Ideal Victim

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For the purpose of this essay I will be considering Nils Christie’s (1986) concept of the ‘ideal victim’. In considering this concept, I will discuss what is meant by an ‘ideal victim’ and will also be focusing on the high profile Australian criminal case of Anita Cobby in Blacktown on 2nd of February 1986. Anita Cobby was only 26 years old when she was abducted, brutally raped and murdered by four ‘ideal offenders’. This essay will also consider, the ways in which the media and criminal justice system have constructed Anita Cobby as an ‘ideal victim’.

Nils Christie explains that there are certain characteristics that make a victim an ‘ideal victim’. These characteristics are, young, old, weak, doing something respectable and legal, attacked by a stranger, in a public place, struggles valiantly and someone that brings the matter to the attention to the police (Christie, 1986). Individuals that perceive themselves to be the ‘ideal victim’, and those of which who are in the most danger of becoming victims do not necessarily fit under the term of an ‘ideal victim’.

As Christie (1986) states, an ‘ideal victim’ is ‘…a person or a category of individuals who - when hit by crime - most readily are given the complete and legitimate status of being a victim’. People that may have previously been in trouble with the law, also those with drug problems and the homeless would not be perceived as being an ‘ideal victim’, for they are seen to be not living a clean and pure lifestyle and are on the fringes of society. Also middle aged men are not perceived as being ‘ideal victims’ for they are seen to be strong not weak, and are able to protect themselves. For there to be an ‘ideal victim’ there needs to be an ‘ideal offender’, without one there cannot be the other. As noted by ‘….Christie (1986), the more ideal a victim is, the more ideal becomes the offender. The more ideal the offender, the more ideal is the victim.’ The ‘ideal offender’ is different from the ‘ideal victim’, it could actually be said that they are the complete opposites of one another. An ‘ideal offender’ is seen as a very evil, heinous psychopath that is disturbed and inhumane. They are also generally a stranger to the victim.

Greer (2007) noted that, ‘….there exists a hierarchy of victimisation, both reflected in the media and official discourses’. People that are classified as ideal victims generally attract higher levels of media attention than those that are seen to be undeserving victims. Undeserving victims are seen to be people that participate in violent or criminal behaviour themselves and may be hurt by another. The media also has a major influence on the wider communities’ perceptions of an ‘ideal victim’ and an ‘ideal offender’.

The media plays a very important role in the construction of an ‘ideal victim’, for they are the main source of information to the wider community. Media outlets help to portray selected victims as ‘ideal victims’ by informing the wider community of their innocence and vulnerability, while portraying the offender(s) as evil and inhumane. The media will also focus on newsworthy stories that will have the most impact on society. Thus, appealing to the wider communities own fear of crime and community safety. The media can also work with police in furthering their investigation in criminal cases, in the form of media conferences and re-enactments. This form of media coverage is used by the police to try and gain valuable information from the public to help them in furthering their investigations and help to bring the offender(s) to justice. The coverage is also beneficial to media outlets, for it gives their audience a more visual account of the crime and allows them to hear from the families about their pain and suffering.

The visualisation of victims and their families helps to make the story more real to the viewer and also helps to keep interest in the news for an extended period. As noted by ‘….Innes (2003), As...
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