(Last Updated On: November 26, 2023)

Fear Of Contagion: Why Scam Victims Are Harshly Judged And Blamed

Helping Both Victims and Families or Friends to Better Understand

Author:
•  Vianey Gonzalez – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Fear Of Contagion – The Hidden Fear of Crime Victims: How Nonvictims Engage In Denial, Projection, And Extreme Judgmentalism Against Scam Victims

After a scam, victims experience a unique reaction based in the fear of contamination!

This article is intended to help scam victims to better understand this ‘Fear of Contagion’ and why they are treated negatively, and also perhaps to help their family and friends to understand why they are treated differently after the crime occurs.

In the aftermath of a crime, victims often face a barrage of questions and judgments. Their experiences are scrutinized, their choices dissected, and their actions evaluated. Amidst this whirlwind of scrutiny, a subtle yet pervasive sentiment emerges as the fear of contagion.

This fear is not openly expressed, but it lingers beneath the surface, a silent dread that the victim’s misfortune could somehow seep into their own lives. It manifests in dismissive remarks, victim-blaming statements, and an undercurrent of unease when interacting with those who have been touched by crime.

Where does the Fear of Contagion come from?

The fear of contagion stems from a deep-seated human instinct for self-preservation but also from the observer’s impotence over not being able to provide meaningful help to the victim.

We seek to maintain a sense of control over our lives, to believe that we are somehow immune to the misfortunes that befall others. By distancing ourselves from victims and minimizing their experiences, we create a psychological barrier, a shield against the possibility that it could happen to us.

This denial, however, serves only to further isolate and alienate victims. It reinforces their sense of isolation and compounds their trauma. Instead of offering support and understanding, we inadvertently push them further into the margins, perpetuating a cycle of victimization.

To overcome this fear of contagion, we must first acknowledge its existence. We must recognize that the fear is not a reflection of the victims, but rather a projection of our own anxieties. It is a manifestation of our deepest fears, a fear of the unknown, the uncontrollable, the fragility of our own safety.

Once we acknowledge this fear, we can begin to dismantle it. We can confront the reality that crime can happen to anyone, regardless of their background, their choices, or their precautions. We can recognize that victims are not to blame for their experiences but rather are the unfortunate recipients of circumstances beyond their control.

By acknowledging and confronting our fear of contagion, we can open ourselves to empathy and understanding. We can offer support and compassion to those who have been victimized, creating a society that is not only safer but also more humane.

That Deep Fear of Contagion

The fear of contagion, in the context of crime victims, stems from a complex interplay of psychological factors, including:

  1. Denial of Vulnerability: Humans possess a natural tendency to deny their own vulnerability to negative events. We construct mental barriers that shield us from the uncomfortable reality that we are not immune to misfortune. When confronted with crime victims, this denial mechanism kicks in, leading us to believe that we are somehow different and that we would never make the same “mistakes” that led to their victimization.
  2. Projection of Anxiety: The fear of contagion is often a projection of our own anxieties and insecurities. We fear the possibility of becoming victims ourselves, and this fear manifests in a tendency to distance ourselves from those who have already experienced crime. By minimizing their experiences and blaming them for their victimization, we create a sense of separation, making ourselves feel less vulnerable.
  3. Impotence and Inability to Help: Often people feel impotent to help after serious harm has been done to someone they care about. Our natural desire is to make things right. Yet the feeling can manifest both in frustration and fear, and results in potentially harmful reactions against victims.
  4. Threat to Sense of Control: Crime disrupts our sense of control over our lives. It shatters the illusion that we are safe and in command of our surroundings. When we encounter crime victims, it reminds us of our own fragility, our own potential to be victims. This loss of control triggers a fear response, leading us to distance ourselves from the victims and their experiences.
  5. Lack of Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When we lack empathy, we struggle to connect with crime victims on an emotional level. This lack of connection makes it easier for us to dismiss their experiences, blame them for their victimization, and maintain a sense of separation.
  6. Societal Stigma: Crime victims often face stigma and prejudice, both from individuals and from society as a whole. This stigma reinforces the fear of contagion, making it more difficult for victims to find support and understanding. It also contributes to a culture of victim-blaming, further isolating and marginalizing those who have been victimized.

