top of page

Academia's Contribution to Victim Blaming Culture

A lot of victim blaming seems to be embedded in a series of quite shitty studies under the umbrella term "victim precipitation."

These are the main ones:

Von Hentig (1948): "The Criminal and His Victim" - Described crime as an "interaction between offender and victim"

Wolfgang (1958): "Patterns in Criminal Homicide" - Explored the roles of victims in instigating aggression

Schafer (1968): "Victim and His Criminal - A Study in Functional Responsibility" - Looks at the role of the victim in provoking the offender

These studies represent a developing ideology of putting responsibility on the victim - or as we know it today: victim-blaming culture.

Up until this point (1960s), studies had largely focused on assault, GBH, theft and robbery.

In 1967 we see a new direction, applying these victim blaming theories to sexual assault and rape cases.

Amir (1967): "Victim Precipitated Forcible Rape"

Amir argued that women brought rape upon themselves on the basis of "outward projection and activities."

You've got it, wearing a skirt and daring to go to a pub on a Saturday will earn you the badge of "asking to be raped." This is the ground breaking study that pioneered the idea, and it still endures today.

Although victim precipitation, as a criminological theory, has largely been abandoned since the mid-20th century. Various articles have been written explaining why this is the case. Among the most prominent to disregard victim precipitation:

Timmer & Norman (1984): "The Ideology of Victim Precipitation"

Robert (1986): "The Politics of Victimization: Victims, Victimology, and Human Rights"

Both these articles critiqued victim precipitation for it's individualistic nature. Stating that if you use this theory to govern policy, then it means you get to ignore all the structural, systematic problems - in favour of the easy way out: blaming the individual.

Timmer and Norman also commented on how victim precipitation often leads to "extreme" forms of victim blaming, where authorities falsely believe that victims are the primary reason for their victimization.

As victim precipitation has now been disregarded, it would be ace if we could look back at this in the same way we look back at cavemen who drilled holes into their heads to alleviate a headache - with a jovial shake of the head and a "what were they thinking, eh?"

Alas, we canot. Rape myths are still well and alive today - and influencing judiciaries around the world. This is a case from Ireland in 2017:

This article (and it's not even an academic article - so there) documents the case of a 17 year old rape victim who's "black, lacy underwear" was used as evidence against her. The argument was made that she could not have been raped, because her underwear indicated that she had wanted to have sex that night.

Senior Counsel, Elizabeth O'Connell stated:

“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

Here we can see the exact same ideas Amir proposed 54 years ago. As is the intention of academic research, Amir conducted a study that then went on to inform public policy. Trickling through government, courts and eventually defence lawyer procedure.

I think some part of me still really wants to believe that "the academic institution" is above the same power consolidation that occurs in society. Obviously, that's not the case. In the same way that our society today endures sexism, racism, homophobia and all manner of discriminatory practises - so do our institutions.

bottom of page