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Victim blaming occurs when the fault of a crime or incident is attributed to the victim of the situation. Some sociologists believe that victim blaming is often a fallacious way of analyzing an incident, and may develop from a tendency to believe that the world is generally just and that people get what they deserve. Victim blaming is often associated with racial, economic, or cultural prejudice, but is also frequently cited as a common thought process in rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence issues.
The basic thought process of victim blaming tends to assert that the victim brought about his or her own injury or damages in some way. In the case of rape, a classic example of victim blaming is an assailant claiming that his or her victim caused the rape by dressing provocatively. In economic prejudice, a form of victim blaming might be that poor people remain poor because they are lazy and unskilled.
Dismissing all “blame the victim” arguments is problematic, because in some cases people truly can bring about their own misfortune. If a reckless driver crashes into a telephone pole, he or she may be at fault even though he or she suffers injuries. If a husband is killed by his wife while attempting to beat her to death, the death may be dismissed as self-defense, rather than charged as murder. Since there are exceptions to every rule, it is logically impossible to say that a person injured by a crime is never at fault for the circumstances.
Some sociological experts suggest that “blame the victim” mentality is often build into the fabric of a culture or community. The rape of women often stands as the primary example of a situation in which a victim is likely to be blamed for the situation. In the late 20th century, several legal systems moved to introduce “rape shield” laws, which prohibit the defense attorneys in a rape trial from asking the victim about his or her sexual history on the grounds that past promiscuity has no bearing on a current sexual assault issue. Prior to the use of rape shields, it was not uncommon for defense teams to suggest that a promiscuous person, or one who consented to sex in the past, could not be raped. In some legal systems, it remains routine for the assumption of blame to be placed on the victim rather than the accused rapist.
Some experts attribute the presence of victim blaming philosophies to one of two world views, known as the “just world” and “invulnerability” concepts. According to a just world philosophy, people generally get what is coming to them; thus a person who suffers bad fortune must have brought it on himself. In the invulnerability theory, a person may assume that he or she is invulnerable to the harm brought to a victim, since he or she would not make the same choices.