victim blame or self blame
Rape Crisis Research
The main theories behind victim blame are the Just World Hypothesis and the Invulnerability or Assumptive World Theory.
"The tendency to blame rape victims has resulted in competing theories to explain those conclusions reached by fault-finding observers. Observers' motivational needs have been broached by the "just world" theory (Lerner & Miller, 1978) and the need to protect one's own sense of invulnerability." (Schneider et. al., 1994)
This page lists resources that discuss the need for perceived invulnerability in potential rape victims, victim blame and self blame in survivors.
Rape victims are a glaring reminder of our own vulnerability. No one likes to think they could lose control over their own body or life. By deciding a rape victim did something concrete to deserve the assault the observer creates a false sense of safety. If they can avoid doing that particular thing or action then they create the illusion of invulnerability for themselves. Creating a firm boundary between ourselves and accussers or rape victims (us v/s them) also creates the illusion of invulnerability.
"We all seem to recognise that crimes are common. However, we simultaneously believe that “it can’t happen to me”. In our day-to-day existence we operate on the basis of an illusion of invulnerability, overestimating the likelihood of experiencing positive outcomes in life and underestimating the likelihood of experiencing negative events. Janoff-Bulman suggests we make sense of our world by regarding what happens as controllable. We believe we can prevent misfortune by engaging in sufficiently cautious behaviours, and that we are protected against misfortune by being good and worthy people." (Janoff-Bulman 1985b, pp. 19-20)
Victimization challenges the basic beliefs that: a. The world is benevolent, b. The world is meaningful, and c. The self is worthy. (Janoff-Bulman, 1992)
A main theory is the Assumptive World Theory. "The "worthy self" assumptive category contains three self-evaluative dimensions. In essence people have three ways in which they evaluate themselves.
1- If outcomes are presumed to be justly distributed, self-worth, or believing oneself to be a decent, ethical person, should decrease perceived vulnerability to adverse outcomes.
Having something negative happen to you would therefore create the illusion that the victim was not decent (the inner self, soul or core being). This is faulty reasoning according to cognitive reprocessing. The perp is the person who is not decent and the victim is the innocent party. This is associated with characterological self blame or undeserved shame.
2- Alternatively, if outcomes are the result of one's own actions, viewing oneself as capable of exercising forethought and sound judgment should result in diminished perceptions of vulnerability.
If you were the victim of a crime the result would be thinking you had done something (an action) wrong. Again cognitive reprocessing would show the victim that no matter what they did the perpetrator still might have succeeded. In fact the perp is the one with faulty judgement and the victim the innocent party. This results in feelings of guilt according to self blame theories (behavioral self blame).
3- If outcomes are presumed to be random, perceptions of the self as "lucky" should enable individuals to feel relatively invulnerable to adverse outcomes."
If these assumptions are violated then their world view is broken.
Control over your life
According to psychology research wanting to think you were in control during the assault (negative results) is associated with self blame in victims:
Self blame is thought by some to be a way to feel one had never lost control over the situation. If it is your fault- then you always had control over things and you feel less vulnerable. This type of thinking is called past control or behavioral self-blame. Feeling this way is associated with more distress partly because it is associated with greater social withdrawal.
Thinking you are in control NOW (positive results):
Present control (control over the recovery process) is associated with less distress partly because it was associated with less social withdrawal and more cognitive restructuring. If you have control NOW (in the present) then there are actually productive things you can do to improve the situation (Frazier, 2005).
"Secondary wounding occurs because people who have never been hurt sometimes have difficulty understanding and being patient with people who have been hurt. It also occurs because people who have never confronted human tragedy are sometimes unable to comprehend the lives of those in occupations that involve dealing with human suffering or mass casualties on a daily basis.
Some people simply are not strong enough to accept the negatives in life. When such individuals confront a trauma survivor, they may reject or disparage the survivor because that individual represents the parts of life they have chosen to deny.
