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Measuring Victimhood: Developing a Victim Self-Ascription Scale
Unformatted Document Text:  DRAFT – For permission to cite contact Andy Davies on ## email not listed ## sometimes contradictory ways in which her subjects used the word 'victim' to describe themselves. On occasion, her subjects would simultaneously insist that they were victims, and also that they were not. Her interpretation was that self-description as a victim was an approach adopted by individuals when they wanted to stress that they had suffered serious harm, that they were not responsible for the suffering, and that it had been unjust. In her analysis, therefore, Leisenring suggests a formulation of victim identity which precisely reflects the descriptive model proposed here. I therefore hypothesize that where individuals perceive events to be harmful, externally attributable and unjust they will be more likely to apply the term 'victim' to themselves. Describing oneself as a ‘victim’, however, has become rather unpopular. Advocates argue that it suggests qualities of helplessness and passivity. Instead, they tend to prefer the term ‘survivor’ (Gondolf, 1988). It is tempting, therefore, to wonder whether any individuals will willingly self- ascribe victim status. Existing research suggests that they will, however. Leisenring’s (2006) study contains examples of individuals willingly self-ascribing victimhood, though only to advance specific purposes – namely to suggest they were blameless and helpless in a given situation. Equally, Polletta (2007) has described many of the positive social connotations that victimhood can hold and the positive social functions victims have sometimes been regarded as performing. A more satisfactory position, and the one held by scholars such as Leisenring (2006) and Wood and Rennie (1994) is simply that victimhood is an ambivalent status in that it offers both real benefits and serious drawbacks to those adopting it. An awareness of this ambivalence is what makes the interactionist study of the subject so important, since it can reveal the delicate balancing act in which victims must engage. For the purposes of this study, it is simply enough to note that research has Page 9

Authors: Davies, Andrew.
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DRAFT – For permission to cite contact Andy Davies on ## email not listed ##
sometimes contradictory ways in which her subjects used the word 'victim' to describe themselves.  On 
occasion, her subjects would simultaneously insist that they were victims, and also that they were not. 
Her interpretation was that self-description as a victim was an approach adopted by individuals when 
they wanted to stress that they had suffered serious harm, that they were not responsible for the 
suffering, and that it had been unjust.  In her analysis, therefore, Leisenring suggests a formulation of 
victim identity which precisely reflects the descriptive model proposed here.  I therefore hypothesize 
that where individuals perceive events to be harmful, externally attributable and unjust they will be 
more likely to apply the term 'victim' to themselves.
Describing oneself as a ‘victim’, however, has become rather unpopular.  Advocates argue that it 
suggests qualities of helplessness and passivity.  Instead, they tend to prefer the term ‘survivor’ 
(Gondolf, 1988).  It is tempting, therefore, to wonder whether any individuals will willingly self-
ascribe victim status.  Existing research suggests that they will, however.  Leisenring’s (2006) study 
contains examples of individuals willingly self-ascribing victimhood, though only to advance specific 
purposes – namely to suggest they were blameless and helpless in a given situation.  Equally, Polletta 
(2007) has described many of the positive social connotations that victimhood can hold and the positive 
social functions victims have sometimes been regarded as performing.
A more satisfactory position, and the one held by scholars such as Leisenring (2006) and Wood and 
Rennie (1994) is simply that victimhood is an ambivalent status in that it offers both real benefits and 
serious drawbacks to those adopting it.  An awareness of this ambivalence is what makes the 
interactionist study of the subject so important, since it can reveal the delicate balancing act in which 
victims must engage.  For the purposes of this study, it is simply enough to note that research has 
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