What Is System Blaming?

What Is System Blaming?

The second tendency is to link victim defending with system blaming, wherein neither the offender nor the victim is the real culprit. If the lawbreaker is viewed as largely a product of his or her environment,

B O X 5.2 Early Criticisms of the Notion of Shared Responsibility

The concept of victim precipitation has become con- fused because it has been operationalized in too many different, often incompatible ways. As a result, it has lost much of its usefulness as an empirical and explan- atory tool. (Silverman, 1974, p. 99)

The study of victim precipitation is the least exact of the sociological approaches; it is part a priori guesswork and part “armchair detective fun and games” because the interpretation rests, in the final analysis, on a set of arbitrary standards. (Brownmiller, 1975, p. 353)

A tendency of investigators to assign responsibility for criminal acts to the victims’ behavior reinforces similar beliefs and rationalizations held by most criminals themselves…. Scientific skepticism should be main- tained regarding the concept of victim participation, especially for crimes of sudden, unexpected violence where the offender is a stranger to the victim. (Symonds, 1975, p. 22)

Victims of crime, long ignored but now the object of special scholarly attention, had better temper their enthusiasm because they may be more maligned than lauded, and their plight may not receive sympathetic understanding. Some victimologists have departed from the humanitarian, helping orientation of the founders of the field and have turned victimology into the art of blaming the victim. If the impression of a “legitimate victim” is created, then part of the burden of guilt is relieved from the perpetrator, and some crimes, like rape for example, can emerge as without either victims or offenders. (Weis and Borges, 1973, p. 85)

Victim precipitation explanations are plagued by the fallacy of circular reasoning about the cause of the crime, suffer from oversimplified stimulus–response models of human interaction, ignore incongruent facts that don’t fit the theory, and inadequately

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and the victim is too, then the actions of both parties have been influenced by the agents of socialization— parental input, peer group pressures, subcultural pre- scriptions about what’s cool and respectable and what’s not, school experiences, media images, reli- gious doctrines—along with criminal justice prac- tices, economic imperatives, and many other social forces. Victim defending coupled with system blam- ing is a more complex and sophisticated outlook than victim defending/offender blaming. According to this more nuanced sociological type of analysis, the roots of the crime problem are to be found in the basic institutions upon which the social system is built. Then the focus of attention moves to the social-economic-political theories in criminology that assert that the causes of criminality are closely connected to other unsolved social problems (debil- itating poverty, chronic unemployment, dysfunc- tional families, failing schools, injustices arising from growing levels of inequality, unreasonable cul- tural pressures to succeed, and subsequent strains between means and goals) (among many others, see Franklin, 1978; and Balkan, Berger, and Schmidt, 1980). To many observers, the explana- tions flowing from the system blaming approach

end up “excusing” the offender from being held accountable in the criminal justice process.

To illustrate the differences between victim blaming and victim defending coupled with system blaming, several types of interpersonal violence and theft will be explored. First, explicit charges of vic- tim facilitation in burglary, automobile theft, and identity theft will be examined. Then the focus will shift to what the injured persons might have done “wrong” in cases of murder and robbery.

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