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Concept of Victimology | Theories of Victimology


Concept of Victimology | Theories of Victimology

Victimology as an academic term contains two elements: One is the Latin word “Victima” which translates into “victim”. The other is the Greek word “logos” which means a system of knowledge. There was not victimology as such in the form of today. It was embodies within the framework of penal policy in Hindu Legal system. It is evident from Manusmriti and Yagyabalka Smriti which provided the provision of compensation for victims. [1]

Victimology is an academic study of cause and origin of victims, the study of victims and provisions to release victims from the causes and problems. If the notion of ‘crime victim’ is a relatively new phenomenon, victimology is an even newer concept.

One of the first studies to examine crime victims was Hans von Henting’s book The Criminal and His Victim Published in 1948, this book examines the relationship between the criminal and the victim. Born in Germany, Von Hentig (1887-1974) moved to the United States prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. When his book was published in 1948, Von Hentig worked as a Professor at Yale University. Hans Von Hentig was a criminologist and his interest in the victim was solely criminological. He was not concerned about victims and how they were impacted by crime. Instead, Von Hentig wanted to study victims in order to understand crime and criminals. He believed that with this knowledge we could not only catch the criminal but we could also prevent crimes from happening in the first place. In his book, Von Hentig paints a picture of the complex relationship between the criminal and his victim, using homicide data from the United States and Germany. [2]

A second key figure in the history of victimology is Benjamin Mendelsohn (1900-1998). Born in Roumania, where he studied law and later worked as a defense lawyer, Mendelsohn was the first person to use the word victimology. In 1956, Mendelsohn’s seminal work was published in the Revue de droit penal et de criminologie. In this article, titled. A New Branch of the Bio-Social-Science: Victimology (translated from French by the author). Mendelsohn lays the ground work for a new science, which he calls victimology and sees as a separate discipline from criminology. While Mendelsohn, like Von Hentig, is interested in understanding the victim offender relationship, like Von Hentig, is interested in understanding the victim offender relationship-or the penal couple as he calls them-his interest in the victim goes beyond explaining crime. In this article, Mendelsohn asks why society has for so long ignored victims and left them to carry the burden of the consequences of crime. He argues in favour of a science of victimology in which victims and victimizations are studied just as criminology studies crime and criminals. Besides the world victimology, in this article Mendelsohn introduced new terms such as victimal (the opposite of criminal) and victinuality (the opposite of criminality). Using American statistics on motor vehicle accidents, he developed a victimality index in order to indicate the risk of victimization. Like Von Hentig. Mendelsohn emphasizes the importance of prevention and sees this as a main goal of victimology.

The conceptualization of victimology as a formal discipline was born in the mind of the Romanian defense attorney Benjamin Mendelsohn. His interest in victims and their relationships with offenders began when he was trying to defend persons accused of crimes. He became aware of how important it was to understand the victim/offender interaction to determine degrees of offender blame. Eventually going beyond victim and offender interaction, Mendelsohn recognized that victims were largely ignored, disrespected and even abused by the system. Thus, he began to seek ways to protect and help victims by proposing the creation of victim assistance clinics, international organizations, and special research institutes.

Like most of his contemporaries, Mendelsohn’s early work with victimology was mostly about crime victims and their relationship with their offenders; however, as he began to develop his ideas, his focus centered more on just the victim. This orientation reached its peak with the realization that victimology logically should be about the concern for all types of victims, from crimes, traffic accidents, disasters, etc. He referred to this broader type of victimology as “general victimology”. Today there are roughly three types of victimologiests: those whose focus is limited to crime victims (specific); those whose focus is on human rights victims (which includes crime victims); and those who focus in on all victims regardless of the cause (general). Victimology today is an interdisciplinary field drawing especially from law, criminology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science. [3]

Real interest in victimology began after the Second World War. Mendelsohn claimed that the idea of victimology was planted prior to the War however; the germination of this idea was interrupted by the War and only picked up again after the War was over. One might argue that the birth of victimology, like that of human rights, was inspired by the atrocities committed during the war. However, that is unlikely as victimologiests did not write about events like the Holocaust until the late 960s. The first victimologists focused on victims of crime. The early works in victimology were inspired by criminologists and criminal justice professionals who, in their effort to understand crime, introduced the notion of victims into academic discussions on crime. With this, interest emerged not only in the role of victims of crime but also in the plight of victims as the forgotten party of the criminal justice system.

