Victim blaming is the act of placing guilt upon a person or persons for the misjustice(s) they have endured. It is also known as victim shaming and has happened repeatedly within society for centuries. It can be traced back into biblical times with the example of David raping Bathsheba and her peers (then and now) looking to blame her for his indiscretions. This is an issue that is commonly overlooked in society today and becoming more prevalent among the younger crowd. Just recently there was a news story about a younger girl who was kidnapped and unwillfully had several young men help themselves to her body. We have heard for years’ cases of football players helping themselves to females as well. There are a plethora of cases we have not and maybe will not ever hear about. “William Ryan coined the phrase “blaming the victim” in his book Blaming the Victim in 1971, as a response to years of oppression and the civil rights movement. He describes victim blaming as a way to preserve the interest of the privileged group in power (Zur). Since then, advocates for crime victims, particularly those of rape, have adopted the phrase” (Schoellkopf, 2012). Victim shaming has been around for a long time. It is common in hate crimes, discrimination, rape and bullying (Schoellkopf, 2012). We are accustomed to hearing this phrase commonly attached to rape circumstances. Often, students and adults (especially females) are more apt to not report crimes of rape or abuse due to the pressure of feeling blame by their peers. “The cause of victim-blaming is surely riddled in the culture” (Conway, 2017). Elizabeth Conway describes in her article that victims are often blamed because of heavy gender stereotypes within cultures. Rape victims are “at fault” because of how much they were drinking, what they were wearing or their past sexual behaviors. How often have we heard the phrase “they were asking it for it when they…” or “what did they think was going to happen when they….” loosely thrown around? Ahrens talks about how “When rape survivors are exposed to victim-blaming behaviors or attitudes, the experience may feel like a “second assault” or a “second rape”, a phenomenon known as “secondary victimization” and this is a feeling people try to escape from. Victim blaming leads individuals into feeling a state of powerlessness. Stripping an individual of their power is a form of control. It allows one person to have dominance over another. This is emotionally and psychologically damaging and considered a bullying type of behavior. No one person has the right to blame an individual for the unfortunate circumstances that have or are happening to them.
I am choosing this topic because I think it is vastly overlooked. This is an issue which has made me feel powerless at one point and I believe it is an issue that needs to be address. Unfortunately, not only are women and females targeted but males are too! It is almost becoming normal to hear how men are “gay” because they were raped as a child by a trusted adult and they somehow “must have liked it” or how women “must have asked” for unwanted attention because she wanted a promotion or special circumstance. I am a survivor of victim blaming from a series of rapes that I endured over time in my high school career. I was in the tenth grade and once I voiced that it was happening in order to make it stop, my peers shamed me for it. I hated going to school. I, at first was depressed, then I began skipping school. It took a while for me to learn and accept that my body was my own and I didn’t have to let anyone else help themselves to it if I did not want to. I believe that if people were made aware that this is not ok or acceptable to do to women or men then maybe cultural mindsets, trends and habits could change.
Some of the books I checked out are The Scarlet Letter, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Fledgling. These books are all categorized as victim blaming books on Goodreads. I think they are great examples of the experiences and consequences people endure from victim blaming. I also believe that these books show the impact on society and how it can tear people apart but they simultaneously show the resilience and strength of a person’s character. These works are relatable to men and women and do not leave either gender to be solely the antagonist or protagonist. These books would definitely be for the older grades. I would use these for grades 9-12. They are most likely to be mature enough to handle the content and grasp the severity of the situation.
Ahrens, C. E. (2006). Being Silenced: The Impact of Negative Social Reactions on the Disclosure of Rape. American Journal of Community Psychology, 38(3-4), 263–274. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-006-9069-9
Conway, Elizabeth. (2017). https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/honors/documents/journals/entries/Conaway.pdf
Schoellkopf, Julia Churchill, “Victim-Blaming: A New Term for an Old Trend” (2012). Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Center. Paper 33. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/glbtc/33
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn
The Scarlet Letter is about a woman named Hester who was victimized by her community for being immoral with a man from her community. She was not taken advantage of initially but she becomes a victim in relation to customs, traditions and roles of power. This story shows her resilience and will to stand up for herself. This book is high quality literature because the characters are round and it addresses internal struggles of humanity. It is a romance that is written with finesse, flair and symbolism. This book could be used to study the relationship between Hester and the community before and after her indiscretion. It could also be used to study the impact her isolation made on her life. Parents and teachers could use this book to help students understand that victim blaming is a form of bullying and can pose emotional and psychological health concerns to the body.
2. Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
This is about a genetically altered vampire who wakes up with amnesia. She spends the novel trying to find out who she is and defending herself from attacks from other Inas (vampires), who hate her because of her makeup. This literature is high quality because of its vivid imagery and realistic plot line for a science fiction piece. It addresses a variety of topics such as race, sexuality, genetic modification and politics. This can be used to show students how differences amongst others that lead to victim blaming can affect the community and impact the lives around us. It can also be used to teach students about nature vs. nurture and the human capacity to overcome adversity with blamed.
