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Blaming the victim

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 1 March 2021

Some decades ago I bumped into a former work colleague, who had moved to a job in a minister's office at Parliament House, Canberra. On asking him what it was like, he replied that the place was full of alpha males and ambitious devotee females. He further observed that almost everyone worked long hours, many ran at lunchtime, and that drinking and fornication were prominent after-hours pastimes. Things seemingly have not changed very much since that time.

Three things are striking about the current scandal concerning the alleged rape of a female ministerial staffer in March 2019.

The first is the strident claim from female opposition politicians and from the alleged victim herself, that members of the government were engaged in "blaming the victim".


The second is that both parties to the alleged incident were (according to the alleged victim) very drunk after a long night of drinking with colleagues. In particular, the alleged victim reportedly described herself as having been "very intoxicated", "so drunk, she had fallen over", and "super drunk...she could barely sign her own name". This might at least partly explain why she accompanied the alleged perpetrator to their deserted ministerial office in the wee hours.

The third issue is that this sensitive incident has been subject to extensive media coverage. An initial complaint to police was withdrawn but (the best part of two years later) the alleged victim went public with multiple media interviews. This resulted in the unnamed alleged perpetrator (whose identity clearly is well known to insiders) being effectively deemed guilty through extensive public support for his accuser. The publicity recently led to other "me-too" allegations coming forward relating two other alleged rapes and a case of alleged inappropriate touching by the same alleged perpetrator. (The victims of the alleged additional rapes also admitted to having been very drunk and made their accusations public only on condition of anonymity.)

It would have been fairer to all concerned, if these complaints had been properly investigated by police and (if merited) tried in a court (though we know that such processes can be hard on victims). Similarly, it is best if both allegations and the names of all concerned are withheld until legal processes are finalised.

The first complaint is reportedly now being reactivated, so for this reason I will only discuss the issues in terms of generalities.

A very reasonable issue arises as to whether the victim of a crime can ever contribute to their own fate, and whether it is widespread for victims of crime to be admonished for imprudent behaviour. A secondary question is whether such victim blaming is more common in relation to crimes against women (e.g., rape, domestic violence) than for other crimes.

While it is obvious that the primary blame for any crime lies with the perpetrator, it is undeniable that victim blaming is widespread in relation to a wide range of crimes.


The most obvious case is in relation to the theft of guns. In such cases the gun owner is liable for prosecution, if the guns were not stored in an approved container (even though such gun safes "advertise" what is inside and are ineffective against a determined thief). Victims of gun theft always tend to be viewed with misgiving by police and the media, even in cases when they are entirely blameless.

Society considers victims to be contributory to their fate (and rightly so) in many other situations. These include motorists who park their car with the windows open or the keys in the ignition, building owners who do not secure their premises, passengers who travel in a car that is stolen or is driven by an impaired driver, those who walk through dangerous districts alone at night, cyclists who wear dark clothing at night or ride an unlit bicycle, those who display valuables on their person in bad neighbourhoods, gullible people that succumb to bare-faced fraud etc.

The cliché of victim blaming only seems to be commonly cited in relation to victims of sex crimes, if vocal feminists are to be believed. There certainly was historical prejudice against some victims of rape, especially when a victim was believed to have contributed to her rape by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, partaking in drugs, wearing provocative clothing, leading a "high risk" lifestyle, or was perceived as promiscuous. (Many of these prejudices are now regarded as unjustified.) On the other hand, certain "ideal victims" (e.g., elderly rape victims, those who violently resist) are never blamed, and generally receive enormous sympathy and support.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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