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Good Victims, Bad Victims

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A morality trope about the (sometimes arbitrary) distinctions between characters who are victims of misfortune, and how it affects their treatment by both the creator and the audience. For instance, a creator may want a Loser Protagonist to be more sympathetic than a Straw Loser, even if their circumstances are relatively similar, so the reasons for the former's poor lot in life are written to be something more socially acceptable than the latter's.

While the specifics vary, there are common themes. For "good" victims, their suffering is often due to circumstances beyond the their control, in spite of their upright moral character and behavior, or inflicted upon them by someone else—in other words, they did nothing to deserve it. Inversely, "bad" victims did do something to deserve what they got—it's the result of a willful decision, a moral failing, or karmic justice for some misdeed they committed.

Here's a helpful chart of examples:

Situation "Good" Victim "Bad" Victim
Rape The victim was a chaste or otherwise "good" women (especially if she's beautiful), a child, or elderly. The victim was a promiscuous or otherwise "bad" woman, a man, a convicted criminal, or a rapist himself.
Financial Hardship They were laid off or fired without cause. They're a single parent. They were bankrupted by medical bills or an unforeseen disaster. They were incompetent or otherwise fired for cause. They're a NEET or Lazy Bum who doesn't want to work. They were financially irresponsible, didn't save money, or bought frivolous luxuries.
HIV/AIDS They were exposed by someone else's actions (in-utero from mother, victim of rape), or by accident (discarded needle, tainted blood transfusion). They contracted it through casual or unprotected sex (especially if gay), recreational drug needle reuse, or raping an HIV+ victim.
Cancer They were exposed to carcinogens in their workplace or without their knowledge. They are a child, or a parent with young children. They drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, are overweight, or have an unhealthy diet/lifestyle. They have reproductive cancer and they're childless. They have skin cancer and they go tanning.
Abortion The mother got pregnant against her will, was a rape victim, or is faced with a life-threatening complication. The mother got pregnant due to casual sex or infidelity, or does not have a life-threatening complication.
Natural or Public Disaster The disaster was completely unforeseen by the victims. It was primarily caused or worsened by government or corporate negligence and corruption. The disaster was foreseen and willfully ignored by the victims, or was a known risk for the area. It was caused or worsened by the victims. It happened in a distant (usually Third World) country.
Home- lessness They were forced out by a war or natural disaster, got evicted, or are fleeing Domestic Abuse. Their house was beyond their means to afford. They suffered from mental illness or drug addiction.
Addicted to Drugs They became addicted to legal drugs, or tried to self-medicate a health problem. They were pressured or forced to start by someone else. They got addicted to illegal drugs through recreational use.
Becom- ing a social outcast They live in a Dystopian society, or were shunned for being intelligent or talented. They come from any society short of a Dystopia. They are lonely for a good reason.
Vampire, Were- wolf They became bitten, infected, or cursed unwittingly or against their will. They were voluntarily turned.
Magic Curse The curse is Disproportionate Retribution, or triggered unknowingly. The curse is Laser-Guided Karma, caused by aggrieving someone or desecrating something. It forces the victim to learn an Aesop.
Super- powers They gained their powers unintentionally, usually through a Freak Lab Accident. They deliberately sought to give themselves powers, or are from an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong.
Murder The victim is an innocent child, the killer's wife or girlfriend, or the Token Wholesome. The victim is an Asshole, Disposable Sex Worker, or Disposable Vagrant.
Cheating on a Spouse They're in an arranged or mutually loveless marriage. The spouse has an Incompatible Orientation. Their spouse is neglectful, abusive, or cheated on them first. They have an Extreme Libido. They neglect their spouse for superficial reasons, like being Hollywood Homely. They gain an STI or unwanted pregnancy as a result.
Mental Illness They are "high-functioning" and can live independently. Their condition helps their creativity, intelligence, or they're otherwise Inspirationally Disadvantaged. Their condition leaves them "low-functioning" or extremely debilitated to the point of needing full-time care. They may be violent or emotionally unstable.
Divorce Their spouse was unfaithful or abusive. They tried to "make it work" but separated amicably. They were the favorite parent, but their ex got the kids. They initiated it for petty or superficial reasons. They get in a nasty Divorce Assets Conflict. They immediately start seeing someone, possibly a Wicked Stepmother.
Being Over- weight They suffer from an endocrine problem or physical disability that stops them from dieting or exercising. They want to lose weight and are actively trying. They eat junk food or don't like exercise. They suffer from weight-related health problems. They previously tried dieting and gave up. They don't want lose weight, or are Fat and Proud.

Note that a character being victimized in one of the ways listed above doesn't mean that they are automatically a "good" or "bad" victim. It also goes without saying that not all differences between good and bad victimhood are purely arbitrary and meaningless—consider the difference between someone who breaks their leg helping rescue a puppy and someone who breaks their leg while committing a felony, for instance. It simply reflects how the audience perceives them, making this less of a prescriptive trope and more of a descriptive trope. Furthermore, it doesn't have to be as binary as proclaiming "good" victims completely innocent and "bad" victims as fully deserving; it can be more subtle, like a "good" victim being Played for Drama and a "bad" victim being Played for Laughs.

