Is It Ever Fair To Blame The Victim?

Victims of crimes of all sorts are sometimes criticized or blamed for what happened to them. In response, defenders of the victim often accuse such critics of “blaming the victim.” This is especially so when women are victims of sexual assaults. Often she is blamed if she is dressed in something short and tight or low-cut and form-fitting. Or if she agrees to go to the room of a man she just met late at night. And even if she is intoxicated and subsequently assaulted, it is stated that she should still be held blameless. I agree that any one who sexually assaults [or otherwise assaults] another should be prosecuted and if convicted, imprisoned for quite an extensive time. Nonetheless, is it ever fair to blame the victim?

There is a concept developed by sociologists called, “victim precipitation” that is defined as any action taken [or not taken] or words spoken [or not spoken] that incited the perpetrator to victimize such person. For instance, bumping a person without saying, “excuse me” or bullying a person or perhaps failing to stop talking thereby irritating and provoking the perpetrator. Victim precipitation would also include being attacked by the spouse of someone you were dating — but you did not know she was married.

In the law, there is a similar concept:  “The fact that an individual is lacking in intelligence, judgment, memory, or emotional stability does not excuse the person’s failure to act as a reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same circumstances. Finally, a person who undertakes a particular activity is ordinarily considered to have the knowledge common to others who engage in that activity.” [] 01 July 2013. Thus, according to sociologists, criminologists and the law, there are times when one can blame the victim. Sometimes victims are culpable and bring “shit on themselves.”  Which is why many parents will preach to their children about socializing with the wrong crowd or never leaving your drink unattended, or to leave before the argument escalates into violence or to leave the party with the girls you came with as opposed to going off with some guy.

As one judge put it, “Sometimes we just have to take responsibility for what happens to us.”

BUT, whether a victim should be blamed or not is not the issue for me — because clearly as per the law and social science, sometimes one can blame the victim. The issue, from my perspective is whether a victim should ever be surprised — guilty victims or even innocent victims.

If you sell illegal drugs, should you be surprised if you are arrested or robbed or if someone tries to kill you?

If you drink and then drive, should you be surprised if you have an accident or are arrested?

If you bully another, should you be surprised if you are subsequently ambushed or suffer some sort of retaliation?

If you stop to get gas in certain neighborhoods late at night, should you be surprised if you are attacked and robbed? Yes, it would be wrong for someone to rob you, but should you be surprised? [Engaging in a perfectly legal activity does not absolve one from taking prudent actions]

If you are a woman, drinking with a group of men you barely know or go to a stranger’s room alone, should you be surprised if you are sexually assaulted? Yes, it would be wrong/criminal for someone to assault you, but should you be surprised? [Engaging in a perfectly legal activity does not absolve one from taking prudent actions]

As I stated, the issue is not whether you, as a victim should be blamed, but under certain circumstances [NOT ALL CIRCUMSTANCES] should you be surprised if you become a victim?

Yes, I am most aware that many victims of crime were engaging in perfectly legal activities and through no fault of their own, they became victims. There are certain situations, however, when, if one can blame the victim or not, the victim should not be surprised at being a victim. In other words, the more important question may not be whether the victim should be blamed but whether the victim should be surprised.

Published in: on July 2, 2013 at 9:43 PM  Leave a Comment  
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