Much of this also stems from a change in the perception of the victims. In effect, they become ‘The Other’ and are then viewed as separate and different.

Denial of Vulnerability

Denial of vulnerability, in the context of crime victims, is a psychological defense mechanism that prevents individuals from acknowledging their own susceptibility to crime. It manifests as a belief that “it could never happen to me,” often accompanied by a tendency to distance oneself from crime victims and minimize their experiences.

This denial serves several purposes:

  1. Preserves a Sense of Safety: By denying our vulnerability, we maintain an illusion of control over our lives, reducing the anxiety associated with the possibility of becoming a victim ourselves.
  2. Avoids Emotional Discomfort: Confronting our vulnerability can be emotionally unsettling, forcing us to grapple with the harsh realities of crime and our own potential victimization. Denial provides a psychological buffer, shielding us from this discomfort.
  3. Maintains Self-Esteem: Acknowledging our vulnerability can challenge our self-perception of competence and resilience. Denial allows us to uphold a positive self-image, protecting our self-esteem from the potential blow of admitting our own susceptibility.

However, denial of vulnerability comes at a cost. It prevents us from developing genuine empathy for crime victims, fostering a culture of victim-blaming and isolation. It also hinders our ability to address the root causes of crime effectively, as we fail to recognize our own shared vulnerability and the collective responsibility we have to create a safer society.

To overcome denial of vulnerability, we must engage in a process of self-reflection and introspection:

  1. Acknowledge Our Shared Humanity: We are all human, and as such, we are all susceptible to misfortune, including crime. Recognizing our shared vulnerability is the first step toward empathy and understanding.
  2. Challenge Our Assumptions: Our assumptions about our own safety may be based on privilege or luck, not on any inherent immunity to crime. Critically examining these assumptions can help us confront our denial.
  3. Listen to Crime Victims: Engaging with crime victims’ stories, without judgment or minimization, can help us understand their experiences and the impact of crime on their lives.
  4. Support Victims’ Rights: Advocating for the rights and well-being of crime victims demonstrates our commitment to creating a society that values compassion and support for those who have been victimized.

By confronting our denial of vulnerability, we can foster a more just and compassionate society, one that acknowledges the shared human experience of vulnerability and extends support to those who have been touched by crime.

Projection of Anxiety

Projection of anxiety, in the context of crime victims, is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals unconsciously transfer their own anxieties and fears about crime onto the victims themselves. This projection manifests in various ways, including:

  1. Victim-blaming: By attributing the victim’s misfortune to their own actions or choices, individuals deflect their own anxiety about becoming victims. They construct a narrative of victim culpability, suggesting that the victim could have avoided their fate through better decision-making.
  2. Minimizing the victims’ experiences: Downplaying the severity or impact of the crime on the victim serves to reduce the perceived threat to the individual’s own safety. By dismissing the victim’s pain and suffering, they distance themselves from the reality of crime and maintain a sense of control.
  3. Social distancing: Avoiding close contact with crime victims creates a psychological barrier, shielding the individual from emotional discomfort and the potential threat of contagion. This distancing reinforces the isolation of the victims and perpetuates the cycle of victimization.
  4. Hypervigilance: Individuals may become excessively vigilant in their own lives, adopting extreme measures to avoid potential victimization. This hypervigilance is fueled by the projected anxiety, leading to an exaggerated perception of personal risk.
  5. Denial of own vulnerability: Underlying the projection of anxiety is often a denial of one’s own vulnerability to crime. By focusing on the perceived shortcomings of the victim, individuals avoid confronting their own susceptibility.