Trauma survivors may also be rejected or disparaged by other survivors-those who have chosen to deny or repress their own trauma(s) and have not yet dealt with their losses and anger. When trauma survivors who are not dealing with their traumatic pasts see someone who is obviously suffering emotionally or physically, they may need to block out that person in order to leave their own denial system intact."
"Victims are perceived as responsible for their own fate, a cognitive strategy that allows nonvictims to maintain their own sense of invulnerability, safety and justice (11). Examples of how this victim blaming stance can lead to socially traumatic experiences are plentiful in the area of trauma and PTSD (e.g., denial of acquaintance rape, labeling and discrimination toward Vietnam veterans)."
"Blaming the victim is a way of distancing oneself from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirming one's own invulnerability. By labeling or accusing the victim, she can be seen as different from oneself. We reassure ourselves by thinking, "because I am not like her, that would never happen to me." Of course, that is not rational. Anyone can be victimized. Victim blaming is disrespectful and harmful."
"There appear to be three
"According to Janoff-Bulman, we all seem to recognise that crimes are common. However, we simultaneously believe that “it can’t happen to me”. In our day-to-day existence we operate on the basis of an illusion of invulnerability, overestimating the likelihood of experiencing positive outcomes in life and underestimating the likelihood of experiencing negative events. Janoff-Bulman suggests we make sense of our world by regarding what happens as controllable. We believe we can prevent misfortune by engaging in sufficiently cautious behaviours, and that we are protected against misfortune by being good and worthy people. According to Lerner’s just world theory, we believe that people deserve what they get and get what they deserve. It is a meaningful world because we know what to expect and why negative events occur. People generally maintain a relatively high level of self-esteem and operate under the assumption that they are worthy, decent people (Janoff-Bulman 1985b, pp. 19-20)."
"Events which include victimisation,
such as disasters, serious diseases, criminal acts and accidents, produce
tremendous stress and anxiety as the victim’s experience cannot
be readily assimilated, and the assumptive world developed and confirmed
over many years cannot account for these extreme events. The assumptions
and theories are shattered, producing psychological
"Forcing the victim to examine himself or herself for the fatal flaw that allowed the injury to happen is a sinister victimization often more damaging than the original injury. The only conclusion possible is the admission of some fault for the harm. These victims are forced to build a prison of fault in their minds from which there is no escape. Other people who have had their own aura of invulnerability shattered, are a class of people who are supportive and understanding. No victim will climb out of this pit of blame by themselves. We all need help and the tools to use the help."
"by blaming the patient, we maintain our feeling of invulnerability, the victim is blamed and left isolated at a time when he/she most needs social support (14). Do not blame the patient and also advise relatives and family members to restrain from stigmatizing the patient."
Sleep Perchance to Dream:
"Focusing on the cognitive processes involved in adaptation to trauma, five of the best-established and most substantiated theories are reviewed. These five theories: Horowitz's (1986) theory of stress responses, Janoff-Bulman's (1983, 1992) theory of assumptive worlds, Jones and Barlow's (1990) theory, Pennebaker's (1987) theory, and Litz and Keane's (1989) theory were chosen because they are comprehensive, influential, and innovative representations of empirical research."
"We will see how trauma disrupts people’s core assumptions, so that they cannot hold onto their pre-traumatic assumptive world, and must construct a new one. Depending on what they do or fail to do the outcomes can be decline, precarious stability, or growth."
"People engage in continuous extension, refinement, and revision of their systems of meaning as they meet with events that challenge, or invalidate their assumptions, prompting their personal theories toward greater adequacy."
Sarid, Aksel (1996). Assumptive world theory and its relation to psychological trauma. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 56(8-B) pp. 4569.
