Chris Watts murdered his wife and young children in my home state of Colorado. After he lied for days and then confessed during interrogation, some individuals started blaming his wife, asking what she might have done to make Watts "snap."
Victim blaming, which adds insult to injury, is usually directed at women who have been sexually assaulted or murdered by a man. Leigh Leigh is the most famous Aussie in the history of victim blaming. You can read online about her tragic end - I cannot bear to repeat it.
Watching a documentary about the terrible events caused by Watts led me to think of a murder trial I watched when I was an undergraduate student. A man killed his wife, and the defence was that she provoked him. That argument worked well enough to defeat the charge of murder, leaving the man guilty only of manslaughter.
Experts explain victim blaming by pointing to several psychological processes.
For starters, people want to reduce their own fear of being victimised, so they assume that victims of awful crimes must have made some mistake or put themselves in a risky situation. If I think that, I do not have to fear being a victim myself because I consider myself smarter than the average person. Another psychological process that leads to victim blaming is thinking that the world is a just place, where very bad things happen only to bad people. Because I am not bad, I have nothing to fear.
The men who commit the offenses may victim blame to avoid feeling guilty and to avoid punishment. Friends, family members, and lawyers of the men may victim blame to support the assailants.
Men in general, who are members of the sex that commits a high percentage of the violent crimes against women, may be influenced to victim blame because they do not want their group to be bad.
Here is one more explanation. People are amazed at how viciously a human can act outside of war, so they look for explanations they understand.
People do not relate to explanations based on primates being aggressive, to testosterone, to genetic predispositions or to pathological male culture. They do understand that one person can provoke another to act aggressively because they have consciously experienced that. So they look hard for provocation to understand these tragic events.
I try to resist the inclination to victim blame. I hope you do too.
John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.