Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Victim blaming motivation

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Victim blaming motivation
What causes people to blame victims?

Overview[edit | edit source]

A woman in Libya was attacked and raped. Traumatized, she did not tell anyone about what happened to her.

She hoped she wouldn't get pregnant or have anyone find out about the assault, knowing that she would be stoned to death in an "honour" killing, if anyone found out. Especially if her own parents found out, they would kill her for the honour of the family. If anyone in her village found out, she was prepared to kill herself.

Why did she have to go through this? It was clearly not her fault. What would motivate a village to stone a rape victim to death?

Victim blaming occurs when the victim is blamed for a offense that he or she was subjected to. Especially if the victim is seen to be responsible for, or is deservingly being victimized [grammar?](Htwe, 2016; Dalbert, 1999).

How can motivational theories and research explain victim blaming?

What is the problem?[edit | edit source]

The problems of victim blaming are present, [grammar?] is when the victim of a offense, who has already had to deal with the trauma and lack of liberty that they've endured, is subjected to secondary victimisation (Ståhl, Eek, & Kazemi, 2010)[explain?]. And may cause even more trauma and difficultly[spelling?] in a victimized person's life[grammar?].

Victims are blamed more when they are seen to be provoking the offender, such as what a victim is wearing, that can influence perceptions that one might be responsible or deserving for a rape (Capezza & Arriaga, 2008). This, as well as victim blaming in general, can reduce the perceived seriousness of the act perpetrated against the victim. And the blame is carried onto the victim, rather than the offender. An example of this is shown in countries where women who are raped are seen to be dishonouring the family, or the village. And they might be stoned to death in "honour" killings with the blame placed onto the victim of rape (Harter, 2011). Shame and culture might also make the prevalence of crimes (such as rape) to be reported to the authorities. Especially if the authorities would ridicule or blame the victims instead (Phyu, 2016). Blaming victims can also reinforce the discrimination of entire groups, such as the misogyny in Myanmar (Htwe, 2016). Blaming the victim also allows for the denial of a crime or injustice, and also makes the offense seem less serious than it really is.

Who is more likely to blame victims?[edit | edit source]

“If women are not out on the public scene, these cases will not happen. But they have been abused depending on what they’re wearing, what time it is and where they are.” - The head of police in Ah Pyauk, Taukkyi township, on cases of rape (Phyu, 2016).

People are more likely to blame victims, if they are part of a culture or belief that blames victims. For example, people who stone female rape victims to death for honour (Harter, 2011). Or cultures where the blame and problems that stem in a relationship, are 'supposed' to arise from the wife's mistakes (Htwe, 2016). People who also have a belief that the world is just and fair, are also more likely to blame victims. As victimisation and offending a random person, would be confusing to the world view that the world is a safe and noncomplex place (Hayes, 2013)[grammar?][Rewrite to improve clarity].

People who support, or feel sympathy for the offender may also blame the victim. There are a lot of cases in court, where a rape was not given a harsh sentence because it crime was seen to be an accident that shouldn't ruin the rapist's life. Such as the cases of David Becker who raped two girls (Vagianos, 2016), and Brock Turner who sexually assaulted one women (Sullivan, 2016). While the judges in these cases don't blame the victims, they do not seem to show any sympathy for the victims of rape. People are also more likely to blame victims if they were victimized by a celebrity or public figure (Kingkade, 2016).

People who are part of a group(s) which are not discriminated or victimized against, are more likely to believe in a just-world. Which can promote victim blaming, especially when their own superior fairness is emphasized (Dalbert, 1999).

What motivates victim blaming?[edit | edit source]

What motivates victim blaming can arise from many factors, such as having a just-world belief, memory load, and stereotypes.

It might arise from the beliefs that victims are responsible for what has happened to them, all [say what?] they somehow deserve it. And this idea can be perpetuated by stereotypes, stigmas, and mythological beliefs (Ståhl, Eek, & Kazemi, 2010). Sexism and a general hostility towards women has played a part in the majority of rape victim blaming of women, by men[factual?].