"To help clarify the ambiguity of what we believe, how those beliefs arise and change, and how our beliefs affect our lives and the lives of others, to help advance the development of theories of psychological trauma, research directed explicitly to the relation between beliefs and psychological trauma is required. The present study was conducted to further this goal of theory development. Specifically, the present study addressed three research questions: (1) What is the relation between level of trauma impact and degree of Assumptive World beliefs?, (2) What is the relation between level of trauma impact and degree of Belief In A Just World?, and (3) What is the relation between level of trauma impact and degree of belief in a Meaning or Purpose In Life? Ninety two (92) adult college students, 76 females and 16 males, age 19-53, were invited to participate in the present study. Subjects were recruited from undergraduate and graduate level psychology or education courses. Each student received a demographic data sheet, consent form, and four instruments, (1) World Assumptions Scale, (2) in alternating order, the "Belief In A Just World" and the "Purpose In Life" scales, and (3) the "Impact Of Event" scales. The BJW and the PIL measure constructs similar to or included in the World Assumptions Scale, thus also serving as a construct validity check on the primary Assumptive World Theory instrument. The Impact of Event Scale, a measure of psychological trauma, was presented last in each packet as this instrument may stimulate trauma related affect which may in turn influence responses to subsequent instrumentation."
Harris, H. & Valentiner, D. (2002). World Assumptions, Sexual Assault, Depression, and Fearful Attitudes Toward Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17 (3), p286, 20p.
"The current study examines the relationships among world assumptions, history of adult sexual assault, depressive symptoms, and fearful attitudes toward relationships. Three hundred and sixty-one female college students completed the Assumptive World Scales and a set of questionnaires to assess their sexual assault history subsequent to age 15, levels of depressive symptoms, sexual aversion, paranoia/self-consciousness, and fear of intimacy. Factor analysis of the Assumptive World Scales items revealed five dimensions that had clear relationships with factors proposed in the initial study. These five Assumptive Worlds dimensions accounted for significant variance in depression. These dimensions also accounted for significant variance in sexual aversion, paranoia/self-consciousness, and fear of intimacy, even when controlling for levels of depressive symptoms and sexual assault severity."
Nurius, P. (1994). Assumptive Worlds, Self-Definition, and Striving Among Women. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 15 (3), p311-327, 17p.
"It is clear that we all have beliefs about the social world and how it works that we rely on as we make sense of and negotiate within that world. Although the importance of assumptions about ourselves and the world has been demonstrated in relation to crisis and trauma, their relevance to more proactive activities such as goal striving has not yet been established. To do this, I first present a conceptual framework and then offer (a) a profile of women's vulnerability-related assumptive worlds, (b) correlations of these assumptive worlds and identification with four societal reference groups (political orientation, religion, gender, cultural identity), and (c) regression data concerning the combined and unique ability of social referents and assumptive worlds to explain goal striving."
"Victims of severe strokes of fate (such as unemployment, traffic accidents, severe illness) often have to suffer additionally from derogation and isolation, accusations and reproaches of self-infliction by other people („blaming-the- victim“-phenomenon). What motivates people to bother victims instead of helping them? Two motives have been discussed. (1) By blaming the victims observers want to maintain control and the illusion that a similar fate could not happen to themselves (defensive attribution hypothesis). (2) By blaming the victims observers want to maintain their belief in a just world in which everybody gets what he/she deserves (just world theory). Both hypotheses have never been tested comparatively. Moreover, belief in control and belief in justice are related to each other and the instruments for their assessment are often very similar. In a questionnaire study on attitudes to cancer with 326 subjects it was shown that belief in a just world went along with blaming victims but without leading to a feeling of security. Belief in control was associated with invulnerability illusions without making a detour through blaming the victims. Despite their interrelations, belief in control and belief in justice could be differentiated in a meaningful way. Besides, different variants of belief in control and of belief in justice could be demonstrated with their differential effects."
