The phrase "guilty scapegoat" sounds like an oxymoron, but I'm thinking of a situation where several guilty persons have committed an offense together, and the offense is finally discovered, but the other guilty members blame only 1 person in their party to take the blame off of them. The especially involves the case when the person blamed is the least powerful and least blameworthy of the entire offending group (but certainly still blameworthy).

  • It's not a single word, but to make an example of (someone) is also common: "To punish (a person who has done something wrong) as a way of warning other people not to do the same thing" m-w
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


Whether guilty or not, he is made a scapegoat.

If the rest had managed to make that guy the scapegoat, then they have gotten away scot-free which means they are not guilty. Scapegoat = (made to be) guilty so guilty seems to redundant.

This is like a play on words.

  • 3
    Those who are not scapegoats can be guilty; and a scapegoat can also be innocent. The only thing that being a scapegoat does is to accuse somebody of something. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 2:15
  • "guilty or not, he is made a scapegoat" -- agreed. Maybe if only there could be a more specific expression where he is expressly not guilty, per Q.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 11:10

A term with a fairly close meaning is fall guy. It is probably used more widely in the U.S. than elsewhere, usually in the context of various machinations that are not obviously illegal or improper, but may turn out to be so, or be embarrassing if discovered. Unlike scapegoat, the term carries a suggestion that those involved in the wrongdoing planned from the beginning that one of them would take the blame if they are discovered, and so enable the others to get away with it.


The person was singled out.

Merriam-Webster has

to treat or to speak about (someone or something in a group) in a way that is different from the way one treats or speaks about others

Cambridge Dictionary has

to choose one person or thing from a group for special attention, especially criticism or praise:

It's not fair the way my sister is always singled out for special treatment.

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