According to Lerner (1980) and Shaver (1985), a lot of theories state that blaming victims is a way that people use to try and make sense of a discomforting situation (as cited in Capezza & Arriaga, 2008). According to [[w:system justification|system justification theory, blaming a victim could be a response when the status quo is threatened.

Theories and reasons why people blame victims?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Just World Belief[edit | edit source]

A Just World Belief (JWB), according to Lerner (1980), is the belief that the world is a just and safe place, and can explain how people may place blame onto others based on that worldview (Hayes, Lorenz,& Bell, 2013). A JWB proposes that a person will get what they deserve, and deserve what they get in life based on the sole actions they take. This is a very individualistic and self-serving approach that can make the world around someone feel predictable, manageable, and safe. People are motivated to protect their JWB, as it maintains their feelings of being safe and secure in a stable and orderly world. As well as moderating any stressfulness, cognitive appraisals, and physiological responses a person may encounter when performing tasks (Tomaka & Blascovich, 1994){{g]]. This means an adherence to JWB can predict better mental health, where the cognitive schemata of a just-world serves as an important fundament to mental functioning (Dalbert, 1999). Where the person feels more competent and has more control over the world, which gives them a positive outlook on life[grammar?]. A belief in a just-world can motivate a person to strive to do well, and set long-term goals for life. Knowing if they do what's right, and work hard, life will be good for them. However, these schemata often consist of positive illusions, which rarely match reality.

One such schema suggests a meaningful and benevolent world. And seeing the world as a positive illusion encourages people to see their world as meaningful, which increases feelings of competence and control, and overall gives people a positive outlook on their future. Another argument suggests that people who believe in a just world believe that people act fairly so they themselves won’t be treated unfairly if they "play it straight". People who believe in a just-world have higher levels of self-esteem, and lower stress levels when engaging in hard tasks. An example of this was found when Tomaka and Blascovich (as cited in Dalbert, 1999) saw that people who believed in a just-world were less stressed when performing a laboratory math task, as well as gaining better results. However, it is a very black-and-white view of the world, and fosters the denial of observed injustice in social or political situations that are greatly unfair. Discrimination can be greater when it is not seen as an issue, because one's own beliefs of a just-world is heightened by being part of a more privileged group.

A study by Dalbert has showed that a belief in a just-world can impact a person negatively, where feeling to be acting unfairly decreases one's self-esteem. Victims who believe in a just-world are also motivated to protect their beliefs of the world, as it serves adaptive functions. And a belief in a just-world can also sustain the mental health of a victim as they are less likely to ruminate, and ask "why me?". The belief in a just-world for a victim also negatively correlated with depression as found in Dalbert (cited in Dalbert, 1999). However, not all just-world based beliefs can protect a victim's well-being.

Stereotyping[edit | edit source]

Similar to counterfactual thinking[explain?], stereotyping is an automatic thought process (Goldinger, et al., 2003). And frequently comes into the mind easily, without any awareness of it, despite being something that can greatly influence someone's behaviour and perceptions of others (Capezza & Arriaga, 2008)[grammar?]. Because of this, snap judged[Rewrite to improve clarity] believes commonly stem from it, and victims can be blamed if they are viewed through a negative stereotype, or when they are seen to be provoking the offender. An active response against a offenders[grammar?] actions against them, may trigger stereotypes that make someone feel justified to blame the victim. Prejudices such as sexism can play a major part in stereotyping victims, [grammar?] where women who aren't seen to be acting 'traditionally' or 'like a women' are seen to be less innocent, even when they are the victims. In the context of rape, a women[grammar?] might be seen as to be violating the norms of female 'purity'.  

One very harmful ideal that can arise from stereotypes, is the acceptance of the rape myth belief. The rape myth belief is a number of persistent beliefs and attitudes that are generally untrue, and serve male aggression against women (Ståhl, Eek, & Kazemi, 2010). An example of this would be the popular attitude that women frequently lie about being raped, despite the reluctance women have to report rape[factual?].

Memory load[edit | edit source]

Memory load can change when doing tasks that requires effort that can load the memory. But it can also differ between people with differences in working memory that is either low-span, or high-span. Where irrelevant, or counterfactual thinking is more likely to occur with a low-span[grammar?].