Crome, Sarah A., McCabe, Marita P. (2001). Adult rape scripting within a victimological perspective. Aggression and Violent Behavior, Vol 6(4), Jul-Aug 2001. pp. 395-413.
review of the adult rape experience draws from theoretical conceptualizations
in both psychology and victimology. It is an integrative discussion of
M. J. Lerner's (1980) victimological theory of the "just world"
and J. H. Gagnon and W. Simon's (1973) conceptualization of cognitive
sex scripting. The "just world" is one in which an individual
gets what he/she deserves. People will construe events and interpret the
character of people to maintain this ideology. As theorized by L. S. Perloff
(1983), this promotes a feeling of "unique invulnerability"
in the absence of victimization. However, should victimization, such as
rape, occur, this ideology can implicate detrimental effects of adjustment.
This includes the "secondary victimization" from others, as
theorized by J. E. Williams (1984)... How these victimological scripts
may impact on the adjustment of adult raped men and women is discussed."
Feldman, Pamela J., Ullman, Jodie B., Dunkel-Schetter, Christine (1998). Women's Reactions to Rape Victims: Motivational Processes Associated With Blame and Social Support. Journal of Applied Social Psychology; 03/16/98, Vol. 28 Issue 6, p469-503, 35p link
"A study was conducted with 128 female college students to test the hypothesis that when observers feel vulnerable to rape, they are more likely to blame a rape victim and are less willing to offer social support. Similarity and empathy were expected to moderate the effects of perceived vulnerability on blame and predict greater social support. Assumptions about the world were predicted to be associated with greater blame... Perceived vulnerability did not directly or indirectly predict blame. However, similarity directly predicted less blame and indirectly predicted greater social support through associations with blame, perceived vulnerability, and empathy. World assumptions directly predicted greater blame and indirectly predicted less social support through blame. These findings suggest that blame and social support are interrelated processes which are associated with social observers' perceptions of the victim and their basic assumptions about the world."
Frazier, Patricia A.; Mortensen, Heather; Steward, Jason. (2005). Coping Strategies as Mediators of the Relations Among Perceived Control and Distress in Sexual Assault Survivors. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 52 (3). p267-278.
"Two studies assessed whether coping strategies mediate the relations among 2 forms of perceived control (past and present control) and postassault distress among female sexual assault survivors... Past control (behavioral self-blame) was associated with more distress partly because it was associated with greater social withdrawal. Present control (control over the recovery process) was associated with less distress partly because it was associated with less social withdrawal and more cognitive restructuring. In Study 2, cross-sectional data were gathered from a community sample of nonrecent survivors of sexual assault (N = 131). Coping strategies again mediated the relations among the measures of past and present control and distress."
Perloff, Linda S.,(1983). Perceptions of vulnerability to victimization. Journal of Social Issues, 39(2), Sum .U Illinois; Chicago. pp. 41-61. link
"Individuals who have not been victimized by negative life events, such as serious illness, accidents, or crime, tend to perceive themselves as "uniquely invulnerable," as less vulnerable to victimization then others. The actual experience of victimization, however, appears to shatter this illusion of invulnerability, creating in victims a new and unfamiliar sense of vulnerability often accompanied by psychological distress... It is argued that victims who have the most difficulty coping with their misfortune may be precisely those individuals who initially felt least vulnerable prior to being victimized. Therefore, how victims cope may depend in part on their prior beliefs about risk. In addition, a distinction is made between victims who feel "uniquely vulnerable" (more vulnerable than others) and those who feel "universally vulnerable" (equally vulnerable as others) to future misfortune. It is proposed that perceptions of universal vulnerability may be a more adaptive reaction to victimization than are perceptions of unique vulnerability."
Han, Hyemee (2004). A longitudinal assessment of cognitive schemas in women with posttraumatic stress disorder related to childhood abuse. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 65(3-B). pp. 1548.
"The impact of childhood abuse experiences on schemas about the self and the world in women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Schemas were conceptualized both in terms of degree of valence, and rigidity. It was hypothesized that greater negative schemas as well as more rigid schemas would be associated with greater psychiatric symptomatology, and severity of trauma. Findings indicated that beliefs about self-worth were significantly correlated with non-PTSD symptom measures, and the treatment group exhibited less rigid schemas about the benevolence of the world compared to the control group. Implications of the findings are discussed with respect to the limitations of the Assumptive World theory, and directions for future research."
