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The psychology of cybercrime
The psychology of cybercrime

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3.2 Victim blaming

When a crime is committed, the victims themselves and other members of society often seek to understand why the crime happened. Victims may ask questions like ‘why me?’, ‘why did that have to happen to me?’. Friends, family and other members of society might ask ‘why did that happen?’ but may also ask questions like ‘could the victim have avoided being targeted?’ or ‘did the victim do something to make themselves vulnerable?’. These latter questions lead to the idea that the victim is at least partially responsible for their own victimisation.

The notion of victim blaming has long been the subject of academic study. Early victim typologies (such as those developed by Mendelsohn in the 1930s for crimes against the person) considered the role victims could be seen to play in their own victimisation. Modern academic study has moved away from this type of victim blaming, and it is more widely understood that the perpetrator of a crime should be the one held to blame. Nonetheless, victim blaming is still frequently encountered. Victims who are seen as making themselves vulnerable are particularly likely to be blamed (e.g. Gray, 2015). This type of blaming forms part of a wider set of beliefs and attitudes towards online victimisation where blame and responsibility is put on the failure to avoid victimisation due to victims’ greediness and/or gullibility for instance in relation to online dating scams (Cross, 2015) or initial consent given to take/send the picture to someone else in cases of non-consensual pornography and revenge porn. Bates (2017) refers this type of thinking as the ‘she should have known better’ argument. In offline contexts, this type of thinking can be seen in rape myth beliefs that suggest rape victims are to blame because of something that they did, for example: ‘they walked down a dark alley on their own’; ‘they got drunk’; ‘they invited them back to their house’.

A close up image of someone’s eye with a tear rolling down their cheek.

The theory of just-world beliefs (Lerner, 1980) has been used to account for why people may blame victims. The underlying principle is that the world is a fair place, and therefore if people are good, then nothing bad will happen to them. The consequence of this is that if something bad happens to people (i.e. being a victim of a crime), then they must have done something to bring this bad thing upon them. In this context, this allows people to feel safe if they avoid doing the things that they believe that the victim has done. For example, victim blaming in this context can consist of arguments that people do not have to go online, do not have to use social media and can always log off if they do not like what is happening online. If people do use social media, and do not deactivate their accounts in response to harassment, then they are often characterised as having put themselves in the way of harm. Conversely, it this type of reasoning allows cybercriminals such as trolls and other online abusers to rationalise their behaviour by saying that the victim can always avoid being victimised by not going online, or not posting comments. However, this means that it is the abused, rather than the abuser, who is expected to change their behaviour.