Why We Blame The Victim

The Guardian recently ran a fascinating column explaining the evolutionary purpose of that all-too-human tendency to blame the victim.

Rape and sexual assault survivors are asked about what they wore and how they fought back. Poor people who work three jobs and still can’t support a family are blamed for “laziness” and failure, despite facing an economy that is stacked against them.

Recent research suggests that this tendency is actually a somewhat weird side effect of our human desire for fairness–a hard-wired “just world” bias.

The “just-world bias” happens because our brains crave predictability, and as such, we tend to blame victims of unfairness rather than reject the comforting worldview suggesting that good will be rewarded and evil punished.

“There’s just this really powerful urge for people to want to think good things to happen to good people and where the misperception comes in is that there’s this implied opposite: if something bad has happened to you, you must have done something bad to deserve that bad thing,” says Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at Sewanee University.

It isn’t only human victims who are blamed for their own misfortune.

Case in point: In Indiana, local school districts rely upon state and federal tax dollars to operate. Since 2011, state per-pupil funding has been dramatically reduced. Those reductions initially cost Indianapolis Public Schools $9.4 million annually; the last three years, however, the annual loss has been $15.5 million. Federal funding has dropped by $14.2 million annually since 2010, and Indiana’s insane tax caps have cost the district an average of $16.8 million every year since 2011.

Meanwhile, expenses—especially teacher compensation and benefits, which represent the majority of the budget—have continued to rise.

So far, the district has met these punishing shortfalls without altering the academic programs that have led to recent, much-needed educational improvements. It has closed schools in order to save the expenses of operating underused facilities and it has sold off unused buildings and other properties. Where possible, it has leased facilities to third parties, to generate rental income. It has reduced its central office operations by $5.3 million annually. It has deferred maintenance on its remaining properties in order to protect instructional programs and refinanced debt when favorable interest rates made that feasible.

As I write in an upcoming column in the local business journal,

There’s nothing left to sell. At some point, deferring maintenance is no longer possible. Meanwhile, teachers need to be paid and provided with health-care benefits; and special education students must have their costly needs met.

The district is currently proposing to raise just over 65 million dollars a year for 8 years. Of that amount, 74% would go for compensation, 12% would go for supplies and services, 11% would go for transportation, and 3% for building maintenance. If the Referendum fails, teacher pay will be frozen, some transportation services eliminated, and educational programs cut back.

Predictably, opponents blame the district for poor management. But all school districts in Indiana—including IPS–are the victims of decisions made in the Indiana Statehouse, and to a lesser extent, in Congress. Among other indignities, Mike Pence and the legislature successfully diverted tax dollars from public schools to parochial ones. Indiana has the country’s largest voucher program, and Ball State researchers report that 98% of Hoosier children using vouchers attend religious schools. Taxpayers sent $146.1 million dollars to voucher schools last year; since 2011, the number is $520 million dollars.

None of those decisions were made by local school districts.

Blaming the numerous public school districts in Indiana that have been forced to propose Referenda is like accusing the victim of a robbery of being imprudent with the stolen money.


  1. Thanks Prof. Clear message. This seems yet another good reason for Amazon to go elsewhere.

  2. Twain was clued in way before most of us and had it exactly right when he described “The whole damned human race”. (sic)

  3. You better follow HB 1315 very closely because it’s coming to a school district near you.

    Rep. Tim Brown has orchestrated a takeover of Muncie Schools and turned over management to Ball State University.

    Senator Liz Brown called Muncie Schools a “cesspool”. She didn’t elaborate but our financials are at the heart of the matter. In a city with declining population and 75% of the students on free and reduced lunch programs, is an obvious target for republican lawmakers in Indy.


    Especially, as you say, when Muncie is the victim of three decades of Neoliberal economic policies – privatizing the public good.

    What they don’t say in their interviews with the “media” is Indy lawmakers are products of ALEC and the Koch brothers. Their goal is to starve the school districts and then eliminate the teacher unions. It’s intentional. Look at the wording of HB 1315…it ends collective bargaining for teachers once BSU takes over the school district.

    A CFO in 2014 used over $10 million in restrictive funds to cover operational cash shortfalls and the board didn’t discover it until 2017. He hasn’t been arrested but Indy lawmakers are using it as justification for their next level assault on public schools. Private management.

    They created the problems for which they already had the solution. I believe Naomi Klein referred to this process as “disaster capitalism”. Watch closely because IPS will be taken over by Marian College or another institute peddling the free market solution (Milton Friedman) for public school systems.

    The only victims are the kids/students being robbed of an education, but computers can teach our kids more cheaply than teachers and without being armed with AR-15’s. EdTech is the solution they are heading for with public schools. The technology is already there just waiting to be tested and implemented.

  4. There is also the belief of accusers that victims won’t or can’t fight back; thereby proving their accusations of blame to be correct. School districts and rape victims have little or no support system to fight back. Nor do they have the vast amounts of money needed to cross-file to legally oppose the current justice system or end the attacks. And the unending pilfering of public education funds to fund private/religious school systems is an on-going attack; it has become a siege against the majority of the national public education system and against the future of this country. The Republican stronghold has circled their wagons around the majority of Americans, of which Democrats are a small part. The warring parties have been named Democrats or Republicans but this war stopped being political when Trump was elected; his administration named their action the “deconstruction” of our government and began the inhumane destruction of our freedom and denial of our civic and human rights. Pubic education, with its benefits and its faults, has been almost totally eroded by the wealthy 1% who happened to find the Republican party to be the party which was for sale to the highest bidder.

    Like the American Revolution against the British; it is time for citizens to stage another Revolution…against our own government. The students who are currently attempting to organize peacefully to disarm all those who are carrying out mass shootings; we need to join them to disarm the Republican stronghold who is providing the weapons as they empty the public education tax base making victims of us all. Out of the mouths of babes!

  5. Blaming the victim is also what Western religions do. Christianity, Judaism, Islam: the codification of ignorance.

  6. This is how third world banana republics are made.

    At the moment business is good and there is a torrent of wealth flowing from those who create it, workers, to the aristocracy who control the government and business and recognize that they have to control the voter/consumer/workers too.

    Business won’t always be good but the big bills will mount up. Infrastructure, which means everything that the people own, will have deteriorated beyond repair; we will be faced with huge recovery and adaptation bills for a self created unprecedented climate and sea level and we’ll have not yet made enough progress in sustainable energy to halt the change; our ability to educate will have been sold off as more business opportunity for the ubber wealthy aristocracy; all of the manufacturing infrastructure will be in Asia but their labor costs will be as high as ours, no Kmart Blue Light Specials; we will turn to where the wealth went but they will be moving en masses to places like Monaco to “shelter” their wealth.

    Crash. Permanent this time. Russia back on top with China and India.

    Of course what we will have is that damned wall keeping Americans in like East Germany did.

    Is any of this avoidable? The longer the Republicans with Chief Cheeto are in power the less likely avoidable is. It will be traumatic for us anyway because they will have had their way for this while.

    Of course we’ll still have the goose that laid the golden egg for one last meal.

  7. Amen Todd. Amen. It’s nothing more than a campaign to put urban center schools systems out of business and force students into privatization alternatives – all in the name of accountability.

    But the net they’ve cast will likely also pick up a few rural districts suffering the same slow bleed-out. The wealthy white suburbs? Don’t worry about little Madison and Foster. They’ll be just fine.

  8. The majority of Americans have lost control of their own destiny, much as the Germans did after 1938. The leaders of German military intelligence tried to warn at that time and obtain help from the outside, specifically England, but they failed as the momentum was much too great.

  9. They don’t outnumber us, but they do outvote us. Wake up, America before it’s too late!

  10. Todd,

    This time your acerbic narrative hits the big nails on their tiny heads. Once again, the specter of Milton Friedman and Lewis Powell loom over our nations most precious pillar of infrastructure. Once again, Marx’s prophecies appear to be coming true. Once again, Republicanism is actively and purposefully trying to destroy our society.

  11. According to a new report (pdf) released on Thursday Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), these achievements taken as a whole make DeVos “the worst Secretary of Education this country has ever seen—by a large margin.” Co-authored by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the new analysis takes an in-depth look at DeVos’ numerous conflicts of interests.

    Several of DeVos’ policy moves Warren and Clark highlight are:

    “Delaying or denying” loan relief for students defrauded by for-profit colleges;
    Allowing failed accrediting organizations like the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools to continue operating with little oversight;
    Letting for-profit colleges with a history of defrauding students to skirt oversight;
    Proposing massive cuts to federal education funding while dumping money into charter programs; and
    Rolling back protections for victims of sexual assault, LGBTQ students, and students of color.

    “DeVos’s attacks on public schools and underserved students show us a clueless, out-of-touch Secretary of Education who is more interested in profits for privatization advocates and predatory lenders than making sure all of our kids have a fair shot at a great public education.”

