Victim blaming and the just world fallacy

Whilst many believe that a victim of sexual violence may have provoked rape and sexual abuse, we all know really that that is bulls**t. No one invites violence against themselves, and no one chooses to live with the effects sexual violence has on one’s psyche, perceptions, and life. The definition of rape is sex without consent; the victim had no choice in the matter and was subjected to sexual violence against their will. Attributing any blame onto the victim only shifts the focus away from the perpetrator and thus takes responsibility away from the person who committed the crime which is exceptionally damaging when trying to pursue justice. The idea that a victim should had any control over what transpired is a myth that is too often used against victims to justify heinous crimes. The sad thing is, people listen and believe these myths because it’s easier to believe someone could be at fault or lying than it is to believe that someone they know could be capable of rape. Defence lawyers of perpetrators often get rapists off by using victim blaming in their line of argument as it plays into the societal myths and falsehoods already held by the jury who ‘wouldn’t want to ruin a young man’s life’. This way of thinking is incredibly damaging to victims and for many is one of the main reasons they choose not to report what happened to them.

This type of questioning is a logical approach. We try and make sense of the world around us, and we have learnt that a person’s actions invite morally fair and equal consequences, in other words if a person is good, they will only experience good things and a person who is bad will only experience bad things- this is ‘the just world fallacy’ (Grinnell. R, 2016). But this is the real world and sometimes things are terrible, and not everything works according to that hypothesis. Finding reasons for why something terrible has occurred is a normal, human reaction. We have a need to understand things. However, this idea that ‘everything happens for a reason’ only goes on to cause harm to sexual violence victims. Yes, everything happens for a reason- in the case of rape because a rapist chose to rape someone. However, the victim isn’t deserving of that action; how is rape ever ‘morally fair’? Too many times I have spoken to a survivor who has questioned themselves for what transpired, trying to look for something they did that asked or deserved the violence that was committed against them. How is that a just world?

This idea causes people to rationalise injustices by offering ideas for why a victim may have deserved what befell them. Rapists can be our friends, family, and people we look up to. They may be held in high regard and seen as a ‘good person, who would never do such a thing’. Most people would like to protect that illusion and continue believing that the people that appear to us as good, well-meaning members of society are not able to inflict harm on another person. We don’t like to think that bad things happen to good people, because then those things could potentially happen to us. We can control certain aspects of our lives, but we don’t have the ability to control whether bad things happen to us at the hands of others. This is how, and why victim blaming occurs.

Victim blaming isn’t just about avoiding placing the responsibility for the crime where it belongs. It is also about wanting to believe that the world is a just, moral place. If we believe that anyone can experience something bad, it means that our fear that it could happen to us is realised. Victim blaming happens when the victim of any crime is regarded as entirely or partially at fault for the crimes that were committed against them. We often hear ‘they allowed it to happen’ when victims don’t fight back physically. The thing is when awful things happen to us, we either fight, flight, or freeze. Freezing is an incredibly common stress response in victims of trauma and sometimes is necessary for survival. When we perceive a threat, we decide how to act, sometimes becoming immobile is the best thing to do to avoid further violence. Lots of survivors have said how previously when they spoke about rape, they thought they would scream loud and fight back. However, when it came to experience sexual violence they froze and couldn’t do anything. It is an automatic reaction and something a person should never be blamed for or made to feel bad for doing. Furthermore, if a person is promiscuous that doesn’t invite a person to have sex with them. If they haven’t consented to sexual activity that is rape, despite their sexual history. A person’s lack of modest clothing doesn’t entice sexual violence, if it did then how would we explain that babies also get raped? Surely you wouldn’t blame a child for being a victim of sexual violence so why does it change when that person becomes older? The crime is still the same.

Whilst this explanation may seem to create a hopeless, disheartening perspective of the world, this isn’t the case. We can believe that injustice exists whilst also acknowledging the good that is out there too. As individuals we are all capable of enacting change and creating the just world we so desperately strive for. So, the next time you hear someone attempt to rationalise someone’s suffering in an unconstructive way, step in and tell them why they’re wrong. Let them know that what they’re saying isn’t going to do anything but perpetuate myths and leave a survivor feeling awful about themselves and what happened to them. Rape can never be justified so please don’t try to do so. Instead offer compassion and empathy. We must learn to listen to a victim suffering if we really want to make the world a better place. Without listening, we can’t create informed opinions and implement framework which will help to fight injustice that so many people experience. Without understanding and compassion we cannot support those survivors who need it most. Do not shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Rape is NEVER deserved, NEVER asked for, and NEVER the victim’s fault.

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