The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, with Heart + Mind Strategies, embarked on a project that sought to document what we believed was happening in the arena of financial crimes—that victims are all too often blamed for the crime they experienced.
From the psychological underpinnings of human interaction to the cultural biases and societal systems
we’ve created, many factors contribute to the practice of holding victims responsible. In social psychology, attribution bias explains how individuals attribute others’ circumstances to their choices, actions, and perceived traits. For example, when it comes to financial fraud, one may believe a victim was not smart enough or was not paying close enough attention rather than considering external factors such as having been intentionally targeted. Our survey data show a third (32%) of Americans agree with the statement, “Honestly if you fall victim…a lot of that is on you.”
Additionally, many people are wired to see the world as mostly good; according to “just world theory” individuals need to believe that the world is just and that most people get what they deserve to protect the idea that bad things will not happen to them. This notion is pervasive in the United States, anchored in “Americana” and the “American Dream,” ideas that we each control our own destinies.
Ultimately, by holding these tenets as truth, victim blaming emerges as an illusion of safety for non-victims and for those who work closely with victims across the system. It can work to justify a lack of empathy, resources, time, or attention that would otherwise be provided.