unconscious and raped for 27 minutes by inmate Omar Best, who had previously been convicted three times of a sex-related offense and then moved from another state jail because he had attacked a female assistant there.
According to the lawsuit, despite knowing Best’s history, the defendants allowed him to have unsupervised access to the offices of female workers. The lawsuit also faults the state for the rape.
It seems that the prison administrator even relocated the clerk offices from a secure floor with no inmate interaction to a cell block site where there were no secured doors between the offices and the cells, including the area where the victim worked.
Even though Best was convicted of the rape and a review of the prison found multiple flaws that led to the superintendent’s removal, a senior deputy attorney general wrote that the typist acted, at least in part, in a way that contributed to her assault.
In a rape case, a statement such as this is victim-blaming.
Another Famous Case
The 2013 Steubenville, Ohio case, in which two high school football players were accused of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party while others videoed and photographed the assault, was a high-profile example of victim-blaming in a case of rape. Though the boys were tried and found guilty, the case gained international attention partly due to media coverage that was sympathetic to the criminals and ignored the victim. On NBC’s The Today Show, they featured an interview with one of the perpetrators’ former guardians. The guardian boasted about the football player’s exemplary character as the Today Show splashed images from the boy’s childhood across the screen.
The media mostly avoided debating the perpetrators’ responsibility and instead focused on the victim’s drunkenness and how a guilty conviction would negatively impact the offenders’ life.
Examples of Extreme Victim-Blaming Statements Made by Judges in Court
- In a 2013 Montana case, whereby a Billings Senior High School teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, was accused of and pleaded guilty to raping freshman Cherice Moralez, who in turn, committed suicide, Judge G. Todd Baugh gave the teacher a suspended sentence and said that the victim, Moralez, looked older than her years and was “probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.”
- In 2014 Sir Khalil Young, then 18, pled guilty to felony sexual assault. He raped a 14-year-old girl at her school in 2011. The Texas judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail with five years probation. The judge explained the sentence by saying the victim “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be.” The judge took information that had been revealed about the girl’s sexual past to partially blame the victim for her assault.
- In 2015, former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman near the university. California judge Aaron Persky gave him a six-month jail sentence for his crime, though he initially ruled that Turner should not spend time in prison for the assault. Turner ended up being released after serving only three months. When the public argued about his lenient sentence, Persky said, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him (the rapist).” In the judge’s statement, he appeared to imply that Turner’s privileged upbringing should actually count in his favor because having such a privileged upbringing would cause him to have more to lose.
- Another example of victim-blaming came during a domestic violence proceeding in Seminole County, Florida. Judge Jerri Collins held the battered woman in contempt of court for failing to show up for a court hearing against her accuser. The victim told the judge that she had been having problems with anxiety and depression for months after being attacked by the father of her child, who choked her and grabbed a kitchen knife. The victim had previously told the state’s victim’s advocate that she just wanted to drop the charges and get on with her life. She didn’t want to face her attacker anymore. Instead, Collins told the woman, “You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t even seen anxiety.” Collins then held her in contempt of court and sentenced her to three days in jail. She also sentenced the perpetrator to only 16 days in jail for simple battery.
- A Superior Court Judge, Derek G. Johnson, was admonished for breaching judicial ethics by making victim-blaming statements about the victim of Metin Gurel. Gurel was convicted of rape, forcible oral copulation, domestic battery, stalking, and threatening his ex live-in girlfriend. The day that he raped her, he had threatened to mutilate her face and vagina with a screwdriver that he had heated up. The prosecutors asked for a 16-year prison term. Johnson sentenced him to six years and said:
“I’m not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something – if someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight. And to treat this case like the rape cases that we all hear about is an insult to victims of rape. I think it’s an insult. I think it trivializes a rape.”
How Society Perpetuates Victim-Blaming
Victim-blaming statements can also come up in our daily conversations, and we don’t even realize we are perpetuating the problem. There are many victim-blaming statements that we may see as reasonable criticisms of others’ actions but which really place disproportionate blame on them.
While watching stories on TV about domestic violence or workplace sexual harassment, we may find ourselves asking, “How could they have let this happen to them? Why didn’t they just leave? Who would even wait this long to report such abuse?” However, in asking how a person allowed abuse to happen to them, we disregard their suffering and fuel the flames of victim-blaming without even realizing it. The real question should be, “How could that abuser believe it is their right to harm another person?”
It is evident that, as a society, we have a long way to go in holding those who commit a crime fully responsible for their actions. Until we do, more victims will fear reporting their abuse, and perpetrators will feel more justified in perpetuating their violence on unsuspecting citizens.
- 28 Different Types of Victimization and 5 Chilling Examples
- 11 Famous Cases of Stockholm Syndrome
- Criminal Law vs. Civil Law: How are they Different?
- Why Do Criminals Commit Crimes?
- What Are Some Examples of Victimless Crimes?
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.