Studies have found that under a high memory load or a low-span of memory are more susceptible to counterfactual thinking and bias, as well as developing less sympathy for a victim (Goldinger, et al., 2003). And while counterfactual thinking can be beneficial to a person, it can also make that person susceptible to misjudging or blaming a victim of a crime. Suppression of counterfactual information can occur with a counterfactual thought, in which biased ideas may spring into mind. A person may at first, heuristically process information, and see it as faithful to reality. But will make rational judgements or suppress it, if they have adequate time or mental resources (Gilbert & Gill, 2000). However, these are just theories, and it is unknown what exact processes adjusts or discards counterfactual information.

What can be done about it?[edit | edit source]

Educating people can reduce discrimination which may cause the stigmas and stereotypes that allow for victim blaming (Htwe, 2016). Education would also allow a victimized person, know his or her rights. Or encourage that person to seek help. It is also found that mimicking the actions of a victim, significantly reduces victim blaming in people (Stel, van den Bos and Bal, 2012).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Here are some quiz questions - choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Which of these do not cause an individual to blame the victim?

A belief in a just world
Culture and traditions

2 Blaming a victim can be used to ______ for a person.

reinforce beliefs about 'trouble maker' victims
make sense of an atrocious act

3 Victim blaming can result in further victimization by others.


4 A belief in a just-world benefits the person who believes in it, and nothing else.


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

  • Victim blaming can have severe consequences for the victim of crime. Not only do they have to endure being victimised, but they may have to endure ridicule and stigma. In extreme cases even 'honour' killings from rape[grammar?].
  • Victim blaming beliefs can change if people have the capacity to better understand the victim, or have a greater cognitive load.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Capezza, N. M., & Arriaga, X. B. (2008). Why do people blame victims of abuse? The role of stereotypes of women on perceptions of blame. Sex Roles, 59(11), 839-850. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9488-1

Dalbert, C. (1999). The world is more just for me than generally: About the personal belief in a just world scale's validity. Social Justice Research, 12(2), 79-98. doi:10.1023/A:1022091609047

Gilbert, D., & Gill, M. (2000). The momentary realist. Psychological Science, 11(5), 394-398. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00276

Goldinger, S., Kleider, H., Azuma, T., & Beike, D. (2003). "Blaming the victim" under memory load. Psychological Science, 14(1), 81-85. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.01423

Harter, P. (2016). Libya rape victims 'face honour killings' - BBC News. Retrieved from BBC website:

Hayes, R., Lorenz, K. and Bell, K. (2013). Victim blaming others: Rape myth acceptance and the just world belief. Feminist Criminology, 8(3), 202-220. doi:10.1177/1557085113484788

Htwe, N. (2016). Blaming the victim. Retrieved from Mmtimes website:

Kingkade, T. (2016). Comment sections are cesspools of rape culture, research finds. Available from Huffington Post Australia website:

Tomaka, J., & Blascovich, J. (1994). Effects of justice beliefs on cognitive appraisal of and subjective physiological, and behavioral responses to potential stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(4), 732-740. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.4.732

Phyu, K. (2016). From skirt wearer to rape victim – how our culture gets it wrong. Retrieved from Mmtimes website:

Redick, T., & Engle, R. (2006). Working memory capacity and attention network test performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(5), 713-721. doi:10.1002/acp.1224

Ståhl, T., Eek, D., & Kazemi, A. (2010). Rape victim blaming as system justification: The role of gender and activation of complementary stereotypes. Social Justice Research, 23(4), 239-258. doi:10.1007/s11211-010-0117-0

Stel, M., van den Bos, K., & Bal, M. (2012). On mimicry and the psychology of the belief in a just world: Imitating the behaviors of others reduces the blaming of innocent victims. Social Justice Research, 25(1), 14-24. doi:10.1007/s11211-012-0150-2

Sullivan, R. (2016). Father of convicted rapist Brock Turner says his son’s life is ‘deeply altered’ by court’s verdict. Available from News Limited website:

Vagianos, A. (2016). Lawyer Characterizes Assault Of 2 Unconscious Girls As Teen ‘Mistake’. Available from The Huffington Post Australia website: