Acceptance in Blame: How and why we Blame the Victims of Street Harassment

  • Hanaa El Moghrabi
Keywords: street harassment, victim blaming, gender-based violence, cognitive effects, feminist theories, just-world, cognitive dissonance, group-think, self, social cognition, sociology


Globally, and on a daily basis, women are subjected to unwanted verbal and/or physical intrusions such as catcalling, leering, honking, sexually explicit or sexist comments, touching or grabbing, amongst other actions that are all considered street harassment. This paper is a review of some of the literature available, which focuses on the psychological and feminist aspects of street harassment and victim blaming through social, cognitive, intersectional, and economic lenses. Regarding psychological theories, I will examine reasons why victim blaming happens through the theories of the just-world hypothesis, cognitive dissonance, and the bystander effect. The feminist theories touch on the basics of objectification and power dynamics found within gender, which can help us understand why street harassment happens. Lastly, I will emphasize the importance of starting a conversation about the pervasiveness of street harassment and victim blaming, and why it is important to know where the blame should be instead of where it is almost always placed.

Author Biography

Hanaa El Moghrabi
BA, Psychology, MRU


Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., & Plante, E. G. (2007). Sexual violence prevention through bystander education: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(4), 463-481.

Banyard, V. L. (2011). Who will help prevent sexual violence: Creating an ecological model of bystander intervention. Psychology of Violence, 1216-229.

Bennett, S., Banyard, V. L., & Garnhart, L. (2014). To act or not to act, that is the question? Barriers and facilitators of bystander intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(3), 476-496.

Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(2), 217-230.

Daily Mail (2013). Two attackers in horrific homecoming dance gang rape sentenced to decades behind bars as victim forgives them because she ‘deserves to be at peace.’ Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377-383.

Davis, D. E. (2002). The harm that has no name: Street harassment, embodiment, and African American women. Gender Struggles: Practical Approaches to Contemporary Feminism, 214-225.

Fairchild, K. (2010). Context effects on women’s perceptions of stranger harassment. Sexuality & Culture, 14(3), 191-216.

Fairchild, K., & Rudman, L.A. (2008). Everyday stranger harassment and women’s objectification. Social Justice Research, 21(3), 338-357.

Festinger, L. (1962). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford University Press.

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (Eds.). (1991). Social cognition. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Random House LLC.

Gannon, L. R. (2005). Women and aging: Transcending the myths. Routledge.

Gurfinkiel, M. (2006). Tale of Torture and Murder Horrifies the Whole of France. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from

Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. 2nd ed., p. 349. Boston: Houghton Miffin.

Janoff-Bulman, R. (1979). Characterological versus behavioral self-blame: inquiries into depression and rape. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 37(10), 1798-1810.

Lacan, J. (1973). Four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. New York: WW Norton & Co.

Lerner, M. J., & Simmons, C. H. (1966). Observer's reaction to the" innocent victim": compassion or rejection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 203-210.

Lohr, D. (2014). Death of Innocence – The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Macmillan, R., Nierobisz, A., & Welsh, S. (2000). Experiencing the streets: Harassment and perceptions of safety among women. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 37(3), 306-322.

Malle, B. F., Guglielmo, S., & Monroe, A. E. (2014). A theory of blame. Psychological Inquiry, 25(2), 147-186.

Morin, A. (2014). Impression Formation & Management [pdf]. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from

Morin, A. (2014). Introduction to Social Cognition [pdf]. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from

Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18.

Nielsen, L.B. (2000). Situating legal consciousness: Experiences and attitudes of ordinary citizens about law and street harassment. Law & Society Review, 334(4), 1055-1090.

Ottawa Hollaback! (2014). Top Ten Myths of Street Harassment. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Planty, M. (2002).Third-party involvement in violent crime, 1993-99. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Saguy, T., Quinn, D. M., Dovidio, J. F., & Pratto, F. (2010). Interacting like a Body Objectification can Lead Women to narrow their Presence in Social Interactions. Psychological Science, 21(2), 178-182.

Stop Street Harassment National Survey. (2014). Retrieved October 30, 2014 from

van den Bos, K., & Maas, M. (2009). On the psychology of the belief in a just world: Exploring experiential and rationalistic paths to victim blaming. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(12), 1567-1578.