Noelle, Monique (2002). The ripple effect on the Matthew Shepard murder: Impact on the assumptive worlds of members of the targeted group. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol 46(1) pp. 27-50.
"Examined the psychological impact on nonvictims of a widely publicized antigay hate crime, the murder of M. Shepard. Nine individuals ...with minority sexual identities who indicated that they were deeply affected by this murder completed interviews and a modified version of the Gay Identity Questionnaire ... Results show a vicarious traumatization effect, that is, that the event challenged subjects' (Ss') fundamental assumptions of benevolence and meaningfulness of the world and worthiness of self. Many Ss evidenced clear shifts in their assumptions of benevolence of the world and people. For several Ss, shock and denial reflected difficulty assimilating this event into fundamental assumptions. Changes in sense of self-worth, including internalized homophobia, were apparent in 1 case."
Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1988) Victims of violence ; In: Handbook of life stress, cognition and health. Fisher, Shirley; Reason, James; Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 101-113. [Original Chapter]
Topics covered: "fear and anxiety, assumptive worlds, core assumptions, coping and 'inappropriate' reactions, victimization / psychological reactions / post-traumatic stress disorder / self-worth / Stockholm syndrome / rape victim / victim of sexual assault / physical violation / psychological violation / control / justice"
Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie; Frieze, Irene H. (1983). A theoretical perspective for understanding reactions to victimization. Journal of Social Issues, 39(2). pp. 1-17.
"Although specific victimizations may differ, there appear to be common psychological responses across a wide variety of victims. It is proposed that victims' psychological distress is largely due to the shattering of basic assumptions held about themselves and their world. Three assumptions that change as a result of victimization are (1) the belief in personal invulnerability; (2) the perception of the world as meaningful; and (3) the view of the self as positive. Coping with victimization is presented as a process that involves rebuilding one's assumptive world. Introductions to the papers that follow in this issue of the journal are incorporated into a discussion of specific coping strategies"
Janoff-Bulman, R. (1982). Esteem and control bases of blame: "Adaptive" strategies for victims versus observers. Journal of Personality, 50, 180-192 link
Investigates the esteem and control correlates of blames for victims and observers. Correlates of behavioral and characterological blame; Perceptions of avoidability of the victimization; Use of a role-playing/observer methodology within the study; Results.
Further resources prior to 1981:
Bard, M., & Sangrey, D. The crime victim's book. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
Beck, A. T. Depression: Clinical, experimental, and theoretical aspects. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Brownmiller, S. Against
our will: Men, women, and rape. New York: Simon &
Bryant, C, & Cirel, P. A community response to rape: An exemplary project (Polk County Rape/Sexual Assault Care Center). Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, 1977.
Bulman, R. J., &
Wortman, C. B. Attributions of blame and coping in the "real
Chodoff, P., Friedman, S. B., & Hamburg, D. A. Stress, defenses, and coping behavior: Observations in parents of children with malignant diseases. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1964, 120, 743-749.
Eagly, A. H. Involvement as a determinant of response to favorable and unfavorable information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monographs, 1967, 7, (Whole No. 643), 1-15.
Elig, T., & Frieze, I. A. A multidimensional scheme for coding and interpreting perceived causality for success and failure events: The coding scheme of perceived causality (CSPC). JSAS: Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 1975, 5, 313 (Ms. No. 1069).
Janoff-Bulman, R. Characterological versus behavioral self-blame: Inquiries into depression and rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1979, 37, 1798-1809.
Janoff-Bulman, R., & Lang-Gunn, L. Coping with disease and accidents: The role of self-blame attributions. In L. Y. Abramson (Ed.), Social-personal influence in clinical psychology. N.Y.: Guilford, in press.
