Understanding Trauma & Violence
Supporting Survivors


Why is it so common for people to blame sexual violence survivors for their experiences?


Thank you for this question. Blaming sexual violence survivors for their experiences is unfortunately a pervasive issue deeply rooted in our societal attitudes and common misconceptions about sexual assault. If you have been blamed for your experiences, know you are not alone. Experiencing sexual harm is never your fault.

As Barack Obama, former president of the United States said, "For anybody whose once normal everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence– the trauma, the terror, can shatter you long after one horrible attack. It lingers. You don’t know where to go or who to turn to…and people are more suspicious of what you were wearing or what you were drinking, as if it’s your fault, not the fault of the person who assaulted you…We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should. We make excuses, we look the other way…[Laws] won’t be enough unless we change the culture that allows assault to happen in the first place."

There are several factors that can help us make sense of where the societal blaming of survivors come from. Firstly, there exists a prevalent victim-blaming mentality  in our society where individuals may believe that survivors somehow brought the assault upon themselves by their behavior, appearance, or actions. This flawed belief shifts the responsibility away from the perpetrator and onto the survivor, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, survivor shame, and minimizing the gravity of the assault experience. No matter what you were wearing, how intoxicated you were, or how your sexual boundaries with the person who harmed you shifted over time...you always have the right to have your wishes respected.

Additionally, rape myths and misconceptions about sexual violence are widespread, further perpetuating victim-blaming attitudes. These myths often include false, gendered beliefs such as "she asked for it" or "he couldn't control himself," which serve to justify or excuse the behavior of the perpetrator while placing undue scrutiny and judgment on the survivor. Furthermore, societal attitudes influenced by sexism, misogyny, and patriarchal norms may contribute to victim-blaming behaviors by devaluing the experiences and voices of survivors, particularly women and marginalized individuals.

The criminal justice system and media portrayal of sexual violence cases can also reinforce victim-blaming narratives, further exacerbating the problem. Survivors may face skepticism, disbelief, or harsh scrutiny when reporting their experiences, discouraging them from seeking support or justice. This societal response can compound the trauma experienced by survivors, leading to feelings of shame, self-blame, and isolation.

To combat victim-blaming attitudes, it is essential to challenge and debunk rape myths. Encouraging responsible and sensitive reporting on sexual violence cases, highlighting survivor resilience and strength, and challenging harmful stereotypes can contribute to shifting cultural narratives away from victim-blaming and towards empathy, solidarity, and support for survivors. In addition, empowering survivors to share their own stories and amplifying their voices is another critical step towards creating a more supportive and understanding society for survivors of sexual violence.

While we work towards systemic change, providing trauma-informed care and support services for survivors, including access to counseling, advocacy, and legal assistance, can help mitigate the harmful effects of victim-blaming attitudes.We must also implement comprehensive education and awareness programs that promote empathy, understanding, and respect for survivors. This includes integrating discussions about consent, healthy relationships, and bystander intervention into school curricula and community outreach initiatives. Additionally, fostering a culture of accountability where those who cause sexual harm are held responsible for their actions and survivors are supported in seeking justice and healing is crucial.

If you are an ally and hear someone blaming a survivor or perpetuating rape myths, step up and debunk these myths if you feel safe to do so. You never know who is a survivor in your life that may be listening. Hearing you speak up on a survivor's behalf may indicate to them that you are a safe person for them to go to.

Thank you again for this important question. Together we can create a wave of change.

Safety Exit