Compare Good Flaws, Bad Flaws, Asshole Victim, and Values Dissonance. Compare and contrast Acceptable and Unacceptable Targets.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    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, no matter how good they were in life.
  • X-Men: Mutants are feared and despised for having natural powers, yet people like Spider-Man and Mister 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 (notably The Hulk and Spider-Man), 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. This four part essay goes into more detail about the reasons why humans hate Mutants.

  • 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 interviewed 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 tell 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.
  • Cited in Malice. When Tracy sues Jed for removing her ovaries due to his mistaken belief that they were necrotic and would have killed her via sepsis, his lawyer describes her as "A lovely young woman married to a handsome young man. He's an English teacher, she's a hospital volunteer. They buy a big old house and want to fix it up and fill it with children. That is a Norman Rockwell painting and you slashed it to bits with your scalpel." But when her husband Andy discovers that she'd been cheating on him, he goes to Jed and urges him to fight against the settlement, pointing out that the large amount was because "The jury thought they were dealing with Snow White. What if Snow White were sleeping with her lawyer?".
  • The World of Suzie Wong - the snobby expats of Hong Kong view Suzie as a 'Bad' victim because she's a sex worker who's also poor and with an abrasive personality.

  • 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.
  • Extensively discussed in Asking For It by Louise O'Neill, in which a teenage girl is gang-raped at a party. Her insular, rural community completely turns against her; they do not see her as a victim because she's known to be promiscuous, has a spoiled and bitchy attitude, and was drinking and taking drugs at the party.
  • No Virgin and No Shame by Anne Cassidy are based around a teenage girl who's groomed by a wealthy young man that lures her into being raped by his older brother. When she finds the courage to report it to the police, the defence uses this trope to claim she's lying; portraying her as promiscuous and even using her sister (an underage mother) as "proof" that she wasn't raped. The jury believes it, and acquits.
  • In The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman, town outcast Ella mysteriously conceives a baby after arriving at her debutante ball in an obviously injured and disheveled state. The narrator openly admits that people surmised she'd been raped, but no one really cared since she was so unpopular. Ella's daughter goes on to be horribly bullied by the kids in town, and even the adults think she "deserves it" because of who her mother is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Footballers Wives had a groupie raped while unconscious at a party of footballers who is paid 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 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 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.
  • Oz:
    • A bizarre variation on this happens 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.
    • Deconstructed in one storyline when Beecher trades homophobic rapist Adam Guenzel to the Aryans as a sex slave, having decided he deserves it after having to deal with the man's entitlement and ingratitude. He eventually realizes that Guenzel doesn't deserve the Aryans' horrific abuse in spite of his crimes, but by then it's too late; they've already murdered him for proving to be too much of a liability.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Law & Order, Logan states that he believes "there are some women who provoke [domestic violence]", citing his own mother as an example. Given that his mother used to take it out on him, though, it's understandable that he doesn't have much sympathy for her (or for the Victim of the Week's mother, who Logan says reminds him of his own mother).
    • In a series one episode, Greevey demonstrates this attitude towards a young murder victim and implies she could expect to be abused or killed because of her supposed promiscuity (based on no evidence other than her having had at least two past boyfriends.)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit runs on deconstructing 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. In another episode, despite one of the perpetrators confessing on the stand to rape, the judge overrides the jury's guilty verdict, claiming that the defendants had no way of knowing the victim didn't want it, as they've seen her in adult films getting fake-raped on camera.
    • Early seasons of the show, in particular, discuss this trope relative to the detectives' own biases, with the phrase "we don't get to pick the vic[tim]" cropping up with regularity.
  • During General Hospital's AIDS storyline, Stone Cates often ran into people with this attitude—AJ Quartermaine expressed annoyance at how much attention was being paid to AIDS research while other equally deadly illnesses didn't receive nearly as much support (additionally, having just spent the past year watching his mother battle breast cancer, it's understandable he'd be ticked off at the lack of funds dedicated to fighting it). Unfortunately, he promptly undermined his point with his suggestion that those with AIDS had done something stupid to get it (drugs, unsafe sex), while those with the other diseases presumably got it through no fault of their own. Later in the storyline, Stone ran into two women with a similar mindset—while they had nothing but sympathy for children who were afflicted, they had none for people like him, who'd contracted it via unsafe sex.
  • On Sex and the City after Samantha developed breast cancer, she asked her doctor why it had happened, given that she had always taken good care of her health. When he replied that certain lifestyle choices put some women at higher risk (not having children, etc), she explodes at him and accuses him of thinking that "I'm a whore who deserves to get cancer!". When she seeks out another doctor, she chats with another woman who reveals that she is a nun—someone else who has never had children—and realizes that she isn't being punished for some unknown sin.
