I’d like to think that we all try to be good people. We may disagree often. We may have wildly conflicting ideas about what the right thing may be in any given situation.
We may all have different political views, religious instruction or a slightly different alignment in our moral compass… But for the most part it’s probably safe to say that we all want to be decent people and to do the right thing whenever and wherever we can.
The trouble is that our psychological makeup isn’t always on our side. It can make us selfish, inconsiderate, arrogant, and even cruel and callous. One example that comes to mind is victim blaming.
Even people who are, on the face of it, good and moral people can lapse into this destructive behavior. Here we’re going to look at the psychology of and consequences of victim blaming before discussing how we can all take steps to guard against it…
The psychology of victim blaming
In the past few months, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement we have seen a lamentable increase in victim blaming psychology on display from some pop culture commentators and all across social media.
We crave narratives of fairness and equality. We also crave predictability. Thus, when something happens to disrupt this narrative we create for ourselves, our subconscious rails against it. Thus, we find justifications for blaming the catalyst (i.e. the victim) rather than the perpetrator because they are the face of the problem… as it were.
The consequences of victim blaming
While victim blaming may have a basis in human psychology this doesn’t make it acceptable. Victim blaming can have dangerous and even fatal consequences. It can cause people locked in bad or abusive relationships to convince themselves that they deserve their fate and lock themselves into a systematic cycle of abuse.
It can cause people injured in road traffic incidents from pursuing legal help and bringing others to justice for their negligence. It can cause the victims of sexual assault to suffer in silence, tormented by the memories that will forever taint their relationships.
It can prevent marginalized communities from finding their voice and perpetuate a culture in which the perpetrator always gets away with it, the victim suffers in silence and the rest of us get to continue living in blissful ignorance, assuming that everything is fine because everyone is too afraid to but their head above the parapet.
Victim blaming can seriously damage the fabric of our society if we don’t all do our part to challenge it.
It’s our duty to challenge victim blaming mentalities and cultures but we may not know how to do this effectively. After all, this is a phenomenon that’s so pervasive that people do it without even thinking about it.
Perhaps the most effective thing we can do is to start by believing. Give the victim the benefit of the doubt and tell them these 4 small but vital words… “It’s not your fault.”.
We can also take steps to hold perpetrators accountable and challenge their enablers. Even the language we use on social media can make a huge difference.
Often we can place the victim at the centre of the language we use and not even include the perpetrator… But there’s a world of difference between “Jenny was assaulted” and “James assaulted Jenny”.
Only if we all band together can we effect real and lasting change.