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Why Do People Blame Victims
Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment are held responsible or partially responsible for the indiscretions committed against them.
Cruelly this term is applied, in some instances, to murder victims. Murder victims may be blamed by members of the legal profession, health profession, the media, family members, close acquaintances and unwitting members of society. Some murder victims receive more sympathy from society than other murder victims e.g. children, victims of an act of terrorism and mentally or physically disabled individuals. While others murder victims, such as prostitutes, drug addicts and individuals with a sexual persuasion other than heterosexual, are more likely to be accused of “asking for it” because of misconceptions surrounding those individuals and their actions.
The two main concepts behind victim blame are the Just World Hypothesis and the Invulnerability Theory. The Just World Hypothesis suggests that we live in a just world where everyone gets what he or she deserves and deserves what he or she gets. For example the victim contributed to his or her demise. In the case of murder, this concept overlooks the murder as an injustice and reinterprets it as a consequence of one’s lifestyle or action. In the Invulnerability Theory blaming the victim is a way of distancing oneself from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirming one’s own invulnerability. Blaming the victim most often arises from the need to deny that we ourselves could be vulnerable. In order to avoid confronting our own dread of powerlessness, we assume that the victim had the ability to prevent what happened. Since they did not, we are wiser, stronger, more together and more fortunate than they are, and so what happened to them would never happen to us. This gives us a sense of control over our lives. We can then become arrogant and judgemental, feeling superior to the victim. Tragically, these assumptions are psychologically shattering to survivors of homicide victims. Self-righteousness and narrow mindedness does not make us unlikely or invulnerable to becoming a victim. In actual fact, we live in a world in which bad things can and do happen to good people. Denial of this only serves to re-victimize and augment the pain and grief of the already suffering survivor.
Some cultures practice so called “honour killings”, carried out in the name of protecting or preserving family honour. In these instances victims are blamed for bringing dishonour upon the family or community. These murders are not just confined to Middle Eastern countries. Canada as well has experienced a number of these horrific slayings.
According to the United Nations there are 5,000 instances annually of women and girls being shot, stoned, burned, poisoned, buried alive, strangled, smothered or knifed to death by family members.
Another term closely associated with victim blaming is victim facilitation, which was coined by criminologist Marvin Wolfgang among others. Victim facilitation implies that one is not blaming the victim; however, it does suggest that the victim made himself or herself more available or susceptible to an attack. This can be attributed to a number of factors such as a person’s lifestyle (example the amount of time he or she spent interacting with strangers); a victim’s location at the time of or prior to the murder (example a bar); the clothing the person was wearing (example something ‘provocative’); the victim’s excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
The Impact on Family Members of Murder Victims
When someone is murdered, the death is often sudden, violent, final and incomprehensible. The survivors’ world is abruptly and forever changed. Life has suddenly lost meaning and many survivors report that they cannot imagine ever being happy again. Add to this society’s thoughtlessness by blaming the victim and you can well imagine the sickening impact it has on surviving family members. For example, defence lawyers will resort to implying that a murder victim’s disreputable or careless lifestyle contributed to his or her demise. While reporters and news media can be acutely persistent in their endeavours to obtain “the story” they may print inaccurate information or appear to blame the victim, which not only re-victimizes the family, but can have devastating effects on their emotions, mental and physical well-being.
Put the Blame Where it Rightly Belongs
Particularly in the case of homicide, it is critically important to shift any notion of blame from the victim to the perpetrator where it rightly belongs. Survivors of homicide victims have suffered enough as a result of the violent act against their loved one in addition to being subjected to various forms of re-victimization. Of all the instances of victim blaming, media coverage can be the most damaging because it is instantaneous and has the ability to influence a broad segment of society. Preoccupation with the accused and the horrific details of the offence can romanticize the crime and the murderer and can make “the story” one-dimensional which is an injustice and disservice to our society.