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Introduction:

Blame against victims, regarding offences against the person, such as rape or bullying, seems to be a generally consistent social phenomenon, regardless of cultural or historical context.

It is usually the victim who feels deep shame and embarrassment (to the extent of committing suicide or going insane) and it is also the public who also put them to shame and embarrassment in either explicit or implicit ways.

Question:

But why does the victim feel shame? Why is the public response insulting the victim for being a victim?

Some thoughts:

My own hypothesis is that being a victim of a humiliating offence is unconsciously perceived (on an evolutionary psychology level) as a major weakness of the individual, to the extent of becoming a vulnerability (or liability, if you will) for the whole social group.

(In contrast, the perpetrator of humiliating offence seems to be generously spared retribution by the social group and probably there are evolutionary psychology perspectives on this?)

All this being speculations, of course, I am looking for scientific research of victim blaming in the context described. Ideas for social experiments applicable to this subject-matter are also welcome.

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  • $\begingroup$ In countries like India, which have a high rate of such crimes, victim blaming is also an attempt at enforcing social behaviours with a sense to both control and protect - "She brought this on herself by staying out late at night. Why don't you woman have a sense of responsibility to your own well-being and listen to us when we say it isn't safe to stay out after sunset in this city?" $\endgroup$
    – sfxedit
    Dec 24, 2023 at 11:03

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But why does the victim feel shame?

Victims feel guilty for not preventing the victimization. Even going so far as to consider that they may have caused it in some way, or somehow were deserving. In the case of crimes such as sexual assault this is emphasized by the social stigma of being “impure” after an attack.

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-82681-001

Why is the public response insulting the victim for being a victim?

One reason is because people do not want to consider it could have happened to them. By pointing out where a victim went wrong they distance themselves from the similarities between themselves and the victim.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9455198/

There is much speculation because people are not often willing to admit to victim blaming so getting at the roots of this behavior is difficult.

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There are several perspectives to address this question. I personally believe they have more overlap than not, but please note the later sections of this answer may contain some less conventional opinions.

Just World Theory

We could say that people are motivated to believe in a world that is inherently, predictably fair (the just world hypothesis). This allows them to predict and control their own safety and future (mis)fortune. For example, if a person endorses a just world, and they believe that they are a good person, they can believe that tragedy will not befall them as a manifestation of justice (Lerner, 1965).

If something terrible happens to a victim with no fault of their own, that serves as a contradiction to the just world hypothesis, which causes cognitive dissonance. To alleviate the dissonance, people can re-appraise the situation and assign blame to the victim--to keep the just world belief. Experiments find that just world beliefs and victim blaming are positively associated (Reichle et al., 1998).

The just world hypothesis can arguably be considered a cognitive bias, and it fuels cognitive biases such as those involved in victim blaming, such as defensive attribution (Shaver, 1970).

Social incentives

When people who are dominant or similar to the observer engage in cruelty, that may lead them to justify the behaviour because people tend to conform and defend those they like. If you defend a perpetrator, you have to blame the victim to prevent cognitive dissonance. For example, studies find that men are more likely than women to blame female victims of sexual assault because of such attribution biases (Grubb & Turner, 2012).

Moral Reasoning

Social influences aside, is belief in a "just world" causally linked to victim blaming? I believe the construct may be a bit too broadly defined. Just for some perspective, Kohlberg's theory of moral development (Kohlberg & Hersh, 1977) divides moral development into three stages (with two sub-stages each), and I think the first 'preconventional' stage aligns with the kind of just world perspective that leads to victim blaming. Preconventional morality follows rigid right-wrong rules that lead to reward, punishment, or at most, reciprocity; which are particularly ripe for developing beliefs that 'good' deeds are rewarded and victims are 'weak'. There is some evidence for a negative relationship between stage of moral development and the justification of aggression (Berkowitz et al., 1986).

Maybe there are some other psychological mechanisms than simply endorsements of a just world, i.e. third variables, that contribute to the experimental effects. For example, can it be that the cognitive goal / motivation behind endorsing a just world is a more important variable than the belief itself? It might be too speculative to link two different areas of research, but I did want to mention how the just world belief construct seems deceptively simple and may be imprecise.

Object relations theory

The psychodynamic theorist Melanie Klein postulated a 'death instinct' that drives destructive impulses (Klein, 2011). The theory offers an explanation, though one difficult to demonstrate as correct, for blaming the victim: it is a case of the observer engaging in projection of their negative emotions and drives: fear of an unjust world, guilt for complicity, their weakness or helplessness, or their own aggressive impulses. This can fuel the many cognitive biases, motivations, or traits mentioned above as attempts to maintain ego stability and emotional equilibrium. I know this forum is not extremely enthusiastic about psychodynamic theory, but object relations has some substantial scientific support (Svrakic & Zorumski, 2021).

References

Lerner, M. J. (1965). Evaluation of performance as a function of performer's reward and attractiveness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 1(4), 355.

Reichle, B., Schneider, A., & Montada, L. (1998). How Do Observers of Victimization Preserve Their Belief in a Just World Cognitively or Actionally? Critical Issues in Social Justice, 55–64.

Shaver, K. G. (1970). Defensive attribution: Effects of severity and relevance on the responsibility assigned for an accident. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 14(2), 101–113.

Grubb, A., & Turner, E. (2012). Attribution of blame in rape cases: A review of the impact of rape myth acceptance, gender role conformity and substance use on victim blaming. Aggression and violent behavior, 17(5), 443-452.

Kohlberg, L., & Hersh, R. H. (1977). Moral Development: A Review of the Theory. Theory into Practice, 16(2), 53–59.

