Why we blame victims
After the recent case of rape in Mumbai, where an American girl of Indian origin was sexually assaulted by a group of male friends with whom she was out partying, I wondered how many people would think that the girl was to blame for the rape. She went partying with guys and she drank and apparently spent the night with them in the same apartment. She has clearly said that she passed out and had no recollection of what happened but I wonder how many people believe her.
There is some complex psychology which explains, at least partly, why some perfectly decent people seem to be unsympathetic to rape victims. Studies conducted in western countries have revealed that in the case of rape a person’s reaction depends two aspects. One, the Situational aspect and the other the Personal.
The first one (Situational) means that those who feel that they or their loved ones will never be in similar situation as the victim tend to attribute more blame to the victim, and this means those who don’t party or go out with the opposite sex and those who don’t drink. But those who feel that they could perhaps someday be in the same situation as the victim, and this means that those who do date boys and perhaps have a drink or two, will tend to blame external and societal factors.
This works the other way too, when it comes to the perpetrator. Those who feel they can never be in the same situation as the perpetrator (in this case partying with an attractive girl and drinking along) are likely to attribute more blame to the perpetrator and feel sympathy for the victim. On the other hand, those who feel that they could perhaps be in the same situation as the perpetrator will tend to find excuses for the rapist…and any claim by the victim that she was tricked into drinking would be met with skepticism.
It is some sort of self-defence mechanism at work, the strong need to protect oneself from blame in case one is ever in such a situation.
The second aspect is the personal one. Those who share some broad characteristics like sex and age with the victim tend to attribute less blame to the victim and more to the perpetrator. And those who share some broad characteristics like sex and age with the perpetrator, tend to attribute less blame to the perpetrator and more to the victim. Another aspect comes into play here, and this could be very important. Those who have rape-tolerant attitudes (some women have these too) will tend to blame the victim more and the perpetrator less. An example of a rape tolerant person is someone who might feel that a woman who dresses scantily is asking to be raped.
The more the commonality with the perpetrator and the more heinous the crime, the stronger is the inclination to blame the the victim. This might seem odd, because after all a heinous crime should automatically make people sympathise with the victim whatever the circumstances. But no, it doesn’t always work that way. A heinous crime is what shocks people more, and makes their self defense mechanism go into overdrive.
I think this same underlying psychology would work in other kinds of cases too. For example when Ramalinga Raju, the man who brought Satyam to its knees was caught, I’m sure that many an industrialist, even if he was personally shocked at what Raju had done, felt some amount of sympathy for him, in his heart of hearts at least! In the Nithari murder case where little children were raped and eaten, there were those who felt sympathy for the owner of the house Moninder Singh Pandher (I read some blog posts by people who felt he was innocent!) but did not feel any for his servant/cook Surendra Koli despite sufficient evidence to prove that Pandher was protecting Koli and proof that he had bribed the police.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Psychology or on Crime. I have gleaned these basic theories from an article I read (which has been linked to) on date rape and what I have done is extrapolate). I write as a layman.
(Photo is by me and copyrighted. It is for representational purposes only.)
Related Reading: Violent Crime in different parts of the world – a small analysis
Incest Rape needs stronger law in India
Why men rape
Male teachers banned in primary schools in Delhi to prevent sexual abuse
Read all posts on Crime on this blog.