Overcoming the projection of anxiety requires a conscious effort to recognize and address the underlying anxieties:

  1. Acknowledge Personal Anxieties: Reflecting on personal fears and concerns about crime can help individuals identify the root causes of their projection. Understanding the underlying anxieties can facilitate a more empathetic approach to crime victims.
  2. Develop Emotional Regulation Skills: Effective emotional regulation skills, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, can help individuals manage their anxieties in a healthy way, reducing the need for projection.
  3. Empathy Cultivation: Engaging in practices that promote empathy, such as perspective-taking and active listening, can help individuals connect with crime victims on an emotional level, fostering understanding and compassion.
  4. Seek Professional Help: If anxieties about crime are severe or interfere with daily life, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can provide valuable support and guidance.

By acknowledging and addressing the projection of anxiety, individuals can develop a more compassionate and empathetic response to crime victims, creating a more supportive and just society.

Impotency and the Inability to Help

Impotency and the inability to help crime victims can trigger a range of harmful reactions, including judgmentalism and victim-blaming. These reactions often stem from a sense of helplessness, frustration, and a desire to regain control in the face of a traumatic event.

Judgmentalism

Judgmentalism arises from a tendency to place blame or responsibility on the victim for the crime they have endured. This can manifest in various ways, such as:

  1. Questioning the victim’s actions or decisions: Individuals may scrutinize the victim’s choices, suggesting that they could have avoided the crime had they acted differently.
  2. Labeling the victim: Labels like “careless,” “naive,” or “irresponsible” can be attached to the victim, implying that their actions contributed to their victimization.
  3. Minimizing the victim’s experience: The severity of the crime and the impact on the victim may be downplayed, suggesting that the victim is overreacting or exaggerating their distress.

Judgmentalism not only fails to acknowledge the trauma experienced by the victim but also compounds their suffering. It creates an atmosphere of isolation and disbelief, further marginalizing the victim and hindering their healing process.

Victim-Blaming

Victim-blaming directly attributes the crime to the victim’s actions or character, shifting the responsibility away from the perpetrator. This can manifest in various ways, such as:

  1. Suggesting the victim deserved it: Individuals may imply that the victim’s behavior, lifestyle, or past actions made them a target, justifying the crime.
  2. Shifting responsibility: The victim is held responsible for the perpetrator’s actions, suggesting that they could have controlled or prevented the crime if they had acted differently.
  3. Promoting stereotypes: Preconceived notions about certain groups or lifestyles may be used to justify the victimization, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and prejudices.

Victim blaming not only compounds the victim’s trauma but also undermines the pursuit of justice. It excuses the perpetrator’s actions and discourages victims from coming forward, ultimately contributing to a cycle of impunity.

Addressing Harmful Reactions

To combat judgmentalism and victim-blaming in non-victims, it is crucial to promote empathy, understanding, and a victim-centered approach:

  1. Empathy Cultivation: Encourage individuals to put themselves in the victim’s shoes, considering their emotions, experiences, and perspectives.
  2. Education and Awareness: Raise awareness about the impact of crime on victims, challenging victim-blaming stereotypes and promoting a culture of compassion.
  3. Support for Victims: Create supportive environments where victims feel safe to come forward, seek help, and navigate the aftermath of crime without fear of judgment or blame.
  4. Accountability for Perpetrators: Emphasize the responsibility of perpetrators and the need for justice, ensuring that they are held accountable for their actions.
  5. Community Engagement: Foster a sense of community responsibility for preventing crime and supporting victims, creating a more just and supportive society.

By addressing the underlying causes of judgmentalism and victim-blaming, we can create a society that is more empathetic, understanding, and supportive of those who have been affected by crime.

Threat to Sense of Control

The perception of crime as a threat to one’s sense of control is a significant factor contributing to the fear of contagion in the context of crime victims. Crime, by its very nature, disrupts our illusion of control over our lives and surroundings. It shatters the belief that we are safe and in command of our environment.

