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July 17, 1996

The Trouble With Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility

Author Affiliations

Georgetown University School of Medicine Washington, DC

JAMA. 1996;276(3):252-253. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540030086041

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In recent years, the public has been treated to a regular diet of sensational sexual abuse cases that have found their way into the courts. The Menendez brothers, who killed their parents, sought exculpation by claiming that extreme fear after years of psychological and sexual abuse propelled their crime. Lorena Bobbitt, who lopped off her husband's penis, mounted a successful insanity defense based on the battered wife syndrome. The legal defense of victimization has come to be called pejoratively the "abuse excuse."

The law is all or nothing—you either win or you lose. Society in general and many health care professionals in particular also hold extreme black-andwhite views concerning victims and perpetrators of abuse. Dr Lamb, an assistant professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, attempts to bring balance to this emotionally overwrought subject. In a clearly written, well-reasoned book, the author announces her main premise early: "In this book