  • Mentioned on The Golden Girls, while Rose waits for the results of her HIV test, snapping at Blanche, "You must have slept with hundreds of men!". When Blanche angrily demands to know if that means that she should be the one worrying, Rose further steps in it by claiming, "I'm a good person." Blanche tells her "AIDS is not a "bad person" disease, it is not God punishing people for their sins!"
  • Designing Women had an infamous Very Special Episode in which, after agreeing to plan a funeral for a gay man terminally ill with AIDS, the main characters come up against a bigoted woman who believes AIDS is "killing all the right people" (homosexuals and drug users) and God's way of eradicating sinners. Julia retorts that, if this were true, the woman herself would have contracted it by now. The writer of the episode ("Killing All The Right People"), heard somebody say this about AIDS victims in the hospital where her mother was getting treated for it (having been infected due to a blood transfusion) and wrote her outrage about it into the story.
  • 13 Reasons Why discusses this when Jessica is unwilling to come forward about Bryce's rape of her, and compares herself unfavorably to Hannah. She views Hannah as a 'Good' victim - a lonely girl bullied and slut-shamed by boys she didn't do anything with, who ultimately committed suicide over it. She views herself as a 'Bad' victim for being something of an Alpha Bitch who broke off her friendship with Hannah over jealousy that her ex-boyfriend appeared to have a thing for her, and the fact that the rape happened while she was very drunk at a Wild Teen Party. More importantly Jessica feels Hannah makes a better victim because she's white and Jessica herself is mixed race (she even straightens her hair for court to look more anglo.
  • Saved by the Bell's infamous "Jessie's Song" was supposed to have Jessie get addicted to amphetamines, but the network worried it would make her a 'Bad' victim to get addicted to illegal substances. So to make her a 'Good' victim, she gets addicted to...caffeine pills.
  • Game of Thrones has an infamous scene in Season 4 where Jaime and Cersei have sex next to their son's corpse, which is only semi-consensual on Cersei's part - and some fans view it as outright rape. But as Cersei is one of the most despicable villains on the show, she's seen as a 'Bad' victim.
  • Unbelievable: Marie suffers a version of this, not only from the detectives but her foster mother, a fellow rape victim, who thinks her reaction was "off". This makes the detectives suspicious, and then finding a very minor inconsistency in her statement convinces the two Marie made it all up.
  • Discussed in an episode of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates where Hetty goes undercover at a women's refuge. Hetty comments that an educated, affluent resident of the shelter isn't there because of her social class; the woman patiently explains that it doesn't work that way.
  • Dark Desire: Alma discusses this in her class, saying how "femicides" (i.e. homicides of women) with a victim who was either promiscuous or at least thought to be such get far less sympathy and police attention.
  • True Blood: When Jason is gang-raped by female werepanthers, he views it as God punishing him for being a womanizer, and when he tells the story to Hoyt afterwards, Hoyt says nothing to dispute that view, implying that he agrees. This pissed off a lot of viewers for suggesting that someone can deserve to get raped, and even if Jason did sleep around, his sex partners were consenting adults who were promised nothing, meaning there was nothing to "punish" in the first place.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Orlesian Empire is infamous for conquering and occupying most of its neighbors, especially Ferelden (the setting of the first game) and the Elven Dales. Their conquering Ferelden is depicted as 100% inexcusable in-universe and out, yet their conquer of the Elven Dales is frequently dismissed as the elves' own fault because they didn't help against the Blight a few decades before, and were acting too "isolationist" and "unfriendly" when Orlais sent missionaries and trade caravans (even though Orlais was leading Imperialist expansion campaigns against their other neighbors at the time, and the elves had very good reason not to trust them). note 
    • Even characters who feel sorry for mages tend to feel this way about blood mages. It doesn't matter how badly the mage was abused by Templars beforehand; as soon as they're discovered to have dabbled in blood magic (even if they never used it to hurt anyone) they're instantly deemed unworthy of any sympathy, at fault for anything bad that happened to them, and condemned to death or Tranquility.
    • If a character massacres a human noble family, like Rendon Howe to the Cousland family in DAO and Thom Rainier to his commander's entire family in DAI, they are depicted as complete monster and the family as unambiguous victims. However, if a character massacres mages or elves, odds are the narrative treats it as a morally ambiguous, if not justifiable, decision; along with in-universe justifications for what the mages and/or elves did or might have done to deserve getting killed.
  • Dragon Age II: Most mage characters are depicted sympathetically for all the horrors and abuses they suffer under Templars... until they're discovered to have dabbled in blood magic and/or demon summon. Then they're Always Chaotic Evil and/or Too Dumb to Live. Even Anders, the most notoriously pro-mage companion in the franchise, doesn't feel blood mages deserve any sympathy or second chances.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Elven companion Sera has a lot of pity for the nondescript "common folk" (Andrastian humans, "non-elfy" elves, and surface dwarves) who are oppressed by cruel and abusive nobles, but has no such pity for mages or "elfy" elves. She figures that the former's magic being dangerous to the common folk and the latter's wariness toward human commoners means they deserve how they're treated.
  • 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.