Challenging victim-blaming attitudes

What is victim–blaming?

Victim-blaming happens when the victim of a crime is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm they’ve experienced.

Victim-blaming can be direct and explicit, for example, telling the victim it was their fault. It can also be indirect and unconscious, for example, questioning  what a victim could have done differently, or how they may have reacted differently in the victim’s shoes.

What does it look like in the classroom?

Children and young people receiving online safety education may express victim-blaming attitudes towards characters in scenarios or films used to support their learning. For example, young people may blame the characters for anything that happens to them as a result of their behaviours online. Some young people may describe the characters as “stupid”, “dumb” or “naïve”.

When delivering online safety education, be alert to the fact that there may be children and young people in the room who have been victims of abuse and potentially engaged in similar activities to the characters in the scenarios or films. For example, they may have spoken to people they don’t know online or shared nude images. Victim-blaming can have a devastating impact, not only on those who have already experienced harm and trauma (whether they have disclosed this or not) but also by making it far less likely that children and young people will have the confidence to seek help if they need it.

How can I challenge victim-blaming attitudes in the classroom?

Children and young people of all ages can display victim-blaming attitudes. These should be challenged in a constructive and supportive way that encourages young people to think critically about the language they use and the impacts this has, both in the moment and more widely by reinforcing harmful social narratives.

You can challenge victim-blaming attitudes by using one or more of the following strategies that are relevant to the age group you work with:

1.       Focus on the behaviour of the perpetrator
When discussing situations where young people are being groomed, abused or blackmailed, focus on the criminal behaviour of the perpetrator. Do not ask, for example, ‘what the young person could have done differently’.

2.       Take a childrens rights-based approach
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out rights to which all children are entitled. Explain that all children have the right to privacy, and the right to protection from abuse. Help your group to understand their rights by sharing the children’s version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

3.       Explore impact on individuals
Ask the group to consider the impact that online abuse can have on a young person. Help young people to recognise that it can cause serious long-term harm to confidence, self-esteem, friendships and relationships.

4.       Unpack victim-blaming
If victim-blaming terms such as “stupid” are used to describe the characters, ask young people to think about the connotations of the language they’ve chosen.

Explain that using this language wrongfully places blame on the person experiencing abuse, rather than the person who is perpetrating it.

5.       Increase empathy by considering circumstance and motivation
Increase empathy for characters experiencing abuse by discussing the circumstances and reasons why the young person may have engaged in risk taking behaviour online. For example -  if a character is being blamed for sharing a nude image, you could explain that they may have shared it with a person they like, trusting that it would not be shared further. Or, the young person could have been pressured, forced, or tricked into sending something.

‘Challenging victim-blaming attitudes’ is one of six Thinkuknow values to ensure safe, effective and child-centered online safety education. Professionals using Thinkuknow resources are expected to commit to our values, and promote these in their delivery.