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Victimology: One of Strand of Criminology

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Victimology or the study of victimisation is a strand of criminology that separates the victim from the perpetrator and concentrates on the victim rather than the crime. This took off in 1970, before then Victimology was originally used by Scholar Mendelsohn. Benjamin Mendelsohn was the founder and the first person to actively use the term ‘Victimology’. Mendelsohn found that there was a relationship between the victim and the criminal which needed to be explored further In 1947, Mendelsohn started writing about the concept of victimology in his article “A New Branch of Bio-Psycho-Social Science, Victimology”. In his article he had the idea of the formation of the international society of victimology, he wanted Victimology to be a separate component of criminology that focuses primarily on the victim. This was the beginning of victimology and the establishment of institutions. Today he is considered by many criminologists to be the father of criminology. Mendelsohn was fixated on the attitude of victims and the role it played in their victimisation. This essay will continue to look at Victims and victimology and its historical development within criminology.

Benjamin Mendelsohn came up with the typology of victim culpability and stated that there are six categories to which a victim is to blame. It is to be suggested that Benjamin deemed a vast majority of victims to be partially to blame as only one out of the six categories is a victim “completely innocent”. A completely innocent victim according to Mendelsohn was typically a child or those attacked while unconscious. Assumingly a conscious adult who is aware and yet a victim of a criminal offence to some degree was “asking for it”. An area that he worked on was the consent of women and how it has been handled in the criminal justice system, he stated how statutory rape and when a child is a victim it can be deemed as an “innocent victim”. Sengstock, M. C. (1976). “Victim due to ignorance” This is a victim that unknowingly puts themselves at risk of being victimized. Evidence has shown that women’s attire can be interpreted as a part of their character and their Willingness to have sex, provoking a male’s attention and the possibility of sexual assault. A survey was conducted by 449 universities in which they asked to which extent they would agree on a woman’s character by her attire. They agreed with the statement “You can pretty well tell a girl’s character by how she dresses” this implies attire is related to the chances of date rape. Following is “Voluntary Victim”. This is a victim that is involved in a hazardous scene. An example of this would be suicide, someone who commits suicide is a voluntary victim because they are choosing to go through with an act that makes them a victim. Victims more guilty than the offender would be somebody who provokes the offender, not necessarily the primary attacker although they end up in a worse position. An Illustration of this is seen in Fiona Levericks’s “Killing in Self-Defence” as she discusses a woman pleading for self-defense as she “kills to prevent rape”. The guiltiest victim is one of the last of the six categories in which a person provokes an attack but ends up a victim, using an example of sexual assault the offender being killed by the victim ultimately makes the offender “The guiltiest victim” The imaginary victim. This is a victim that gives false statements, depending on the case this could be due to psychological issues.

Looking more in-depth of the history of victims and victimology it has been reported that in 1660 the word victim was first used. It was originally used to describe someone who had been tortured or killed and the term ‘Victim’ shows an appearance of passiveness where the victim was originally viewed as the “sufferer”. Victims were often marginalized, and families would need to heal and find closure themselves. They would also need to find justice themselves instead of using the criminal justice system like individuals do today. Victims were often considered the forgotten party of the justice system having been largely underappreciated, ignored, and undervalued. Looking back in history women were seen more as victims having been marginalised also, but men would have a sense of toxic masculinity preventing them from reporting crimes. “What happens behind closed doors”, historically Police officers would not intervene with family affairs as it was seen to be the man’s job to solve thus many cases of domestic abuse never being reported. Another reason why victims were forgotten is due to the idea that catching a criminal is enough justice. This does not consider a victim’s emotional and physical well-being.

