What is victim blaming and what are the consequences?

What is victim blaming and what are the consequences?

Publication date: 09-01-2024

Updated on: 19-01-2024

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

"If I'm nervous, it's only your fault."

"It is your behavior that provoked me."

"Your perfume and your clothes are hideous compared to that of my female colleagues."

These are just a few phrases that people address to their partners to justify the use of physical and/or psychological violence against them, blaming them for all the responsibility for their aggressive actions.

Victim blaming is a typical phenomenon in couples where the man views the woman as an object of property, over whom he can exercise complete dominance even through violence.

The woman suffers these insults, provocations, and offenses until she becomes convinced that her partner is right and she is truly inadequate to her role as wife, mother, and woman. This happens in the woman's thinking because in the long run it creates a plagiovictim/victimizer mechanism that remains imprinted and which she can no longer do without in order to survive, even feeling a sense of shame and giving up asserting her rights.

We discuss this with Dr. Doris Mascheroni, Head of Sub-Acute Care Unit at Istituto Clinico Villa Aprica, who has been active in women's advocacy for many years.

What is victim blaming?

"Victim blaming, that is, blaming of the victim, occurs not only within family, but sometimes also in the work environment, or at any rate in society: it is no longer the perpetrator of the violence who is blamed, but the one who has been abused.

Unfortunately, a patriarchal type of mentality still lingers in our society, which traditionally considers women to be the property of their fathers and husbands (sometimes even their sons): the man is courageous, logical, resourceful, dominant, and the woman becomes a submissive, vulnerable, highly emotional, unbalanced creature," Dr. Mascheroni explains.

In the book "Blaming the Victim", 1976, psychologist William Ryan, examining the mindset that leads to blaming the poor for their poverty, expressed a concept that can certainly relate to victim blaming as well: "From an external point of view, blaming victims for the situation they are in is an easy way to deal with difficult situations; it allows, for example, the victim to ignore the problem since it is the victim's responsibility to find a way to solve it or learn to live with it."

What is secondary victimization?

Often, it is not only the victim's version of events given that is questioned, but even the victim is repeatedly swamped by a section of society with questions about his or her clothing, alcohol or drug intake, and likely provocative attitude.

All this produces the phenomenon of secondary victimization, that is, the second trauma caused to the victim not only by the aggressor, but also by those who observe, follow and comment on the incident. In fact, the victim is forced to relive the conditions of suffering to which he or she was subjected and, in this way, is discouraged from talking openly about his or her situation, sometimes even reporting the incident, or is pressured to withdraw the complaint previously filed. 

"The consequences on the psychological level can be really serious: 

  • fear;
  • sense of helplessness;
  • low self-esteem;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • psychosomatic disorders (headache, digestive disorders);
  • post-traumatic stress syndrome. 

These reasons, which lead the woman to be afraid to report and to think that by doing so she will harm her children, increase her frustration and worsen her condition over time.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2021 condemned Italy for communications saturated with secondary victimization included in court rulings on incidents of sexual violence where sexist prejudices about the role of Italian women were conveyed," the doctor says.

What can be done as support for victims?

How can one attempt to solve this serious problem?

"First with culture, education in junior and senior high schools with effective communication to young people, parallel to what the family should provide. Collaterally, the dissemination of accurate information about the importance of: 

  • 1522 hotline service, operating 24/7 throughout the country;
  • Telefono Rosa.

The publicity given by the TV service is not enough, is rare and occasional, too brief, and assumes that the woman-victim has already decided that she wants to get out of her situation and is simply looking for a suitable interlocutor to turn to. Instead, the woman-victim often cannot convince herself that she should ask for help. 

Crucial would be the role of Social Services in charge of receiving reports that may come, before the woman-victim’s ones, from other contexts: 

  • family members;
  • friends;
  • neighbors;
  • teachers who grasp the distress of the children of couples in severe crisis;
  • emergency room workers;
  • doctors to whom patients turn to treat signs of violence or anxiety and depression, or other “abnormal” conditions;
  • law enforcement authorities intervening to quell domestic disputes. 

Emergency room operators are now more alert than ever to the risk situation for women and prepared to intervene at multiple levels, but, as mentioned, prevention must be undertaken even before serious events occur that necessitate access to the emergency medical service."

Unfortunately, to date, these elements of prevention and control seem to be not as effective as they should be. In the area of lake Como alone, cases of violence against women have increased in the past 2 years: 1 in 3 women receive violence of all kinds. In Italy every day there are 88 women victims of violence of all kinds, one every 15 minutes.

"The recognition of a woman's value and her protection is also highlighted in events such as those organized by Onda (National Observatory on Women's and Gender Health), which rewards hospitals recognized as “woman-friendly” both for the treatment of women's diseases and for the presence of women who interact in various capacities in the management of the hospital. In this regard, Villa Aprica Clinical Institute has been awarded this recognition for many years in a row," Dr. Mascheroni concludes.

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