“…these two clusters of values entail different conceptions of victims”

…these two clusters of values entail different conceptions of victims. Proponents of individualizing values tend to see a dyad of victim and perpetrator (a victim is hurt, a perpetrator does the hurting). Proponents of binding values, however, may see behaviors as immoral even when there is no obvious victim — for example, the “impure” act of premarital sex or the “disloyal” act of flag burning — and may even feel that doing the right thing sometimes requires hurting others (as with honor killings, to pick an extreme example). So we hypothesized that support for binding values would correlate with a greater tendency to blame victims.

We conducted several studies, involving 994 research participants. First we examined how their moral values related to their tendency to stigmatize victims versus to see victims as injured. We provided minimal descriptions of victims of various crimes — rape and molestation, stabbing and strangling — and asked the participants how much they considered the victims as “injured” or “contaminated.”

While we expected that all participants would be more likely to view sexual-crime victims than non-sexual-crime victims as contaminated (which is indeed what we found), we also found, surprisingly, that the more strongly people endorsed binding values, the more strongly they considered any victim to be contaminated — regardless of the nature of the crime.

Furthermore, the more people saw a victim as contaminated, the less they saw that victim as injured. Throughout, we controlled for other variables and found that it was moral values — binding values, in particular — and not political orientation, gender or religiosity that determined the results.

Laura Niemi and Liane Young, “Who Blames the Victim?” The New York Times (26 June 2016), SR8.