What is victim blaming?

‘Victim blaming’ is when the victim of a wrong or harmful act is held responsible for the actions of others. For instance, when a rape victim is held responsible for being raped. Or when someone is violently attacked, and instead of holding the aggressor to account, the focus and blame is placed upon the victim. This is victim blaming. 

Typically, victim blaming is used against women, driven by the belief that the victim contributed to the decision of the offender to harm them. 

What are some examples of victim blaming?
Victim blaming can look like:
  • Asking a rape victim what was she wearing when she was assaulted (as if her choice of clothing is to blame for the attack)
  • Asking a victim if they had been drinking when the attack took place
  • Criticising someone for being out late and alone when they were assaulted

All of these responses to terrible events are wrong. It is never the fault of the victim. The blame should fall solely on the person committing the assault. 

Common phrases that place blame on the victim include: 
  • “What were you wearing?”
  • “Were you drunk/drinking/on drugs?” 
  • “You shouldn’t have been out so late”
  • “You shouldn’t walk around alone at night” 
  • “Did you lead them on?” 
  • “Why didn’t you just leave/break up with them?” 
  • “You shouldn’t have sent them those photos/nudes”

No matter what you wear or how you behave, no one has a right to harm or embarrass you. 

Sometimes even helpful resources created to prevent sexual assault can have victim blaming attitudes embedded within them. This can look like:

  • Telling women to be careful when walking around at night alone
  • Advising women not to use public transport at night
  • Recommending women not to wear revealing clothing and cover themselves up

Sometimes this advice comes from a good place, in an attempt to protect people from sexual assault. But what it fails to address are the gendered social attitudes that place responsibility on women, and excuses boys and men for their harmful behaviour. 

Where does victim blaming typically happen?

Victim blaming can occur in many different institutions like the courts, police stations, and even at schools or workplaces. 

Research has shown that 32% of people believe that a victim is partly responsible for domestic violence if they choose to stay in the relationship. A recent survey found that 30% of respondents believe that a woman is responsible for the non-consensual sharing of a nude image if they were the one to send it.

Some victims of sexual assault and family violence may be hesitant to report their abuse to police, as they believe the police might blame them for what happened. It’s important to remember that these attitudes are never okay, no matter how widespread they may be. 

Why does victim blaming happen? 

Victim blaming occurs because of social conditioning. Outdated social attitudes tend to portray men as having ‘uncontrollable’ sexual desires and urges, and it’s up to women to protect themselves from sexual violence.

By placing the responsibility on women, men are not afforded the opportunity to develop and become fully accountable individuals with a moral compass, who understand the importance of empathy and respect for others. 

How can we prevent victim blaming? 

Addressing victim blaming means placing full responsibility on the perpetrator for their actions. An abuser does not rape because of a ‘revealing dress’; they rape because they are a rapist. 

We all need to be mindful of the language we use when talking with and about victims. 

Instead of asking, ‘what were you wearing’, we should be asking, ‘why did they hurt you?’ Keep the focus on the aggressor, not the victim.

Victim blaming in the media

We know that victim blaming can occur when women report or tell someone they have been sexually assaulted, raped, emotionally or physically abused. It can also be perpetuated by journalists in the media. 

Journalist Jane Gilmore shines a light on the victim blaming attitudes that are perpetuated by media headlines. Jane ‘fixes’ news headlines to demonstrate how placing blame on abusers should look. It reveals just how common victim blaming attitudes are, and what’s need to reframe this concept.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jane Gilmore (@janegilmore_aus)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Jane Gilmore (@janegilmore_aus)

You can have a look at more of Jane’s work on her Instagram or website.

Where to get help

If you, or someone you know, need help, the following services are available:

If you, or someone you know, need legal support, the following services are available:

If you are feeling unsafe or frightened, or if threats have been made against you, you should contact your local police for assistance and if you are in immediate danger, dial Triple Zero (000).

To report a crime or to contact police in a non-urgent situation, contact your local police on 131 444. Some states and territories offer online and alternative methods of reporting. If you want to report a crime anonymously, call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.CrimeStoppers.com.au.

The Translating and Interpreting Service is available for callers who need translating or interpreting support. To access the service call 13 14 50 and provide them with the name and phone number of the support service you would like to speak with.

For more information on local support services available for people experiencing sexual violence, please visit:

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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