When we encounter crime victims, it serves as a stark reminder of our own vulnerability and the potential for us to become victims ourselves. This loss of control triggers a fear response, leading us to distance ourselves from the victims and their experiences.

This fear of losing control manifests in various ways:

  1. Victim-blaming: By attributing the victim’s misfortune to their own actions or choices, individuals reclaim a sense of control over their own safety. They construct a narrative of victim culpability, suggesting that the victim could have avoided their fate through better decision-making.
  2. Hypervigilance: Individuals may become excessively vigilant in their own lives, adopting extreme measures to avoid potential victimization. This hypervigilance is fueled by the desire to regain control and prevent a similar fate from befalling them.
  3. Denial of shared vulnerability: To maintain a sense of control, individuals may deny their own susceptibility to crime. They construct a perception of themselves as different from the victims, believing that their own actions would prevent them from becoming targets.
  4. Social distancing: Avoiding close contact with crime victims creates a psychological barrier, shielding the individual from emotional discomfort and the potential threat of contagion. This distancing reinforces the sense of control by limiting exposure to the perceived threat.
  5. Rejection of support for victims: Supporting crime victims can inadvertently highlight our own vulnerability and the possibility of becoming victims ourselves. As a result, individuals may resist providing support or advocating for victims’ rights, seeking to maintain their sense of control.

Overcoming the fear of losing control requires a shift in perspective:

  1. Acknowledge shared vulnerability: Recognizing our shared human susceptibility to crime can help us empathize with victims and reduce the need to distance ourselves from them.
  2. Focus on collective responsibility: Instead of solely focusing on individual control, we can recognize the collective responsibility we have to create a safer society. This shared responsibility lessens the burden of personal control and encourages collective action.
  3. Support victim-centered policies: Advocating for policies that prioritize victim support and crime prevention can address the root causes of crime and reduce the likelihood of victimization.
  4. Embrace uncertainty: Recognizing that uncertainty is an inherent part of life can help us accept the possibility of unforeseen events, including crime. This acceptance can reduce the anxiety associated with losing control and foster empathy for victims.

By addressing the fear of losing control, we can move towards a more compassionate and supportive society, one that acknowledges our shared vulnerability and recognizes the value of supporting those who have been touched by crime.

Lack of Empathy

Lack of empathy, in the context of crime victims, refers to the inability or unwillingness to understand and share the feelings of those who have been victimized. It manifests in various ways, including:

  1. Emotional detachment: Individuals may display a lack of emotional connection to the victim’s experiences, failing to acknowledge their pain, suffering, or trauma.
  2. Invalidation of feelings: Dismissing or minimizing the victim’s emotional responses, such as fear, sadness, or anger, further deepens the victim’s isolation and distress.
  3. Lack of perspective-taking: Inability to see the situation from the victim’s point of view, leading to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of their actions or choices.
  4. Victim-blaming: Attributing the victim’s misfortune to their own actions or choices, shifting the focus away from the perpetrator’s responsibility and further victimizing the individual.
  5. Insensitivity in communication: Using insensitive language or making inappropriate comments, demonstrating a lack of regard for the victim’s feelings and experiences.
  6. Lack of support: Failing to offer emotional support, practical assistance, or advocacy, leaving the victim to navigate the aftermath of the crime alone.

The consequences of a lack of empathy towards crime victims are far-reaching:

  1. Compounded trauma: Lack of empathy from others can exacerbate the trauma experienced by victims, making it more difficult for them to heal and recover.
  2. Isolation and alienation: Victims may feel isolated and alone, further compounding their distress and hindering their ability to seek help and support.
  3. Perpetuation of victimization: Lack of empathy can contribute to a culture of victim-blaming and stigma, perpetuating the cycle of victimization and discouraging others from coming forward with their experiences.
  4. Erosion of social fabric: Lack of empathy undermines the sense of community and shared humanity, weakening social bonds and creating a less supportive environment for all.