Jones, C, & Aronson, E. Attribution of fault to a rape victim as a function of respectability of the victim. Journal of Persemality and Social Psychology, 1973, 26, 415-419.
Jones, E. E., & Nisbett, R. E. The actor and the observer: Divergent perceptions of the causes of behavior. Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1971.
Lerner, M. J. The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum, 1980.
Lerner, M. J., & Matthews, P. Reactions to suffering of others under conditions of indirect responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1967, 5, 319-325.
Lerner, M. J., &
Miller, D. T. Just world research and the attribution process: Looking
back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin, 1978, 85, 1030-1051.
Lerner, M. J., & Simmons, C. H. The observer's reaction to the "innocent victim": Compassion or rejection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 4, 203-210.
Regan, D. T., &
Totten, J. Empathy and attribution: Turning observers into actors. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 1975, 32, 850-856.
Rotter, J. B. Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 1966, 80, (1, Whole No. 609).
Ryan, W. Blaming the victim. New York: Pantheon, 1971.
Storms, M. D. Videotape and the attribution process: Reversing the actors' and observers' points of view. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 27, 165-175.
Taylor, S. E., & Fiske, S. T. Salience, attention, and attribution: Top of the head 192 Janoff-Bulman phenomena. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 11. New York: Academic Press, 1978.
Wolfenstein, M. Disaster: A psychological essay. Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press, 1957. Manuscript received May 15, 1981; revised December 3, 1981.
Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1992). SHATTERED ASSUMPTIONS. NY: Free Press.
"Overall a very good tool for the lay-person to use in understanding why trauma feels so bad, why others don't seem to understand and can even blame the traumatized for their own plight, and finding assurance that the traumatic experience can lead to a stronger self-image and more flexible take on change and reality." Deborah Lovelace
J. KAUFFMAN (2002). Loss of the Assumptive World; A Theory of Traumatic Loss (The Series in Trauma and Loss). NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Social cognition and
clinical psychology: A synthesis. Abramson, Lyn Y. (Ed); pp. 116-147.
(from the chapter)
victims' attributions for disease, crime, and accidents represent cognitive
attempts to understand and explain these highly stressful, undesirable
Resources to research this subject:
Search terms: assumptive world AND DE "Victimization",
assumptive worlds, vulnerab* and rape, just world theory, invulnerability, revising the assumptive world, assumptive world violation, assumptive world beliefs, narcissistic meaning, betrayal trauma theory, shattered assumptions, adult rape victimization; experiences; justice; theoretical interpretation; ideological scripting; victimology, *Coping Behavior; *Literature Review; *Self Perception; *Victimization, victimization, perception of personal vulnerability, literature review, *Rape; *Schema; *Theoretical Interpretation; *Victimization; Attitudes; Justice
Related links: Victim blame
Macdonalds, John (2004). World Book Encyclopedia. United States of America: World Book Inc.
Smith, M. D. (2004). Encyclopedia of Rape. USA: Greenwood Press.
Sedney, Mary Anne, "rape (crime)." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2006 <http://gme.grolier.com> (February 1, 2006).
Frazier, Patricia A.; Mortensen, Heather; Steward, Jason. (2005). Coping Strategies as Mediators of the Relations Among Perceived Control and Distress in Sexual Assault Survivors. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 52 (3). p267-278.
Two studies assessed whether coping strategies mediate the relations among 2 forms of perceived control (past and present control) and postassault distress among female sexual assault survivors. In Study 1, longitudinal data were gathered from 2 weeks to 1 year postassault (N = 171). Past control (behavioral self-blame) was associated with more distress partly because it was associated with greater social withdrawal. Present control (control over the recovery process) was associated with less distress partly because it was associated with less social withdrawal and more cognitive restructuring. In Study 2, cross-sectional data were gathered from a community sample of nonrecent survivors of sexual assault (N = 131). Coping strategies again mediated the relations among the measures of past and present control and distress.
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