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
This story is about a young boy named Harry whose traumatic past is causing him nightmares. He discovers a newfound power that was unbeknownst to him. A secret diary is found in his school and a portal opens with a terrible past inside it. Harry struggles to maintain his friendships as he tries to prove his innocence to the mishaps that keep occurring around the school. This book is high quality because the author uses striking word choice and adjectives. She also invents her own words and uses complex subplots within her story. This story can be used by adults to study the cognitive effects that blaming can cause victims. It can be used to explore the feelings of anger, isolation and distress among other feelings. It can also be used to study the body’s responses to the stress of blaming. This book can be used to study blaming from a group think perspective.
4. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
This is a historical fiction piece about the Salem Witch Trials. The townsfolk in this book are being falsely accused of witchcraft by one other in order to protect themselves from persecution and punishment. It is a strong representation of its genre. The author’s prose is written in a crafty, interesting manner and includes background knowledge about the times and the environment. It can be used to study the role of power in victim blaming. It can also be used to study statistics of blaming between classes and/or ethnicity. Parents and teachers can discuss with students how blaming protects people in power positions. They can also discuss how it is a form of manipulation and can how blaming can easily be transferred between others involved.
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This autobiography is written about Maya Angelou’s childhood struggles. It is a chronological account of her journey into adulthood. She analyzed who she was and how she had came to be. It is a narrative that captures the audience with vivid word choice. It contains much imagery and she took risks with the insertions of some of her truths. Parents can address the concept that blaming is used by those in power to justify their actions in attempts to remove guilt and responsibility from themselves. Teachers can explain that blaming one’s self is a self-defense mechanism to explain and reason why a painful/stressful situation has occurred. This book can also be used to teach students that blaming leads to a mindset of powerlessness.
6. Speak by Laurie Halsey Anderson
This is about a freshman student named Melinda. She is raped by another student and is ostracized at school for calling the police so she refuses to speak to anyone. She manages to find solace in her art. This book captures the essence of the inner turmoil of the human soul. The detail is this book pulls readers in and really makes you feel for the character. It can be used to teach problem solving skills and action plans in the event that something should happen. This book can also be used to teach students about safe and responsible outlets. Students can be encouraged to find a trusted and responsible adult to speak to about issues.
7. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Annabel is a popular girl who seems to have it all. She is raped at a party during the summer but does not call the police. She becomes ostracized by everyone until a series of events causes her to confront her past and deal with her issues. This story is graphic and has a round plot line. It is a story with round and complex characters as well. This novel can be used to help students see the effects of victim blaming on people in an informal way. It also shows the role of the judicial system when victims speak up and do not allow themselves to be victimized.
8. Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose
This biography is the story of how a teenager refused to be treated as a second-class citizen during the pre-Civil Rights Era. She takes a stand one day after school by refusing to give up her seat on the bus. This sparks the beginning of a people deciding to address the discord and oppression they have been suffering from for centuries. This piece of nonfiction is high quality because there is a plethora of diverse media within this book. It flows smoothly back and forth from the narrator to Claudette and back again. This book can be used to show students that victim blaming can happen in all types of situations, not just sexual ones. This book mentions blaming based on racism, sexism and ageism. This book can also be looked at for the role blaming plays in socio-economic status.
9. Sympathy by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
This poem calls the reader to place themselves in the way of others. It is meant to stir feelings of sympathy for those who are oppressed. It is high quality with the artful word choice, repetitive structure and vivid imagery. The poet also creates powerful undertones by the placement of the punctuations within the poem. This poem can be used to teach empathy and understanding. It can also be used to help students understand why people who have been victim blamed may seem to lash out.
10. Accountability by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
This piece of poetry addresses how people are all created differently but no one is better than the other. It discusses how a maker created us all and how humans should not blame one other for our differences. This poetry is high quality because it uses repeated sayings and long sentences to tell a story. It also uses artful punctuation within the stanzas. This can be used to introduce the idea of victim blaming. It can also be used to help students understand they need to take responsibility for their part in society, place fair and equal blame where it is due and not on the victim.
11. We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
This poetry is about how people wear a mask to hide the pain they have inside. They hide behind fake smiles and the idea that everything is ok when it’s not. This high-quality poem is composed of long sentences that create a story. It is a clear representation of its genre through the use of repeating structure. It can be used to study the correlation of human emotions and habits to the cycle of emotions that victims tend to portray when blamed for their situations. It can also be used to build up empathy to the plights of others so there will be less blaming.
12. Letter to My Sister by Anne Spencer
This is a sarcastically written poem about the dilemma of women. It is encouraging women to stand up for themselves and not relinquish themselves to a man just because. It is powerfully written. The tone of this poem gives it power and life. The symbolism that men are gods because they act as if they are, is a strong representation of poetry and makes the poets point clear. This poem can lend itself into the research of the rights of women and the statistics/reasoning into why more women do not speak out. It also can be used to discuss with students their rights to say no and mean it and it be respected.
