"Blaming the Victim"

Bob Murphy puzzles needlessly over two stories. Here is the thing about cries over someone "blaming the victim": There is a sense in which victims can be partially to blame for what happened to them: blame for something bad happening can be shared among several people. This becomes objectionable when it is used to excuse the perpetrator, but there is nothing wrong with advising people to protect themselves.

So: Let I say that I drive into a rough neighborhood and park my car there. I leave my windows down, and a $20,000 diamond bracelet laying in plain view on the dashboard. I then go shopping for a half an hour. When I come back I am shocked to learn that the bracelet is gone.

Is there anything wrong with someone telling me, "Well, Gene, you were being somewhat of an idiot there"? I think not. But this doesn't mean that it was okay for someone to steal the bracelet!

Similarly, there is nothing wrong with advising women to wear protective nail polish, or to obey traffic laws. Sexual predators are part of reality, and while culture certainly must have some influence on their frequency in the population, short of the coming of the Kingdom on earth, they will always be with us, just like thieves and murderers. While we wait for the Kingdom, it is sensible to do what we can to protect ourselves.

Now, as I noted above, this certainly does become objectionable if the person giving this advice starts to excuse a crime if it is not followed. Women are not "asking for it" if they fail to wear date-rape-drug-detecting nail polish, or if they roll through a stop sign. And if someone implies that, it is right to call them out on it.


  1. I don't think Bob's puzzlement was over the general conundrum of whether or not it's okay to blame the victim.

    Rather, he was wondering what the difference was between these two specific cases. Bob and his cohorts have no trouble advising use the nail polish as a precaution against date rape. But at the same time, they find it reprehensible to advise women to obey traffic laws if they don't want to be sexually assaulted.

    The puzzle is: is there a difference, and if not, why is the intuitive reaction so different?

    1. Thanks Matt, that's exactly right.

      Gene, either you think I have an 8th grade mind and that's why you have to "explain" this stuff to me in this post, or you think I have a Nobel Prize mind and so you thought it obvious what your next 3 paragraphs would be to explain how your framework answers the puzzle I raised.

      Like Matt is saying, I totally understand the general pros and cons of "blaming the victim." But what was interesting is that so many libertarians automatically "blamed the victim" (in popular parlance) regarding nail polish, but not when it came to traffic stops.

      I don't think there was a contradiction there, since my reflexive reactions were the same as theirs in both cases.

      But it's not obvious to me exactly what's driving the difference. For example, was it just the *tone* of the news reporter on the police case? Suppose the guy said, "Wow I feel so so terrible that my fellow officers are allegedly doing this, but in the meantime, until we stop these monsters, women motorists should try to avoid getting pulled over. Even have your brother run to the store for you, if you can. Gosh I am so appalled by this."

      Technically that would be the same advice, but would it be OK?

      However, I think a lot of the libertarians didn't watch the video; they just read the headline that the cop said "don't break the law" and they flipped out.

  2. Gene, if you don't want to be irked by confused thinking don't read Bob Murphy.