Good Victims, Bad Victims

A morality trope about the arbitrary distinctions writers make between certain sorts of victims. If a character in fiction has a problem or ailment or social situation, and the creators intend him to be sympathetic, the character will have acquired the problem in the most socially acceptable way. If the character isn't sympathetic, then he will have contracted the illness through "your own damn fault".

Here's a helpful chart of examples:
Situation Good Bad
Rape chaste woman promiscuous woman, man
Unemployment Laid off, displaced never hired, fired regardless of circumstances
AIDS in-utero, transfusion, rape victim sex, shared drug needles, rapist
Cancer hazardous worker, accidental toxin exposure smoker
Abortion against her will response to casual sex
Disaster Absolutely unforeseen, at least by the general populace, new, not result of victim action Foreseen by everyone but willingly ignored, known hazard, victims caused or contributed
Homelessness Sudden and absolutely unforeseeable disaster, Domestic Abuse, war Personal financial problems/unemployment, mental illness, drug addiction
Drug Addiction as a result of prescribed medication as a result of illegal drugs
Becoming a social outcast Society itself is a Dystopia, one can prove extreme talent Disagreement with anything short of a Dystopia, being a loner, Values Dissonance
Vampirism in-utero, transfusion, involuntarily bitten bitten, voluntary
Lycanthropy involuntarily bitten, inherited, cursed voluntary
Superpowers accident, inherited, experiment voluntary
Murder innocent child, Token Wholesome Asshole Victim, Disposable Sex Worker

Note that for some people this trope can be justified. They consider a person who gets carpal tunnel syndrome from writing a Nobel prize winning novel is a bit different from someone who gets it playing World of Warcraft is a bit different from someone who gets it by spending too much time whipping slaves. Regardless of how they got it, they are still victims. Whether you have sympathy for them is another matter.

Where the Unfortunate Implications crop up is when someone dismisses another persons pain and/or disease (physical or mental) because of how they got the pain.

See also Good Flaws, Bad Flaws. Compare the varying media standards between Hitmen and Assassins (both in Professional Killer). Also see the difference between High-Class Call Girl and Disposable Sex Worker.

No Real Life examples, please, as they are just an invitation to an Edit War.


Anime and Manga

Comic Books
  • Blade: The main character is a heroic half-vampire who contracted it not in the normal way (being bitten) but in-utero when his pregnant mother was bitten. Victims of bites are uniformly evil.
  • Mutants in the X-Men mythos are feared and despised by having natural powers, yet people like Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic are loved by the public, even though the only difference is that they got their powers in accidents. While nearly all heroes in the Marvel Universe have been hunted by the authorities at one point or another, only mutants are (nearly) always despised simply for being mutants. Making matters worse, all superpowers manifested by humans have the same root cause: genetic experiments performed on the ancestors of humanity by aliens. Mutants are simply the subset of humans for whom manifesting powers is a matter of time.

  • The Accused: Sarah Tobias is blamed for being brutally gang raped due to her dancing and flirting. Based on a True Story.
  • Adulthood: The character Lexy has a particularly horrendous gang rape as part of her backstory and the perpetrators got away with it by making her look promiscuous in court.
  • Boys Don't Cry had a different kind of bad victim in Brandon Teena, where the cop who raped him seemed to think that his Transgender status was a far more relevant topic to focus on than the fact he was raped.
  • Thelma & Louise has Louise tells Thelma that no one will believe that she was almost raped because she was seen dancing with her attacker by the entire bar probably because she was blamed for her own rape.
  • The Rape Of Richard Beck. The titular character frequently blames women for their own rapes if he considers them unchaste... before he gets raped himself.
  • North Country has Josie blamed and disbelieved, first for being the victim of domestic violence then sexual harassment due to having a promiscuous reputation (though this reputation is actually inaccurate).
  • In Philadelphia, Andrew is discriminated because he got AIDS through gay sexual intercourse. A woman named Melissa, who was called to testify, got it through a blood transfusion, and as such is looked upon much more sympathetically. Melissa lampshades this, saying that in her opinion, there are no innocent or guilty people when it comes to AIDS, there are simply people trying to survive.

  • This article discusses this trope as related to AIDS in the 1990s.
  • Tatum O'Neal's autobiography A Paper Life claims her father's reaction to finding out she was molested by her drug dealer was to accuse her of leading him on.
  • Anita Blake has most shapeshifters contract lycanthropy from attacks by a were-whatever, making them the survivors of a vicious attack. Only a very few chose the life voluntarily.
  • Wild Cards has Aces and Jokers-they have the same virus, but their reception by the public varies based on which manifestation of it they got. And they're not written necessarily sympathetically if they're pretty aces, or hatefully if they're deformed jokers either.
  • Debbie Morris writes in her book "Forgiving the Dead Man Walking" that she was considered a bad victim for her kidnapping and rape by many people in her town due to her having broken curfew.
  • Fantasia Burrino wrote in her autobiography that her father blamed her for being raped due to her sexy clothing.
  • In the James Bond novel Goldfinger, Bond dislikes Pussy Galore's lesbianism until she tells him she was abused by her Creepy Uncle. So apparently (in the 1950s at least), lesbianism by choice was bad but lesbianism because of previous abuse by men was OK.
  • Rain "daughter of Richard" Pryor wrote in Jokes My Father Never Taught Me that her father blamed her for her teenage sexual assault due to the way she dressed
  • Pure Evil by Maureen Harvey. She writes about football fans chanting at matches that they are glad her son was murdered cause he supported a different team. They were almost definitely joking but still.
  • Two Weeks with the Queen is surprisingly tolerant in this regard-even the gay man with AIDS is treated sympathetically.
  • Sweet Valley High: Lila's lacquered appearance and dating history lead to her being blamed and disbelieved when seemingly nice guy John Pfeifer tries to rape her
  • The Lost Girl, a true crime biography by Caroline Roberts who was kidnapped by Fred and Rose West, describes how they got away with raping her due to her having had a couple of one-night stands.

