Week 1: Defining victims and victimology

In this introductory week we examine the definition of ‘victim’ and explore the origins of victimology.










Victim definition:

  • “Victims” means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.

From: UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice For Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, 1985

Read in full: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/40/a40r034.htm

Victimology definition:

  • Victimology is a relatively young branch of academic research. Its objective is to gain knowledge on victims of crime and abuse of power. Victimology has from its inception adopted an interdisciplinary approach to its subject matter. Contributions are being made by experts from fields as diverse as academic lawyers, criminologists, clinical and social psychologists, psychiatrists, political scientists and economists.

From: The International Victimology Institute, Tilburg http://www.tilburguniversity.edu/research/institutes-and-research-groups/intervict/about/background/

Why did victims become important?

  • Increase in official crime rates
  • Revelation of existing hidden crime by crime surveys
  • Heightened fear of crime
  • Public intolerance to increasing crime and disorder
  • Failure of offender treatment model, and its replacement with retributive justice linked to victims
  • Media reports of crime against vulnerable victims, and victims’ maltreatment by CJS
  • Recognition and politicisation by feminists, of the problem of violence against women/child abuse
  • Recognition and politicisation by civil action groups, of the problem of racist violence
  • Politicisation of rising crime rates by politicians focusing variously on ‘law and order’, ‘crime reduction’ and victims as ‘vote winners’
  • A movement towards citizens’ charters/patient rights that also includes victims

From: Goodey, J. (2005)

What victimologists do:

  • Step 1: Identify, define and describe the problem.
  • Step 2: Measure the true dimensions of the problem.
  • Step 3: Investigate the ways that victims are handled.
  • Step 4: Gather evidence to test hypotheses.

From: Karmen (2013)

Key figures in early victimology

Benjamin Mendelsohn – often referred to as the ‘father of victimology’. His major contributions were arguably the term ‘general victimology’ and a typology of crime victims.

Von Hentig; Ellenberger; and Schafer are also key names you should be aware of. You can find out a little more about all of these individuals in Chapter 2 of Burgess, A., Regehr, C., & Roberts, A. (2010). Victimology: Theories and applications. Jones & Bartlett Learning

Ideal victims

  • The ideal victim is someone who is portrayed as being completely innocent, beyond moral reproach.
  • They are often referred to as a ‘deserving’ victim – which can be quite a confusing term – it doesn’t mean that they deserved to be victimised, it means that they ‘deserve’ their victim status – they didn’t do anything which could be perceived as wrong
  • Ideal victims tend to get greater coverage in the media – we looked at the case study of Milly Dowler and Hannah Williams – both went missing, and the two investigations overlapped, but Milly received far greater media coverage. You can easily find information on both cases online.

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Relevant links:

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