The focus of positivism etiology is to attempt to measure the level of victimization. It concentrates on three fears, the identification in an environment that shows a non-random risk of victimization, an emphasis on “interpersonal crimes of violence, and the identification of victims” who may be held to blame to their victimization. Positivist victimology looks at why some victims are more likely to be victimized potentially looking at their nature or nurture. Hans von Hentig is a key figure in the development of victimology, he was concerned with the relationship between victim and perpetrator. In his book ‘The criminal and his Victim’ he implied there were “psychological or social variables which make an individual prone to victimization”. Von Hentig said how the relationship between a victim and preparator is not random but there is a link between them. He also referred to a victim’s role in their victimization as ‘causative’, provoking or creating a situation leading to crime. Cohen and Felson formed the routine activity, according to the routine activity, there are three main areas that need to be exposed for a criminal event to take place. The first key area is a motivated offender, the second is a suitable target and the third a lack of capable guardians. Many tests have been carried out covering the theories on the motivation of the offender despite this there are not enough experiments on the preventive measures of people and organizations. 

A criticism of Positivist victimology is that the routine activity was created at a time when the majority of criminologists and their theories were focused primarily on the etiology of crime or the characteristics of individuals who commit crimes. Another criticism is the reliability on crime data, it also does not consider the dark figures of crime.

Victimology is an important element of criminology as it separates victims from the perpetrator. Criminals are primarily focused on in the media and on occasions, the criminal justice system pays more attention to the criminal by trying to gain justice. Victims often feel undervalued within the criminal justice system. 60 percent of crimes are reported to the police and only 2 percent result in conviction leaving victims to feel it unworthy to come forward but the way a victim is treated is an important factor as it contributes to potentially their willingness to come forward in the future or support those who feel less courageous on their own. 90 percent of reported crimes have been from victims or those on the behalf of the victims this shows how victims play a major role and thus a major role to victimology. Victimology also helps measure crime by studying the victimization. The overall risk of victimization is at its lowest with 28 percent of people being victims of crime in 1981, but less than 23 percent were victims of crime in 2006. There is a decrease in victimization which inevitably affects the crime rates showing the role a victim plays and its importance to criminology.

Victimology has drastically changed over time, in the last 20 years victim assistance has increased and spread globally. Before then it was non-existent. Another development of victimology is the formal approval by the general assembly of the united nations in November eleventh, 1985.” UN declaration of basic principles of justice for victims of crime and abuse of power. During the 1980s and ’90s legislation was passed, and the victim services programs were set up, this all aimed to help victims and improve their “unhappy lot” Fattah,1992, p260”. To conclude, it is clear that victimology plays a key role in criminology by helping measure crime and deviance, but also to ensure that victims are now being heard and not forgotten confirming they get the right support and more attention than previously in history giving victims the respect they deserve.

Bibliography

  1. Dickson, B. (1984). The Forgotten Party–The Victim of Crime. U. Brit. Colum. L. Rev., 18, 319.
  2. Miers, D. (1989). Positivist victimology: a critique. International review of victimology, 1(1), 3-22.
  3. Dignan, J. (2004). Understanding victims and restorative justice. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
  4. Van Dijk, J. J. (1997, August). Introducing victimology. In Caring for Crime Victims, Selected Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Victimology, Amsterdam.
  5. Leverick, F. (2014). Killing in Self-Defence (pp. 8.2). OUP Oxford.
  6. Fattah, E. A. (2000). Victimology today: Recent theoretical and applied developments. Resource material series, 56, 60-70.
  7. Workman, J. E., & Freeburg, E. W. (1999). An examination of date rape, victim dress, and perceiver variables within the context of attribution theory. Sex Roles, 41(3-4), 261-277.
  8. Dussich, J. P. (2006). Victimology–past, present and future. Resource Material Series, 70, 116-129.
  9. Jansson, K. (2007). British Crime Survey-measuring crime for 25 years. London: Home Office.
  10. Wolhuter, L. (2016). Victimology (p. 14). Routledge-Cavendish.
  11. Sengstock, M. C. (1976). The Culpable Victim in Mendelsohn’s Typology.
  12. Hollis-Peel, M. E (2011). Guardianship for crime prevention: A critical review of the literature. Crime, law and social change, p.54
  13. Walklate, S. (2007). Handbook of victims and victimology. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

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