Live-Action TV
  • Footballers Wives had a groupie raped while unconscious at a party of footballers who is payed off when the club owners persuade her that her actions at the party will be used against her.
  • An episode of Brass Eye invokes this when the host of a chat show completely changes his attitude toward a guest when he discovers the guest has "Bad AIDS" (caught from homosexual sex) rather than "Good AIDS" (caught from a blood transfusion) as the host had previously thought. Seen here.
  • Sesame Street: Kami is a Muppet character from the South African version of the show who has AIDS, contracted in-utero. Her mother died of AIDS and now she lives with a human foster mother. One sketch had Kami telling her friends that she missed her mother sometimes and how she deals with grief.
  • The Lakes has gang rape victim Lucy Archer, who is blamed for her horrific attack due to her promiscuity.
  • Danni Sutherland in Home and Away is partially blamed for being raped for the way she dresses.
  • The Bill has featured several storylines of rape victims who have been blamed for their rapes due to flirty behavior, kissing or sexual contact with the rapist beforehand, or being sex workers.
  • A TV movie Sex, Videotapes and Footballers featured a woman who accused 3 football players of raping her, and her so-called friend said it was her fault because she had consensual sex with their friend before they allegedly raped her.
  • Similarly, the TV movie Gifted had a pole dancer and single mother drugged and raped by a footballer decide not to press charges, knowing how she would be portrayed.
  • Brookside explores this both with teenage pregnancy and bullying when OverprotectiveDad Marty Murray is initially sympathetic to his underage daughter being pregnant when he assumes she must have been raped, but angry when she tells him she the sex was consensual. He also supports his son when he thinks he's being bullied by boys, but has a harder time being sympathetic when he finds out the bullies are girls. The last episode also ended with the cold-blooded murder of a violent drug dealer with most of the characters deciding that he deserved it. The show seems to leave it up to the audience to decide if they agree with this sentiment.
  • The Good Wife had a seemingly-the episode aired 6 months before the famous Real Life event occurred-Ripped from the Headlines episode about a massage therapist who accuses a politician of sexual assault but decides not to press charges as there is too much in her past that would be used to paint her as a bad victim.
  • Eastenders Kat's uncle who raped and impregnated her when she was 13 tried to blame her for what happened by pointing out the way she dressed and that she wore heavy makeup. She responded by pointing out that she walked around in her mother's high heels when she was a toddler and asked if she was asking for rape then as well.
  • There's a bizarre variation on this in Oz when homophobic Dino Ortolani becomes more sympathetic to a dying AIDS patient on discovering he is not gay as he assumes but got AIDS from taking heroin. There is also a storyline involving Tobias Beecher deciding that a teenage boy is deserving of being raped due to him being convicted of raping his ex.
  • Discussed Trope on Degrassi season 13 when Zoe is raped by members of the hockey team. Throughout the show, Zoe has been portrayed as a boy-crazy Alpha Bitch and at the trial, the defense tries to portray her in that way.
  • Law & Order: SVU runs on this trope. Arguably one of the show's greatest strengths is exploring just how arbitrary the idea of a "good victim" is, since even the "good" victims will almost invariably be portrayed by the rapists' defense attorney as asking for it in some way. Alternately, the protagonists will go out of their way to get justice for "bad" victims; in one episode, the ADA has to battle it out with the defense attorney over the way rape is defined by the law, since the victim is a male stripper who was raped by three women, and the law's definition of rape as forcible penetration does not encompass what they did to him.

Video Games
  • The demon-allied orcs of Warcraft I and II are revealed to be a peaceful shamanistic race in the backstory to Warcraft III, as after the Horde's defeat, they lost their permanent rage. Thrall, seeking to reunite them with their roots, allies with Grom Hellscream (one of the original chieftains of their homeworld). Grom ends up being repossesed by the demons, but reveals that (most of) the chieftains gave themselves to the corruption willingly. Thrall, who is understandably more than a little pissed to hear this, brings Grom back and kicks the ass of the Pit Lord responsible for the corruption.

Western Animation
  • Played with in the Captain Planet episode that dealt with HIV. While the teenager who contracted it got it through a blood transfusion, his doctor also mentions how shared needles and unprotected sex can also be how the disease is contracted. The episode still calls out people for spreading misinformation on HIV-positive people in general, indicating that all of them deserve the same understanding.