Victim Blaming & Bystander Effect

Victim Blaming

Victim is what happens when the victim of a crime is held completely or partially responsible for what happened.

William Ryan was the first person to create this phrase in his book Blaming the Victim in 1971. He describes victim blaming as an excuse for racism at that time.

Nowadays victim blaming is used in rape cases, bullying cases, illnesses, and other bad things that happen to victims.

Melvin J. Lerner

Melvin J. Lerner was a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Waterloo between 1970 and 1994 and now he resides as a visitor at Florida Atlantic University.

He is most notable for his "Just-World Phenomenon".


Just-World Phenomenon

"The assumption that a person's actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, to the end of all noble actions being eventually rewarded and all evil actions eventually punished... there are consequences from a universal force that restores moral balance."

The Just-world phenomenon takes sayings like "what goes around comes around" and "you reap what you sow" and makes it into a big fancy hypothesis.

In 1966, Melvin Lerner and other scientists conducted experiments where 72 female participants were forced to watch "a victim" be given electrical shocks. At first they were uncomfortable and felt bad for the victim, but as time went on the participants saw that the observers weren't going to do anything to help, they began to belittle the victim, and with more suffering came more insults.

This has to do with rationalization as well, that to maintain their well being, people tell themselves that they live in a just world where certain actions have certain consequences.

It's also based on the society's norms and customs at that point in time.

Examples: Rich people became rich because they worked hard; homeless or poor people got into that state because they were lazy.


While studying why victim blaming is so prominent nowadays, one reason why it's happening is because people are trying to make themselves feel better about the situation. When "bad things happen to good people" it makes the public afraid, that these people were just like them and then something terrible has happened so they try and rationalize (a defense mechanism or coping technique) by saying that "they deserved it" or "they were asking for it". People don't want to admit that dangerous situations are everywhere.

Blaming Rape Victims

One of the most "popular" examples of victim blaming today is when rape victims are blamed for what happened. I

Yes there are certainly measures that can be taken so you don't get into or near that situation, but this is not justifying the rapist. And that's only in some cases. Being drunk doesn't cause being raped as much as it increases the danger of being taken advantage of.

Feminists, on the other hand go off the deep end sometimes when dealing with rape culture ("a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.") They study this academically. Victim blaming is often related back to this term.

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Rape Culture

Rape Culture is basically living in a world where rape is idealized by society. Feminists came up with the term "rape culture" in the 1970s when there was a large group focusing on domestic abuse and marital rape.

Rape culture isn't totally obvious, it's subtle and a lot of times it's hidden within media.

An example of a movie that endorses rape or even abuse is Fifty Shades of Grey, where it has convinced people that these are two adults that have both given consent, when in reality its much darker than that.

Even celebrities are idealized for instances of rape or abuse. Chris Brown and his relationship with Rihanna all those years ago

Chris Brown and Rihanna, plenty of his fans idealized him for it.

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Amanda Stevenson

About 12 years ago, a 14 year old girl named Amanda Stevenson went to a party after a basketball game within a remote cabin in the woods. There were no adults, but there was alcohol and she tried her first hit of pot. Her boyfriend was ready to leave earlier than the end time of the party, but she didn't want to leave quite yet, so she decided to ride home with someone else. Later on, she was given a Mountain Dew (that was spiked) and that's where things started heading downhill. She became unable to talk and felt limp, and next thing she knew a boy was leading her to a locked room with five other boys. After they each took turns doing whatever, one of the boys drove her home and asked about what she remembered. When she got home, she told her parents what had happened and she took a rape test and they found out that she was indeed read. At her school, rumors started floating up stating that "the pretty freshman had made up a rape story to keep from being branded a slut". Someone even threw a brick through the window of her family's car. This prompted the Stevenson family to move out of that town and find a safer one where their daughter would have a new start.

Bystander Effect

This occurs when other people during a crime don't go to the aid of a victim because the presence of others discourages them. For whatever reason, this is extremely common nowadays. An even stranger sounding fact is that the more bystanders that are present, the less likely help will be offered. This could be because people are too afraid to stand up and try to help the victim when there are so many other people watching them.

Pluralistic Ignorance & Herd Mentality

Thought to be the reason for the Bystander Effect, pluralistic ignorance is "a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it".

It can also be described as when "everyone thinks that everyone believes, but no one does".

People look to each other for confirmation or clarification before deciding to do things on their own.

For example in a murder, people will look to others and see what they are doing. If no one is stepping up to help, no one will help because they don't want to be doing the "wrong" thing.

Herd mentality describes how people are influenced by others in their actions, thoughts, and choices. There are many examples of this, such as home decor, where people will look to what other people are buying and choosing and they want to be like the rest of the population so they buy similar and/or the exact same thing. Businesses take advantage of this fact everyday so that they can make more money.

This can also be a reason for the Bystander Effect for the same description as pluralistic ignorance.

People will observe other's actions and decide whether or not they will deviate from the group. In a large situation where someone is getting attacked, there is a very real and hard decision for them to make when regarding standing up beyond the crowd and doing something.

When in a crowd, it can be so densely populated and there are so many things happening all at once that it's hard to recognize something wrong. Or someone could be in an area where there are other people and they think that someone else will take care of the situation, so they don't have to worry about anything.

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When in a crowd, there is so much going on that it's easy to not recognize that something wrong is happening, because it's so densely populated.

Also if someone is just in an area with other people, they might think that someone else will take care of it.

When we are with other people, we are less likely to process certain events as emergencies. "Sure, a child hit by a truck is an unambiguous crisis. But other emergencies are less clear-cut: Are the 3:00 am screams outside someone in need of help or a loudmouth who had too much to drink? When we're unsure about events, we look to those around us to gauge their reactions."

The Richmond High School Incident

On Saturday, October 24, 2009, 10 young males raped a 15 year old girl several times during a homecoming dance, with more than 20 witnesses present and not alerting the police for more than two hours. The victim was invited by a classmate to come to the courtyard and drink alcohol with them. She drank a lot of brandy and when she refused to give consent, she was beaten and raped for the next two and a half hours. Many of the witnesses are believed to have taken video of the incident but the police were not able to locate any of them.

Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese, also known as Catherine, was attacked on March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens, NY with around 12 witnesses who did nothing to help her (the newspaper had said 38, but that was found to be inaccurate). Winston Moseley, the killer later said that he "wanted to kill a woman". At 3:15 am, Kitty was stabbed twice in the back right before she screamed out, "Oh, my God! He stabbed me! Help me!”. The bystanders, thinking that it was just a lovers' spat or drunken brawl, did nothing except for one man who yelled "Let that girl alone!". This scared off the attacker for the first time.

That same man who shooed off Moseley must have seen Kitty crawling towards the building in her injured state, but didn't try to do anything. Moseley was seen driving away, but came back 10 minutes later. After searching for awhile, he found her at the back of the building where she was locked out. He then proceeded to kill her, rape her, and rob her. Only one call to the police could've saved her.

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Works Cited

Breines, Juliana. “Why Do We Blame Victims.” Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

Burkley, Melissa. Why Don’t We Help? Less Is More, at Least When It Comes to Bystanders. Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

Parkinson, John. “Is This Rape Case the Next Steubenville?” Mother Jones. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

Rigdway, Shannon. “25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture.” Everyday Feminism. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

Sommers, Sam. “Why Crowds Make Us Callous.” Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

“10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect.” Listverse. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.