Blaming the victim is a practice that is exhibited within society as a means of justifying racism, sexism and other forms of social injustices. Victim blaming has today become more noticeable in crimes of a sexual nature such as rape and assault, particularly when the victims of these crimes are adult women. It has been argued by many that if women choose to dress in a ‘provocative’ manner or purposely consume over their alcohol limit in public places, they are asking for sexual attention and are making themselves more vulnerable. As a result, they are partially or entirely responsible for any sexual crimes committed against them.
Psychologists, sociologists and some anthropologists have stepped forward and attempted to explain the reasoning behind the victim blaming phenomenon in a variety of different ways, including the ‘Belief in a Just World’ theory. The ‘Belief in a Just World’ theory states that people tend to harbour the view that bad things cannot happen to good people because the world we live in is fair and just. If bad things are happening to an individual then they must not be a good person and are therefore deserving of it. The sexualisation of our society and the sexual objectification of women in the media have also been cited as reasons for the victim blaming phenomenon. Women constantly being shown as objects of desire can encourage wider society to view them as such thus making sexual violence against adult women more acceptable. Lastly, our own cultural backgrounds can have an effect on how we view different concepts such as ‘modesty’, ‘gender roles’ and sex which in turn can affect the way we view sexual violence. For example if we are a part of a culture that values ‘modesty’, we may fall into blaming the victim if we deem her behaviour before the crime took place as ‘immodest’.
Despite all of this it is very important that we as individuals understand that our own thoughts and perceptions are not everyone else’s reality and will not apply to every single person in society. What we must agree on is the fact that nobody ever ‘asks’ for sexual crimes to be committed against them and we have to ensure that each and every single person who makes the CHOICE to carry out crimes of a sexual nature is held accountable. As stated on the Rape Crisis website, research has shown us that the majority of these individuals do not suffer from any forms of mental illness nor do they need psychiatric attention, they do not carry out these crimes to be sexually gratified but in fact, they carry out these crimes to exert control and confirm their power.
There is NEVER a situation that can justify or condone the use of sexual violence so the only person who should be made to accept responsibility is the perpetrator.
There are many negative effects of the victim blaming phenomenon being so prevalent in our society. The most damaging effect being that it causes the victim to take responsibility for the crime. By accepting responsibility the chances that the victim will then report the crime to the authorities significantly decrease. The British Crime Survey reported that 89% of rapes go unreported and up to 37% of victims do not actually tell anyone which can be linked to self-blame or the fear that others will reacts negatively towards them. Feminists argue that this devaluing of the rape victim is a form of what sociologists call secondary victimization. It is particularly high in societies where sex is seen as a taboo subject or has become a way people choose to express their ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ as supported by Katt Schott-Mancini’s statement “We live in a society where rape isn’t taken as seriously as it should be”. Not speaking to the police also means that they are less likely to seek medical or psychological help from doctors and counsellors which could be very detrimental to their physical and mental health. There may be underlying health issues such as sexually transmitted infections and not being able to speak about their traumatic experience can eventually cause severe forms of depression, anxiety and paranoia.
Here at the JAN Trust we offer a safe haven for women within the community to come in and seek advice and guidance on issues such as this. We aim to empower women by giving them the chance to overcome the barriers they are facing and work with other organisations to ensure that our service users are receiving the best possible support and care. If anyone is struggling with the issues highlighted in this post we encourage you to approach the JAN Trust for help. We are able to carry out needs and risks assessments and then refer victims on to organisations that will provide them with support best suited to their situation.