13. I Swear by Lane Davis
Leslie has been bullied for years and decides to kill herself. Her parents sue and the blame game begins. The students involved struggle with themselves as they battle in court to prove their innocence and paint Leslie as the culprit to blame. This novel is wonderfully written with a multi-perspective plot line. It is also written using the flashback technic to engage readers and make the experience more personal. It can be used to address issues of bullying and the consequences they will have to face. It also can be used to discuss the rights of victims and the support services that are available to them. Parents and teachers can stress the rights of victims to privacy and court actions for harassment.
14. Bruised by Sarah Skilton
A sixteen-year-old named Imogen is held up at gunpoint and the gunman is killed by the police. She proceeds to blame herself for his death due to her inability to react when she is trained to do so as a taekwondo student. She struggles through her feelings throughout this story. It is an emotional tale with a complex character who constantly changes throughout the book. It is detailed and the structure is fluent. It can be used to address the stages of grief and discuss the inability to react within a fight or flight response that most victims are faced with. Using this book, parents can suggest the proper steps to dealing with stressful situations so that victims do not place blame upon them.
15. Ambushed and Abused by A.R. Murray
These are a compilation of fictional stories that readers may or may not relate to. Each story is associated with a victim being raped and left feeling to blame. The author leaves each story with a tidbit about how it is not the victims fault. This book is worth the read because of its compilation style writing. Readers will appreciate the narrative interjections about each situation making it feel personal without feeling violated. This book can be used as a discussion starter for students to look for the triggers that the victim cannot control. Parents and teachers can use this to stress that students who are victim blaming themselves grieve properly with realistic methods. It can also help students analyze the situation to understand that other people’s choices are not their fault.
16. Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking by Koji Kumeta
This graphic novel is about a positive girl who meets a negative teacher. The teacher is sad and depressed. He wants to kill himself until he meets this student and he changes his whole mindset. This novel is high quality for its strong images and its reader engagement. This can be used to show students how to change their mindsets from feeling powerless to feeling powerful. It can be used to help students stop victim blaming by fixing their mindsets to accept their own role in the situation.
17. The Shadow Club Rising by Neal Schusterman
This fictional narrative is about a boy name Alec who falls victim to some anonymous pranks at school. The school blames another student named Jared due to his previous reputation. This causes Jared to act out in the manner others have accused him of being in order to catch the true culprit. This is high quality literature because of the dramatic climax and the change in plot. This novel should be used to demonstrate how victim blaming can create a cycle of dysfunction. It can be used to point out and discuss issues of stereotypes and accusations in regard to blaming. It can be used to give students clear examples of how blaming can cause people to act out of character and affect the rest of their lives.
18. Until Today by Pam Fluttert
This prose is written about a little girl who was being sexually assaulted by a family friend. She never told anyone but she wrote it down and someone found. Her secret was not a secret anymore. This story is high quality because of the linear plot line. It is also a complex novel. Parents can use this novel to establish an open line of communication with their child. Teachers can use this novel to help students understand, recognize and plan a support system they can communicate with. This novel can be used to also teach students that abuse is never their fault.
19. A Light in the Storm: The Diary of Amelia Martin by Karen Hesse
This novel is a historical fiction piece about a teenage girl named Amelia Martin who is living during the Civil War Era. She documents the election of Lincoln and other personal moments in her life as document entries. This book includes background knowledge about the war, various forms of media and an engaging style of writing. It also uses simplistic word choice and places each scene within chronological order. It can be used to teach students about victim blaming by race and/or social class. It can also be used to teach students to look abstractly at the situations of others. Students could even use this book recognize biases that can lead to victim blaming.
20. Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
This is a nonfiction story about the Salem Witchcraft Trials. It is about two girls who became sick and the doctors could not explain it so they blamed it on witchcraft. This created a scene of mass hysteria. This is high quality literature because it provides background knowledge and plenty of research on the topic. This book can be used to provide examples of how victim blaming is a form of bullying. It can also provide examples of being used as a form of manipulation. Teachers can use this book to have students compare and contrast victim blaming during the Salem Witchcraft trials and another current (or primary source) article.
Teachers can introduce the topic of victim blaming by using the poem Accountability by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The teacher can explain that victim blaming is putting the responsibility on the person who was wrong. Speak by Laurie Halsey Anderson can be used to stress the importance to students that they find a trusted adult to speak to about their situation. It can also be used to discuss some of the effects that victim blaming leads to such as but not limited to depression, anger, feelings of powerless, self-blame and a continuation to place themselves within the same situation that initially caused so much pain. Teachers can then use The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer to discuss some of the reasons why people victim blame.
Until Today by Pam Fluttert can be used to teach the concept that abuse of any kind is not ever the victims’ fault. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen can be used next to teach students about their rights within the legal system and their right to be free from harassment. They can compare some of the actions and consequences the antagonist faced to a primary or secondary document. Students will then be able to develop a plan of support for all the people they can turn to for help such as parents, school counselors, teachers, the police, etc. This lesson can be wrapped up by having the students’ role play teacher created scenarios where groups of 4-5 students each had a role and they have to problem solve a victim blaming situation.