Since the 1970s, the notion of shared responsibility has become a subject of intense and sometimes bit- ter debate. Some criminologists and victimologists have expressed concern over the implications of studies into mutual interactions and reciprocal influences between the two parties. Those who raised doubts and voiced dissent might be seen as loosely constituting a different school of thought. Just as criminology (with a much longer, richer, and stormier history than victimology) has recog- nizable orientations and ideological camps within it (for example, adherents of conflict models vs. socio- biological explanations for violent behavior), so too does victimology have its rifts and factions. To put it bluntly, a victim-blaming tendency clashes repeatedly with a victim-defending tendency over many specific issues.

Arguments that specific victims bear some responsibility along with their offenders for what hap- pened have been characterized as victim blaming. Countering this approach by challenging whether it is accurate and fair to hold the targeted individual accountable for injuries and losses that a wrongdoer inflicted can be termed victim defending.

Two opposing ideologies might imply that there are two distinct camps, victim blamers and victim defenders. However, victimologists cannot simply be classified as victim blamers and victim defenders. The situation is complex, and people may change sides, depending on the crime or the persons involved. In fact, most individuals are inconsistent when they respond to criminal cases. They criticize specific individuals but defend others, or they find fault with certain groups (for example, viciously abusive husbands who eventually are killed by their battered wives) but not other groups (such as inebriated women who are sexually assaulted by their predatory dates).

What Is Victim Blaming?

Victim blaming assumes that the offender and the victim are somehow partners in crime, and that a

138 CH APT ER 5

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

degree of mutuality, symbiosis, or reciprocity may exist between them (see Von Hentig, 1948). To identify such cases, both parties’ possible motives, reputations, actions, and records of past arrests and convictions must be investigated (Schultz, 1968).

The quest for evidence of shared responsibility captivated the first criminologists who became interested in the behavior of victims before, dur- ing, and after the incident. Leading figures encour- aged their colleagues to focus upon the possibility of shared responsibility in their research and theo- rizing. Some of their statements, excerpted from studies that appeared decades ago, are assembled in Box 5.1.

Victimology, despite its aspirations toward objectivity, may harbor an unavoidable tendency toward victim blaming. It is inevitable that a careful reconstruction of the behavior of a victim before, during, and after a crime will unearth rash decisions, foolish mistakes, errors in judgment, and acts of care- lessness that, with 20–20 hindsight, can be pointed to as having brought about the unfortunate outcome. Step-by-step analyses of actions and reactions are sure to reveal evidence of what injured parties did or failed to do that contributed to their suffering.

Victim blaming follows a three-stage thought process (see Ryan, 1971). First, the assumption is made that there is something wrong with these individuals. They are said to differ significantly from the unaffected majority in their attitudes, their behaviors, or both. Second, these presumed differences are thought to be the source of their plight. If they were like everyone else, the reason- ing goes, they would not have been targeted for attack. And third, victims are warned that if they want to avoid trouble in the future, they must change how they think and act. They must aban- don the careless, rash, or provocative patterns of behaviors that brought about their downfall.

Victim blaming is a widely held view for sev- eral reasons. It provides specific and straightfor- ward answers to troubling questions such as, “Why did it happen?” and “Why him and not me?” Victim blaming also has psychological appeal because it draws upon deep philosophical and even theological beliefs. Fervent believers in a just

world outlook—people get what they deserve before their lives end—find victim blaming a com- forting notion. Bad things happen only to evil characters; good souls are rewarded for following the rules. The alternative—imagining a world governed by random events where senseless and brutal acts might afflict anyone at any time, and where wrongdoers get away unpunished—is unnerving. The belief that victims must have done something neglectful, foolish, or provocative that led to their misfortunes dispels feelings of vul- nerability and powerlessness, and gives the blamer peace of mind about the existence of an orderly and just world (Lerner, 1965; Symonds, 1975; Lambert and Raichle, 2000 and Stromwall, Alfredsson, and Landstrom, 2013).

The doctrine of personal accountability that underlies the legal system also encourages victim- blaming explanations. Just as criminals are con- demned and punished for their wrongdoing, so, too, must victims answer for their behavior before, during, and after an incident. They can and should be faulted for errors in judgment that only made things worse. Such assessments of blame are grounded in the belief that individuals exercise a substantial degree of control over events in their everyday lives. They may not be totally in com- mand, but they are not powerless or helpless pawns and should not be resigned to their fate, waiting passively to become a statistic. Just as cau- tious motorists should implement defensive driving techniques to minimize car accidents, crime- conscious individuals are obliged to review their ways of relating to people and how they behave in stressful situations in order to enhance their per- sonal safety. By following the advice of security experts about how to keep out of trouble, cautious and concerned individuals can find personal solu- tions to the social problem of street crime.

Victim blaming also sounds familiar because it is the view of offenders. According to the crimi- nological theory known as “techniques of neu- tralization,” delinquents frequently disparage their intended targets as having negative traits (“He was asking for it,” or “They are a bunch of crooks themselves”). In extreme cases, youthful


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

offenders believe the suffering they inflict is retal- iatory justice that merits praise (“We deserve a medal for doing that”). Their consciences would burden them with pangs of guilt if they saw these same incidents in a more conventional way (see Sykes and Matza, 1957; and also Schwendinger and Schwendinger, 1967). Those offenders who are devoid of empathy and pity are so desensitized that they do not feel the guilt, shame, remorse, or moral inhibitions that otherwise would constrain their behavior. By derogating and denigrating the victim, juvenile delinquents or adult criminals can

validate their hurtful acts as justifiable. Outbursts of stark cruelty and savagery become possible when the injured party is viewed as worthless, less than human, an appropriate object for venting hostility and aggression, or an outcast deserving mistreatment (Fattah, 1976, 1979).

Defense attorneys may persuasively articulate the victim-blaming views of their clients, espe- cially in high-profile murder cases. A “trash- the-reputation” (demonization of the deceased) approach, coupled with a “sympathy” (for the accused) defense, might succeed in swaying a

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

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