Conceptions of Victimhood: Legal, Political, and Psychological Dimensions

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This dissertation focuses on conceptions of victimhood across legal, political, and psychological domains. Conceptions of victimhood, as they currently stand, delegitimize the claims of legitimate victims and impose undue burdens upon victims to respond in a socially correct way. My research can be divided into three subsections: 1) legal and political conceptions of victimhood and the delegitimization of legitimate claims to victim status, 2) societal burdens placed on victims unduly because of their victim status, and 3) psychological conceptions internal to victims that make self-identification of blamelessness and victim-status more difficult than current scholarship suggests.

I build an expanded definition of victimhood that recognizes victims of structural harms and a parallel conception of survivorhood that legitimizes the suffering of victims even if they are seen as complicit actors in the harm they suffer. After building up a more robust conception of who counts as a legitimate victim, I investigate the internal self-conception that victims construct in light of the societal conceptions that surround them. In particular, I show that many victims have psychological reactions to being harmed that are at odds with the social expectations for how a victim ought to feel and act in relation to themselves and their offenders. The trajectory of my project first deals with others’ conceptions of victims, then addresses the ethical obligations imposed on victims as a condition of their legitimacy, and finally examines the psychological reactions of victims and internalization folk legal and psychological conceptions.






Weese, Tara (2023). Conceptions of Victimhood: Legal, Political, and Psychological Dimensions. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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