Thus it can be said that the word “Victimology” was coined in 1947 by a French lawyer, Benjamin Mendelsohn from a Latin word ‘Victima’ and a Greek world ‘logos’. Victimology is basically a study of crime from the point of view of the victim, of the persons suffering from injury or destruction by action of another person or a group of persons.

[1] Dussich, “The Challenges of Victimology.” [2] [3] Ibid.

Development of Victimology

The very early origins of victimology can be found in somewhat unrelated writings of a few insightful persons in: a novel about murder victims by Franz Werfel in 1920; a small chapter on victims in an American criminology textbook by Edwin Sutherland in 1924; a Cuban book about protecting crime victims by J.R. Figueroa, D. Tejera and F. Pla in 1929 ; a major chapter about victims in a criminology book by Hans von Hentig in 1948; a sentence about the need for “a science of victimology” in a book on violence by an American psychiatrist, Fredric Westham, in 1948; and, a speech on victimology in Romania by Beniamin Mendelsohn in 1958. They came the first full book on victim restitution in the English language by a Hungarian criminologist, Stephen Schafer, in 1960; a dissertation on victimology published as a Japanese book by Koichi Miyazwa 1965; and, finally, the first victimology textbook, also by Stephen Schafer, in 1968. [1]

Although writing about the victim appeared in many early works by such criminologiests as Beccaria (1764), Lombroso (1876), Ferri (1891), Garofalo (1885), Sutherland (1924), Hentig (1948), Nagel (1949), Ellenberger (1955), Wolfgang (1958) and Schafer (1968), the concept of a science to study victims and the word “victimology” had its origin with the early writings of Beniamin Mendelsoh, these leading to his seminal work where he actually proposed the term “victimology” in his article “A New Branch of Bio-Psycho-Social Science, Victimology” (1956). It was in this article that he suggested the establishment of an international society of victimology which has came to fruition with the creation of the World Society of Victimology, teh establishment of a number of victimological institutes (including the creation here in Japan of the Tokiwa International Victimology Institute); and, the establishment of international journals which are now also a part of this institute. Mendelsohn provided us with his victimology vision and blueprint; and, as his disciples we have followed his guidance. We now refer to Mendelsohn as “The Father of Victimology.” [2]

The beginnings of the academic discipline of victimology can be traced back to several articles, books, and research projects initiated by criminologists during the 1940s and 1950s. By the 1970s, victimology had become a recognized field of study with its own national and international professional organizations, conferences, and journals.

Diverse views exist on the focus and place of the discipline of Victimology. While some believe that Victimology should function as an independent area of enquiry, others view it as a subfield of Criminology. A second issue concerns the breadth of victim related issues to be covered in the field of Victimology. Some scholars advocate that Victimology should limit itself to the study of victim-offender interaction. Others argue that the needs of crime victims, functioning of the organizations and institutions which respond to these needs, and the emerging roles and responsibility for crime victims within the CJS are important areas of inquiry for Victimology. A third issue is the breadth of the definition of the term ‘victim’. One approach is to limit the concept to victims of traditional crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary etc. However, it has also been proposed to include a broader definition of the concept by covering groups such as prisoners, immigrants, subjects of medical experimentation, and persons charged with crime but no proved guilty. [3]

In this section, there principal variants within the field of victimology-positivist, radical and critical victimology are briefly described and linked with the discrete tendencies within the diverse victim’s movement with which they are most chosely associated. [4]

Positivist Victimology

Positivist victimology, like its counterpart in criminology is influenced by the view that crime, along with all other natural and social phenomena, is caused by factors and processes which can be discovered by scientific investigation. But whereas positivist criminalists attribute the causes of crime to various forces (including environmental and genetic factors) that act upon offenders and are beyond their control, early positivist victimologists were interested in the possibility that certain victims might in some way contribute to their own victimization.

Von Hentig and Mendelsohn, for example, were interested in observing and identifying regularities or non-randomized patterns of victimizing events, and in linking these to particular types of victim who could then be categorized within various typologies. For instance, victims were classified according to how victim prone they were, in von Hentig’s case, or even (and far more controversially) according to the degree of culpability exhibited by the victim, in Mendelsohn’s case. The influence of positivist victimology can be discerned as the policy making level with regard to both the development and deployment of victim survey techniques and also the launch of official campaigns to encourage victims who may be susceptible to various types of victimization to take steps to reduce the risks involved.

A major weakness with positivist victimology, however, is that it assumes that the identity of victims is self-evident, since it is linked to the harm that they have sustained and the fact that their status is defined and recognized by the criminal law. Thus, there is a tendency to concentrate almost exclusively on victims of conventional interpersonal crimes, particularly those involving violence and predatory attitudes towards the property of others.

