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What is victim blaming?

Victim blaming is a form of gaslighting. It occurs when the victim of a crime, violence, or harassment is blamed or made feel responsible for the action. Victim blaming is a common theme in sexual assault cases but can occur in the contexts of other forms of assault, non-violent crimes, or even in emotional and mental trauma. Anyone can be a victim blamer: A perpetrator (e.g., “You made me act this way”), a friend or loved one (e.g., “Why would you put yourself in that situation?”), or even the victim themselves (e.g., “I brought this on myself”). People blame victims for many reasons, one of which is to make someone else responsible for their actions. However, another common reason people blame victims is to create distance between themselves and the victim. For example, someone who witnesses or learns of a crime might say something like, “That would never happen to me because I would never put myself in that type of situation.” This is done to create distance between themselves and the crime/victim and help themselves feel safer. Regardless of why people blame victims, it’s important to understand that victim blaming is dangerous and is never okay. 

How does victim blaming affect people?

Victim blaming is dangerous and can have detrimental effects on victims and survivors of the trauma as well as society. One of the ways it affects people is by making people feel scared and less likely to come forward if they experience the traumas. It does this by making individuals feel as though they will be judged or that people will not believe them. Moreover, this heightens depressive and anxious symptoms as well as symptoms related to PTSD. Additionally, victim blaming reinforces the perpetrator’s/abuser’s belief that the victim/survivor is responsible for the trauma. Furthermore, victim blaming reinforces a societal and cultural belief that abusers are not held accountable for their actions which further perpetuates abuse and violence.

How can I advocate against victim blaming?

One of the first and most important things you can do to be a better advocate for trauma victims and survivors is to learn to listen empathetically and non-judgmentally. This will allow people who have experienced trauma to feel safe with you. Another important thing to do is believe people when they open up to you about their trauma, and practice more active listening and less questioning or probing. Finally, it is important to dismantle abuse-related myths when you observe them. This might look like challenging people when you witness them engaging in victim blaming or making jokes about trauma victims and survivors. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, here are some resources to give them: RAINN at 1-800-656-4673; or The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800.799.SAFE (7233);

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.