Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology

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Abstract

This report will provide the information about the evolution of the concept of "victim" and the study of victimology. Victimology is a term first coined for a specialty within the field of criminology. In recent times, victimology has come to embrace a wide array of professional disciplines working with victims. In its original form, victimology examined characteristics of victims and how they "contributed" to their victimization. The emergence of the crime victims' rights movement has influenced the field of victimology and the nature of the research. Current research has been helpful in identifying risk factors related to victimization, without blaming victims.

The concept of victim dates back to ancient cultures and civilizations, such as the ancient Hebrews. Its original meaning was rooted in the idea of sacrifice or scapegoat -- the execution or casting out of a person or animal to satisfy a deity or hierarchy. Over the centuries, the word victim came to have additional meanings. During the founding of victimology in the 1940s, victims were defined as hapless dupes who instigated their own victimizations. This notion of "victim precipitation" was replaced by the notion of victims as anyone caught up in an asymmetric relationship or situation. "Asymmetry" means anything unbalanced, exploitative, parasitical, oppressive, and destructive, alienating, or having inherent suffering. In this view, victimology is all about power differentials. Today, the concept of victim includes any person who experiences injury, loss, or hardship due to any cause. Basically it is the image of someone who has suffered injury and harm by forces beyond his or her control. The term "crime victim" generally refers to any person, group, or entity who has suffered injury or loss due to illegal activity. The harm can be physical, psychological, or economic. The legal definition of "victim" typically includes the following: A person who has suffered direct, or threatened, physical, emotional or pecuniary harm as a result of the commission of a crime; or in the case of a victim being an institutional entity, any of the same harms by an individual or authorized representative of another entity. Group harms are normally covered under civil and constitutional law, with "hate crime" being an emerging criminal law development, although criminal law tends to treat all cases as individualized. Besides "primary crime victims", there are also "secondary crime victims" who experience the harm second hand, such as intimate partners or significant others of rape victims or children of a battered woman. It may also make sense to talk about "tertiary crime victims" who experience the harm vicariously, such as through media accounts or from watching television. Many victims feel that defining themselves as a "victim" has negative connotations, and choose instead to define themselves as a "survivor." This is a very personal choice that can only be made by the person victimized. The term "survivor" has multiple meanings; e.g. survivor of a crime, "survivor benefits." It remains to be seen whether this terminology for victims of crime will endure. Victim defenses" have recently emerged in cases of parricide (killing one's parents) and homicide of batterers by abused spouses. Advocates for battered women were among the first to recognize the issue, and promote the "battered woman syndrome" to defend women who killed or seriously injured a spouse or partner after enduring years of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. Attorneys have also drawn upon theories of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder to defend their client's behavior. From time to time, media attention to these defenses becomes intense, and certain "high profile" cases tend to influence public opinion and spread confusion over who is the "victim" and who is the "victimizer." One of the goals of victimology as a science is to help end this state of societal confusion....
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