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Beyond Blaming the Victim: Toward a More Progressive Understanding of Workplace Mistreatment

  • Lilia M. Cortina (a1), Verónica Caridad Rabelo (a2) and Kathryn J. Holland (a3)


Theories of human aggression can inform research, policy, and practice in organizations. One such theory, victim precipitation, originated in the field of criminology. According to this perspective, some victims invite abuse through their personalities, styles of speech or dress, actions, and even their inactions. That is, they are partly at fault for the wrongdoing of others. This notion is gaining purchase in industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology as an explanation for workplace mistreatment. The first half of our article provides an overview and critique of the victim precipitation hypothesis. After tracing its history, we review the flaws of victim precipitation as catalogued by scientists and practitioners over several decades. We also consider real-world implications of victim precipitation thinking, such as the exoneration of violent criminals. Confident that I-O can do better, the second half of this article highlights alternative frameworks for researching and redressing hostile work behavior. In addition, we discuss a broad analytic paradigm—perpetrator predation—as a way to understand workplace abuse without blaming the abused. We take the position that these alternative perspectives offer stronger, more practical, and more progressive explanations for workplace mistreatment. Victim precipitation, we conclude, is an archaic ideology. Criminologists have long since abandoned it, and so should we.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lilia M. Cortina, University of Michigan, Department of Psychology, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. E-mail:


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This article extends arguments appearing in the following chapter: Cortina, L. M. (2017). From victim precipitation to perpetrator predation: Toward a new paradigm for understanding workplace aggression. In N. Bowling & M. S. Hershcovis (Eds.), Research and theory on workplace aggression (pp. 121–135). New York: Cambridge University Press. Many thanks to Sandy Hershcovis, Mindy Bergman, Kim Lonsway, Abby Stewart, Rita Seabrook, and Jennifer Freyd for their feedback on earlier versions of this article.



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