Berkowitz, M. W., Mueller, C. W., Schnell, S. V., & Padberg, M. T. (1986). Moral reasoning and judgments of aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(4), 885.

Klein, M. (2011). Envy and gratitude and other works 1946-1963. Random House.

Svrakic, D. M., & Zorumski, C. F. (2021). Neuroscience of Object Relations in Health and Disorder: A Proposal for an Integrative Model. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.

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It is not as simple and straightforward as you may think. The extent of victim blaming differs case by case. Victim blaming has more to do with negative perception of the behaviour of victim in the case that is being observed.

->Let's take two hypothetical cases to evaluate why different situation may lead to different extent of victim blaming. I would be using different hypothetical scenerio here just so that I can reduce the level of complexity to easily explain it.

In case 1, a man with some money visibly hanging out of pocket was roaming in an alley which was infamous for crimes related to robbery. And he got attacked by someone who robbed his money and injured him sligtly.

In case 2, a man was simply sleeping at his home at night with locks on the door. Some robbers suddenly inavaded his house after breaking the locks, robbing all of his money and slightly injuring him.

In which case do you think the extent of victim blaming will be more, if it is judged by general public ? A logical evaluation would predict that victim of case 1 is more likely to be prone to victim blaming than that in case 2. A person who was roaming in alley that is infamous for crime ralated to robber, with money hanging out of his pocket at that, is more likely to be victim blamed. Why do you think that would be the case ? Let's understand that.

We humans live in a civilisation. Being cooperative and caring about others is fundamental to being civilised. When something happens that harms an individual, we as a civilisation create laws [see criminal law] which try to prevent that harm or at the very least minimize it. The main thing to notice is that we try to "minimize" the harm. Attempt and desire to reduce the harm to civilisation that could occur, tends to give us sense of protective environment [see this]and self care for ourself and those who are close to us, leading to sense of better chances of survival. Existence of criminal laws have positive effect on mental health. Remember this while I elaborate above two cases.

The harm that happened in above hypothetical cases is "robbery" leading to loss of asset and some body injury. When a normal human sees this case, they automatically try to think of reasons why this happened. And what should be done to reduce to such cases is the another thought many have. A logic would consider that such laws should be created that it discourage people from commiting robbery. But another logic would also discourage the behaviour of victim in the case 1. Since it's naturally more logical for a general public to percieve the idea of going in the alley that is infamous for robbery with money hanging out of your pocket at night, in a negative way. This creates a "neative perception" of the victim's behaviour is case 1. Leading people to blame the victim for being careless and often using idioms like "Shooting oneself in the foot" for the case 1. You see, victim blaming isn't baseless. It involves desire to reduce the harm which inturn requires behaviour of the victim to be appropriate too. Thus how the victim behaves also plays important role in the extent of victim blaming. Victim in case 1 was careless [ a behaviour percieved in a negative way on general basis ]thus predictably more prone to victim blaming.

While if one consideres case 2, the victim behavior has no impact on the factor that affect the contruction of solution that can help reduce the crime. Thus there being little to no vitim blaming. Even though in the both cases same crime was committed and both victims were slightly injured. But only one was predictably more prone to victim blaming than other.

The things I've established so far are: 1.) Extent of victim blaming differ case by case. 2.) Victims behaviour may play huge role in victim blaming.

Now coming to you case, Rape crime is seen in much more negative light than robbery is, in majority of countries [which is reflected in the severity of punishment for this crime in many courntries]. Thus it's evident that desire to prevent it is much more strong than it is for robbery. This leads general public to be too strict upon measure that need to be taken.In turn leading people to be more strict toward victims behaviour too. If there is even a slight hint of carelessness in victims behaviour [being alone at night wihtout a company, wearing revealing cloths,etc. which too are considered careless on general basis], this precisely creates opening for Victim blaming in these type of cases. Leading people to precieve behaviour of victim in a negative way. Some people accuse the perpetrator, some become biased due to victims behavior and end up supproting perpetrator, while some have negative perception of both victim and perpetrator. All this differ on basis of what one is taking into consideration while judging the situation and what ideology one has. Someone else might take into consideration what you might have ignored or vice versa. Overall it mainly depends on belief when it comes to judging a situation. It can't be claimed which judgement based on which combination on belief is right or wrong. But the most obvious thing that majority agree upon is that law should exist to punish the criminal. Whether victim blaming exists or not is something that one's belief play major role in.

You can visit various sites which explain victim blaming but most don't take "perception of victims behaviour" into consideration while studying the victim balming psychology.

See this for example https://www.venthrapy.com/blog/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/

Almost as if people just want to believe what they want. A more scientific approach would require consideration of every factor involved. Which is rarely ever done. But you have keep eye on whether factors like belief of person judging the crime take behavior of victim into consideration or not.

Again, it is not just something straight forward and much more complex process.

Edit : I found this research article which describes how "victims behavior" in hypothetical situation created difference in judgement of public. This is one of those rare article which actually put more emphasis on how victims behaviour affect the extent of victim blaming. You should give it read.

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  • $\begingroup$ This looks like a bunch of personal opinion, with not much evidence provided. The linked article does a much better job of explaining, but it doesn't seem as if any of what is written there made into this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Nov 21, 2023 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize for not linking case study of victim blaming. This is my first answer in this section. I will be editing my question to link case study of victim blaming. But I tried to answer the question - "why the public respoose is insulting a victim for being a victim?". With use of hypothetical example to relate why behavior of a victim is not unrealated to "negative perception" of public while doing judgement. There was hint of presumption in question, thus use of hypothetical situation become neccessary to make it easier to understand. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2023 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, I edited my comment to make it as easy to understand with source to support my claim at various points. Please tell me if I can make it better. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2023 at 9:17

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