The Psychology of Victim Blaming

It is often much easier to point fingers and blame others than to indulge in introspection and treat people with empathy. So when people indulge in victim blaming, they shift the onus of the emotional or physical pain inflicted upon an individual, from the perpetrator to the victim. The victims of crimes and tragedies are held accountable for inviting harm instead of the offender. 

This practice of victim blaming comes in several forms. Some are more subtle and unconscious. Nevertheless, it’s a common exercise. It frequently applies to cases of sexual assault, getting stalked and raped. But, it can also extend to more mundane crimes such as getting pickpocketed. However, any instance when a person defaults to questioning how the situation could have been avoided or what the victim could have done differently becomes a case of victim blaming. There’s a shift in the accountability that takes place, from the perpetrator to the victim. So as soon as a victim is blamed for dressing too provocatively or blamed for putting their wallets in their back pockets, the shift takes place.

In some ways, it can be seen as a natural psychological reaction to crime infliction. Not everyone who participates in the culture of victim blaming explicitly blames the victim. But mindless acts of thinking of hypothetical scenarios where you would have been much more careful had you been in place of the victim are still indulging in the wrongful exercise of blaming the incorrect person. 

The Contradiction that Arises 

Through various studies, it has been found that people are often more sympathetic to victims that they know than strangers that they have read about in news articles. While there seems to be an increased tendency to victim blame when surfing through crimes reported against strangers, a dissonance occurs if the victim is a familiar personality to the individual. This is because the level of empathy increases. 

Interestingly, it is also found that while reporting the crime, if the coverage was more focused on the victim and their experiences, it increased the likelihood of victim blaming. Even if the story of the victim was showcased sympathetically, just the mere surplus of information regarding them can influence a person to hyper-focus on the victim. This would shift the audience’s focus from the agency of the perpetrator in inflicting pain. However, if the offender’s story were to be more highlighted, the outcome would vary.

Additionally, it was also found that if an individual knows the offender personally, it becomes hard for them to imagine them committing monstrous crimes. It is a defence mechanism used by people close to the perpetrators. They either deny or diminish the gravity of the crime to avoid accepting that someone close to them was capable of such gruesome activities. In some cases, it also leads to people over-empathising with the preparator or completely deflecting. Instead, they focus on the offender’s other attributes or achievements. 

Moral Values as a Causal Factor 

Laura Niemi and Liane Young conducted research addressing the phenomenon of victim blaming. They then published it in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It was found that the moral values of an individual play a huge role in determining the likelihood of someone engaging in victim-blaming behaviours. Niemi and Young were able to find out two sets of moral values affecting the same; binding values and individualizing values.

While every individual comprises a mix of the two sets, some display attributes of one stronger than the other. People with stronger binding values often are more protective of their groups. They focus more on the interests of a team rather than the individuals within it. A higher endorsement of binding values can result in people fostering stigmatizing attitudes about the victims, seeing them as more blameworthy.

Alternatively, people with stronger individualizing values are more focused on fairness and preventing harm inflicted upon an individual. They are likely to be more understanding and sympathetic towards the victims.   

Reasons for Victim Blaming 

We have several tendencies which may lead us to indulge in victim-blaming behaviours. Some of them are:

Attribution Error: 

A psychological phenomenon that contributes to the tendency to victim blame is known as the fundamental attribution error. This bias leads us to attribute other people’s behaviours or their situations to their internal or personal characteristics. The external variables that may play a role are usually not accounted for. For example, if your classmate fails a test, you may attribute internal causes such as them being lazy or not hardworking as a reason for them to fail. This is succumbing to the attribution error. However, if you were to fail an exam, you may account for the much-needed external variables while assessing your situation. The difficult exam questions or the noisy exam room constantly distracting you from performing your best might be some of the external causes.


Another tendency of ours is to fall prey to hindsight bias. When we indulge in retrospection, we tend to consider that there were ways of improving our situation. We believe that there were signs that we should have paid attention to, to be able to predict the outcome. This bias makes it seem like the victims had an agency of predicting or preventing a misfortune from happening, which they didnt utilise well

For example, if someone gets food poising, our bias makes us give them an agency they did not have. We tend to assume that the individual should have known better and not eaten the amounts of food from a new restaurant. However, such cases suggest that people should have simply expected or known that such misfortunes would befall them. But in reality, there was no way to predict such situations.  

Just-World Phenomenon: 

Our tendency to blame a victim also stems from our perception of the world as a fair and just place. So when something bad happens to an individual, we tend to blame the person himself. We start believing that the victim did something worthy of serving such a fate. Social psychologists have referred to this phenomenon as the Just World Phenomenon.

This mentality is designed to protect us from the realization that people with ill intentions toward others exist. If some people require no sort of provocation to act out, then anyone can fall victim to tragedy, including us. It becomes apparent that no matter how cautious a person may be, bad things can happen to good people. This realisation is hidden under a veil of a misconceived faith which expects people to get what they deserve. Thus, they often tend to blame the victims for the pain and harm inflicted on them.  


Victim blaming can often perpetuate feelings of self-blame and shame. Victims of crime, either physical or non-physical, commonly avoid seeking help and support. They feel scared of getting judged or further shamed for a situation that they should have never gotten blamed for. It also prevents them from reporting the crimes, their hesitancy stemming from feelings of fear and not being trusted. The event in itself can be traumatic for the victim. But the further judgement of others on whom to be blamed worsens the situation even more. Thus, victims of crimes often experience anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also experience varying degrees of depressive episodes, along with anger, frustration and feelings of injustice. 

At the core of the situation, victim blaming can arise due to a variety of reasons. It can stem from a failure of being empathetic toward others. It can also be a fear reaction getting triggered by the human drive at self-preservation. However, it is important to understand that while retraining such instinctual reactions is difficult, it’s never impossible. It will take cognitive resilience to grasp the concept that the world might not be as fair as we had imagined it to be. But the only way to relieve such confusion is by accepting the matter at hand. Additionally, we should also start practising being much more empathetic to others. We should treat everyone with respect, no matter if they might be strangers or your loved ones. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *