Are Survivors of Sexual Assault Blamed More Than Victims of Other Crimes?

Catherine M. Reich, Grace A. Pegel, Alixandra B. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although victim blaming in the context of sexual assault is often emphasized, little research has compared rates of victim blaming following sexual assault relative to other forms of victimization. This research investigated whether there is a crime-specific bias toward blaming victims of sexual assault. Victim blaming was assessed via different methods from the observer perspective in vignette-based studies, as well as survivors’ accounts of social reactions they received. In Study 1, participants were asked to rate how much the survivor was to blame in three vignettes, each with a different randomized crime outcome: rape, physical assault, or theft. Study 2 assessed blame for a vignette that either ended in rape or theft, via a causal attribution statement. Study 3 asked interpersonal trauma survivors who had experienced at least two forms of victimization (i.e., sexual assault, physical assault, or theft) to report the social reactions they received following disclosure of each of these crimes. Across all three studies, victim blaming occurred following multiple forms of victimization and there was no evidence of a particular bias toward blaming survivors of sexual assault more so than other crimes. However, results of Study 3 highlight that, following sexual assault, survivors receive more silencing and stigmatizing reactions than they experienced after other crimes. Interpersonal traumas (i.e., sexual or physical assault) also resulted in more egocentric responses compared to theft. Altogether, there does not appear to be a crime-specific bias for victim blaming; however, crime-specific bias is apparent for some other, potentially understudied, social reactions. Implications of these findings highlight the value of victim blaming education and prevention efforts through trauma-informed services and outreach following victimization. Furthermore, service providers and advocates might especially seek to recognize and prevent silencing and stigmatizing reactions following sexual assault disclosures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Early online dateAug 10 2021
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 10 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 SAGE Publications.

Keywords

  • blame attributions
  • crime
  • physical assault
  • sexual assault
  • victim blaming

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