Written by Melike
Have you heard of the #MeToo Movement? Convictions of famous and powerful assaulters such as Jeffrey Epstein? The answer is most probably yes if you have access to social media and are able to read this article. The increasing mention of this movement makes it appear that it had become easy and normal for women to talk about the trauma inflicted by sexual assault, rape, and harassment.
However, while it is becoming increasingly more common for women to publicly speak about it, it is nowhere near easy to do so. It is estimated by the World Health Organization, that 736 million women (nearly one-third of all women) have experienced intimate relationship violence, non-partner sexual assault, or both at some point in their lives (excluding sexual harassment). It’s important to note that not all women are affected equally, as low- and lower-middle-income countries and regions are affected more severely and are less likely to take charges.
Victim blaming continues to be one of the most challenging obstacles in women’s life and their struggle to speak their truths and raise their voices. Not only do they suffer from the trauma itself but also from society not believing and even blaming them for the trauma they had to live through. Victim blaming manifests itself most visibly in sexual assault instances. Victims are often blamed for being provocative, sexy, suggestive, teasing, or “asking for it” when obviously no way of dressing or acting makes up for the lack of consent. The only person at fault is the offender, and there is no other justification, but unfortunately, not everyone acknowledges this fact.
There are many psychological causes and explanations for victim-blaming. The most researched ones are; the Just world hypothesis, the Attribution error and the Invulnerability error. The Just world hypothesis states that people believe in a world where everyone gets what they deserve, thus everything is just. This belief also involves the assumption that bad things happen to bad people, which can lead to victim-blaming. Furthermore, the more threatening a victim is to this idea of justice, the more effort perceivers will place in maintaining that belief. Therefore blame and shame the victim in order to retain these beliefs. People who highly believe in a just world are associated especially with religiosity, right-wing conservatives, high trust in institutions and high self-esteem. Furthermore, a study by Baumeister, Stillwell and Wotman in 1990 showed that there is a Magnitude Gap, showing that offenders are inclined to perceive their acts as small incidents and rationalize their actions while victims feel the opposite, which can cause problems in court.
Secondly, the attribution error is another explanation for victim-blaming.
When judging others, humans overemphasize personality traits while undervaluing environmental variables. People who make this mistake blame the individual victim for what occurred to them and neglect situational causes. Finally, the Invulnerability Theory is built on others blaming the victim to feel safe themselves. To feel better, even close friends and family members of victims may blame the victim, which is also one of the aspects that scares victims and may be a potential reason for them not to be able to speak up.
These theories may explain victim blaming, but they do not give a justification for it. Victim blaming needs to be abolished and discouraged. Moreover, we have the responsibility to stop rape culture as a whole, which includes normalizing and condoning sexual violence. We all play a role in this, and we should be conscious of how difficult society makes it for victims to speak up, and how tough it can be even if they do. This affects not only the victim, but everyone, because victim blaming is not only damaging to the victim, but it also puts everyone in danger by allowing potential rapists and assaulters to run free and not get what they deserve. This is not something to take lightly, as statistics by the Criminal Justice System show that 975 out of 1,000 preperators will walk free. ( you can see more about this in the figure attached below)
Unfortunately, I know there are going to be some people that are going to think that the victim is falsely accusing someone in order to gain money, fame or attention. I want those people to think twice now. First of all, the number of false allegations is extremely low with an even lower rate of false convictions. For example, research from the British home office in the early 2000s showed that 216 cases were classified as false allegations, only six led to an arrest and 2 of these had actual charges brought against them. Not that this needs to be proved in any way, because it’s common sense that as a victim it’s insanely difficult and draining to take legal charges and confront the assaulter and no sane human being would put themselves in this position voluntarily.
Finally, I want to remark that sexual assault, rape and harassment are all horrible things men also experience. But, because women experience this in a whole other dimension I took the liberty to generalize and focus on that aspect. I also need to remark that in no way I want to blame all and only men for victim blaming, as women also can have these views for the same or similar reasons.
Resources / References
-Figure: The Criminal Justice System: Statistics RAINN. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system
-Kay, K. (2018, September 18). The truth about false assault accusations by women. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45565684
-Key statistics about rape and sexual violence in England and Wales. Rape Crisis. https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/about-sexual-violence/statistics-sexual-violence/
– World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data (2021)
– Facts and figures: Ending violence against women. (n.d.). UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures
– Lecture by Dr. Jan-Willem van Prooijen for Social Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2021)