Fostering empathy towards crime victims requires a conscious effort to understand their experiences and perspectives:

  1. Active listening: Practice active listening, engaging with victims without judgment or interruption, allowing them to express their feelings and experiences without fear of dismissal.
  2. Perspective-taking: Actively try to see the situation from the victim’s point of view, considering their background, emotions, and motivations.
  3. Validation of feelings: Acknowledge and validate the victim’s emotional responses, recognizing the impact of the crime on their well-being.
  4. Offering support: Provide emotional support, practical assistance, or advocacy, demonstrating genuine care and concern for the victim’s well-being.
  5. Education and awareness: Promote education and awareness about the impact of crime on victims, challenging victim-blaming stereotypes and fostering a culture of understanding and compassion.

By cultivating empathy towards crime victims, we can create a more supportive and just society, one that values compassion, understanding, and the well-being of those who have been affected by crime.

Societal Stigma

Societal stigma, in the context of crime victims, refers to the negative attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs that society holds towards individuals who have been victimized. This stigma can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. Labeling and stereotyping: Victims are often labeled as weak, vulnerable, or deserving of their victimization, creating negative stereotypes that can hinder their recovery and reintegration into society.
  2. Social isolation and exclusion: Victims may face social isolation and exclusion due to the stigma associated with their victimization, leading to feelings of loneliness, shame, and self-blame.
  3. Victim blaming: Societal stigma often manifests as victim-blaming, suggesting that victims are somehow responsible for their own misfortune or that they could have avoided victimization if they had acted differently.
  4. Lack of empathy and support: Victims may encounter a lack of empathy and support from society, further compounding their trauma and making it difficult for them to seek help and resources.
  5. Perpetuation of the cycle of victimization: Societal stigma can perpetuate the cycle of victimization by discouraging victims from coming forward with their experiences, reducing the likelihood of perpetrators being held accountable, and hindering efforts to prevent future crimes.

The consequences of societal stigma towards crime victims are far-reaching:

  1. Compounded trauma: Societal stigma can exacerbate the trauma experienced by victims, making it more difficult for them to heal and recover from their experiences.
  2. Isolation and alienation: Victims may feel isolated and alienated due to the stigma associated with their victimization, further compounding their distress and hindering their ability to seek help and support.
  3. Discouragement of reporting: Societal stigma can discourage victims from reporting crimes or seeking help, leading to underreporting and a failure to hold perpetrators accountable.
  4. Reduced access to resources: Victims may face reduced access to resources, such as counseling, legal aid, or financial assistance, due to the stigma associated with their victimization.
  5. Erosion of social fabric: Societal stigma undermines the sense of community and shared humanity, weakening social bonds and creating a less supportive environment for all.

Addressing societal stigma towards crime victims requires a multi-faceted approach:

  1. Public education and awareness campaigns: Promote public education and awareness campaigns to challenge victim-blaming stereotypes, foster empathy, and encourage support for victims.
  2. Media sensitization: Educate media professionals about the impact of stigmatizing language and coverage on crime victims, encouraging responsible and sensitive reporting practices.
  3. Victim advocacy: Support victim advocacy organizations that provide resources, support, and legal representation to victims, helping them navigate the aftermath of crime and challenge societal stigma.
  4. Policy changes: Implement policy changes that prioritize victim support, promote restorative justice practices, and address the root causes of crime, reducing the likelihood of victimization and mitigating the impact of societal stigma.
  5. Cultural shift: Encourage a cultural shift that values compassion, understanding, and support for those who have been affected by crime, creating a more inclusive and supportive society.

Summary

Overcoming the fear of contagion requires a conscious effort to challenge our denial mechanisms, confront our anxieties, and cultivate empathy for others. It demands a shift in perspective, recognizing that crime victims are not to blame for their experiences, but rather are the unfortunate recipients of circumstances beyond their control. By acknowledging our shared vulnerability and extending compassion to those who have been victimized, we can create a more just and supportive society.

Understanding Scam Victim Blaming Language – A SCARS Official Video

SCARS Resources:

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

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