Why Do We Blame the Victim?
When we hear that someone was mugged on a remote street corner in the middle of the night, we think they should not have been walking alone in the dark. When a woman dressed in a short skirt is raped, we think her attire must have had something to do with it. When parents cannot afford to feed their children, we attribute this to poor financial decisions or prioritization.
Victim blaming is a phenomenon that makes itself apparent in many types of crime or unfortunate situations. The person or persons suffering are given some degree or most of the guilt for what has happened to them.
Most recently, parents who lost children in the Newtown, Connecticut shooting are receiving hate mail from conspiracy theorists. They are called liars and actors who are playing a part in a set-up to tighten gun control laws. In a society that values law and order, why is it that so many of us are apt to blame and discredit the victim instead of blaming the perpetrator?
The idea of a just world is deeply embedded in the American psyche. Our pledge of allegiance ends with a promise of justice for all. We believe that good things ultimately happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. There is a notion of a natural order that pervades our lives; that what happens to us is a logical consequence of our everyday decisions.
We have trouble conceiving the idea that bad things can happen to good people without rhyme or reason. So when an event as horrible and evil as the Newtown tragedy happens, we scramble to find logical reasons for it. When this search for rationalization fails, some turn to another coping mechanism: denial. They deny that the event occurred; they call the victims liars and frauds.
The reality is that gun violence, robbery, rape, poverty, and hunger are all societal problems. As citizens of a democracy, we are all accountable for at least a portion of each of the problems that plague us. It is our failing as a nation when Newtown or Aurora happens. These problems, and the idea that we could each somehow be responsible for them, are overwhelming and uncomfortable to confront. In order to assuage our discomfort, we shift blame to the victims.
Victim blaming comforts us because it removes our sense of efficacy to affect change. We assure ourselves that there is nothing we could have done, or could do in the future to stop similar events from happening.
Breaking down the victim blaming complex requires a sense of empathy that is sorely lacking in American society today. It may seem overly simplistic to invoke the cliché of “walking a mile in another’s shoes,” but it does simply come down to the ability to do exactly that. The problem is that this sort of inner psychological change cannot be legislated. It is a cultural factor that unfortunately creeps its way into our law enforcement and courtrooms, and even into our legislative forces.
Justice is denied when assumptions are made about what the victim could have done to avoid the situation that occurred. A fair trial has been denied when a victim is not questioned, but rather, dismissed as a liar or a fool who is at fault for their misfortune. As Americans, we need to reevaluate our idea of justice, and how we can apply it truly and indiscriminately, as the Founding Fathers intended.
Edited by: Hugo Esteban Rodriguez