Dehumanize or Blame the Victims

Third people can obscure responsibility for their actions by either dehumanizing their victims or attributing blame to them (see upper-right box in Figure 16.2). In time of war, people often see the enemy as subhuman, so they need not feel guilty for killing enemy soldiers. At various times in U.S. history, Jews, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, homosexuals, and street people have become dehumanized victims. Otherwise kind considerate, and gentle people have perpetrated acts of violence, insult, or other forms of mistreatment against these groups in order to avoid responsibility for their own behavior.

When victims are not dehumanized they are sometimes blamed for the perpetrator's culpable conduct. A rapist may blame his victim for his crime, citing her provocative dress or behavior.

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