    Remember it took a vote by Mike Pence (theocrat) to confirm DeVos. As Sheila mentions above: – Indiana has the country’s largest voucher program, and Ball State researchers report that 98% of Hoosier children using vouchers attend religious schools. Taxpayers sent $146.1 million dollars to voucher schools last year; since 2011, the number is $520 million dollars. –

    This is the design privatization of public schools and fund the religious schools. Steroid unaccountable Capitalism joined with theocracy.

  12. Sheila – THANK YOU for this excellent summary of the state’s pummeling of IPS with funding cuts, property tax caps, and drained funds via private school vouchers and charter schools.

    Muncie’s situation ‘private manager’ enthusiasts bigger appetites for state takeover of more local schools. Most school districts are experiencing declining enrollment and dollars and are struggling to meet fixed costs that continue regardless of enrollment declines. That means larger class-sizes and fewer teachers and other staff to meet student and school needs (fewer school nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, maintenance crews, bus mechanics, etc.)

    Rather than fund these needs, our legislature wants to widen the criteria for school takeover. If your school gets a “C” grade or lower, it’s a state takeover target. (The Flint Michigan model which led to a poisoned water supply.) And the state laws with which all other public schools must comply are ‘deregulated’ for optional observation by private management. (Flint model.) For instance, your teachers won’t have to be licensed.

    To stop these proposals, call your state legislators to oppose House Bills 1315 (which punishes Muncie and Gary schools) and 1358 (school districts in coalitions could decide NOT to obey laws on teacher licensure, accreditaton, curricula and calendar requirements). Both bills reduce pressure on the legislature to actually FUND schools which is a state constitutional mandate.

    State Senate Switchboard to leave a message: 1-800-382-9467
    State Representative Switchboard for messages: 1-800-382-9841
    Locate and email your legislators: https://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators

  13. JoAnn said it better than I ever could. I think the Pences of this world are in the long run more dangerous to our democracy than the Trumps of this world are. The Pences pretend to propriety and respectability while the Trumps do their slash and burn game, oblivious of consequence. Beware the lust for power as played out under the shadow of the cross.

    Thus taxpayer dollars are given to parochial education while public education is starved because of some legislative edict that somehow passed constitutional muster. I am bound by oath to follow the law as interpreted by the courts but I certainly disagree with such a devious means of ending separation of church and state by the Pences and DeVoses of this world. I am beginning to think that we badly need not only to replace legislators but judges as well, especially when interpretation of legislation and not legislation per se is the final word. We need to remove elective right wing judges from the bench and replace appointive judges who retire or are otherwise unable to do the job with moderate judges who are not slaves to ideology. It could be argued that the judiciary and not the legislative and executive branches are in charge of deciding whether our democracy (or what is left of it) will continue, in spite of Trump’s observation just today that “Trade wars are good.” (Aside to Don – They are demonstrably bad, and have been since Marco Polo and Silk Road treks to and from Cathay.)

    JoAnn says it best today.

  14. I read that the student population in Indianapolis was b once approaching 27,000 students and the public school system now has less than 6,000 as a result of defunding. A terrible result from the voucher program. In Australia local districts are suing the government for abuse of tax revenue a failure to provide adequate services . I wonder if that’s a possibility here?

  15. “There is nothing left to sell”. I have wondered why IPS has not sold the administration building that is located on prime downtown Indianapolis property? Instead trying to sell the Former Forest Manor MS that is located east of Keystone in a blighted area. Sell the downtown location and move the administration to the Forest Manor building. It would make sense to me. Appreciate reading this blog and everyone’s comments.

  16. Betsy DeVos was hired to do exactly what she’s doing. It should come as no surprise that she is a Pence acolyte. What a satisfying irony it must have been for Pence to cast the deciding vote on her confirmation.

    She alone should be reason enough to vote against every Republican Senator who is up for election this year.

  17. TY. Anytime my hometown faces deficit, knee jerk reaction ” well it’s GARY”! ( I saw that eyeroll).
    I echo the call YOUR SCHOOL district will be next. Distressed Unit Appeals Board took over our schools in July, HB 1315 amended all powers with the Emergency Manager. I mean all. Your Mayor will be consulted, but you have no say or vote- on academics, on school budget, on closings, public cannot view where $ is going,contracts, or if teacher payroll deductions are being paid appropriately. To Sheila’s point- the SBOE etc knew for years GCSC was not paying into teachers 401 k, or even to the STATE. A teacher’s financial advisor told her that no payments were made for the quarter… meaning interest lost , etc. No -one held responsible. My head hurts

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