Until the seventeenth century (at least according to my dictionary), victim simply meant "an animal offered as a sacrifice." I would note that this is suspiciously similar to the literal definition of scapegoat. And we all know what a scapegoat is.
This is something that's been brewing in me at least since I responded to this thread on Livejournal. But it's probably been there a while longer, really.
Blame-the-victim mentality is so deeply entrenched in society we almost don't realize how far it stretches. We may encounter it in a case of rape and decry it there; we may see it buried in homophobia and try to strike back at it there; we may slap it down when it comes up regarding bullying. But we don't often sit back and realize that all those different manifestations spring from that one tendency.
"I don't mind gay people, but if they're going to flaunt themselves like that, they should be prepared for the consequences."
"A kid committed suicide because he was being called names at school? What a little pussy."
"You're the one who married him; you're the one who has to get him into rehab."
"You've got to ask yourself, what was a pretty girl like her doing there at that hour anyway?"
"If that town's really so racist, the black people should just move out."
"If he was really doing all that to his daughter, why didn't the kid speak up sooner?"
It's pernicious. It's everywhere. And I think I understand why: our society, in its current dysfunctional form, needs to blame the victim.
The bullies, the abusive addicts, the rapists, the gay-bashers, the racists, the child abusers (that is, the majority of child abusers who are actually otherwise respectable family members): they are a part of society. They are woven into its fabric, institutionalized, with their names engraved in little plaques on a walkway. "Mr. & Mrs. We Hate Gay People and their little boy Nerdpuncher contributed. They belong."
Bad things happen in this society, though. The people interested in preserving it will deny this when possible, but sometimes it's not possible. And that's when they need a class of people to blame it on.
And here come the victims--of course they are people but it's much easier to simply call them victims, sacrifices for the state religion. The victims are so convenient, in some ways. They're already admitting that there's a problem, which is something most people would rather not--how big a step is it to tell them to take responsibility for that problem? Besides, they've proven, by virtue of being a victim, that they are weaker than the members of society who beat them down.
Of course, it's society that has failed these people. But Society Can't Fail. So they must have failed society; they must not belong. They must be victims--
--and with that label, they are removed from society. The sins of the community are placed on them, and they are released into the wilderness. And unlike the abusers, who are a part of society, they become acceptable targets for blame.
Our society needs to blame the victim, because otherwise, it would have to turn that scathing eye inwards. And then it might have to change.