Radical Victimology

Radical victimology resembles its criminological counterpart in rejecting the theoretical underpinnings of positivist victimology. Instead of seeing victimization as a product of the personal attributes of individual victims, early radical criminologists such as Quinney drew attention to structural factors relating to the way society is organized, and also the role of the state itself and the legal system in the social construction of both victims and offenders. From this perspective, the definition and identity of victims is far from self-evident since it extends to those who are oppressed, and thus victimized, both by the powerful, and also by those who act on behalf of the state, including the police and correctional agencies. For many radical, such insights resulted in a tendency to see offenders as the principal victims of state oppression and to downplay or ignore altogether those who were in turn victimized by them. This realignment within the field of radical victimology is also reflected in certain specific tendencies within the wider victim’s movement. At a political and policymaking level the concerns of new left realism were mirrored in a commitment to improving the lot of ordinary victims without necessarily adopting the highly repressive responses towards offenders that are associated with more conservative law and order advocates. At a practitioner level, the quest for a human rights approach was manifested in a search for more constructive ways of dealing with both victims and offenders that sought as far as possible to meet the needs and interests of both.

Thus, certain strands within radical victimology are reflected in more liberal approaches with regard t penal policy, such as the promotion of state-funded compensation schemes, support for restitution or compensation for victims by their offenders and even attempts at reconciliation. In this respect, some of the early progenitors of the restorative justice movement espoused aims that were certainly consistent with, even if they were not directly inspired by, some of these developments within radical victimology.

However, radical victimology has in turn been criticized for its partial and incomplete portrayal of the processes of victimization since it tends to confine its analysis to the impact of social class relationships while neglecting other factors such as gender, race and age. Attempts to overcome these limitations have drawn on two main perspectives: the first derived from an approach within critical criminology that is known as symbolic interactions; and the second form feminist accounts. Despite the differences between them, both approaches have appropriated the label critical victimology, which represents the third main variant within the field of victimology.

Critical Victimology

Critical victimology has highlighted the importance of historical and cultural contexts in shaping both victimizing practices and our sensitivities towards them. Even more importantly, perhaps, critical victimology should alert us to the fact that concepts such as victim and victimization are contested and, being historically and culturally specific, are both malleable and far from universal. It is also worth pointing out that, perhaps because of the sympathy that it evokes, the image of the victim is capable of being invoked and sometimes even manipulated or exploited, whether to serve the interests of victims per se, particular groups of victims or even other objectives altogether.

  • The term victimology in past was used to describe the study of individuals harmed by criminals. Today, victimology refers generally to the scientific study of victims and victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, investigators, courts, corrections, media, and social movements. The study of victims and victimization has the potential of reshaping the entire discipline or criminology. It might very well be the long awaited paradigm shift that criminology desperately needs given the dismal failure of its traditional paradigms: search for causes of crime, deterrence, rehabilitation, treatment, just desserts, etc.
  • The victim is essentially an inseparable part of crime. Therefore the phenomenon of crime cannot be comprehensively explained without incorporating the victim of a crime. Crime victim, despite being an integral part of crime and a key factor in criminal justice system, remained a forgotten entity as his/her status got reduced only to report crime and appear in the court as witness and routinely faces postponements, delays, rescheduling, and other frustrations. All their means loss of earnings, waste of time, payment of transportation and other expenses, discouragement, and the painful realization that the system does not live up to its ideals and does not serve its constituency, but instead serves only itself. Many believe that the victim is the most disregarded participant in criminal justice proceedings.

    [1] Ibid. [2] Ibid. [3] Andrew Karmen, Crime Victim: An Introduction to Victimology, 8th ed. (USA: Thomson Wadsworth California 2013). [4] Mrs. Nirmala Glory, 2009, “Criminology: Teaching Material, “Ethiopian Legal Brief, accessed July 5, 2016, https://chilot.me/2015/06/30cassation-decisions-volume-17table-of-contents/criminology/pdf.

    Theories of Victimology

    Victimology is a young field with roots in the late 1940s. Since that time, several generations of scholars have advanced its theoretical beginnings and promoted the reemergence of interest in the victim thought a wide range of research questions and methods.

    There is a common agreement that the origins of the victim logical theory in criminology are indisputably related to the names of the following scholars; Von Hentig, Wertham and Mendelsohn in 1941, Von Hentig published an article titled “Remarks on the Interaction of the Perpetrator and the Victim” and later, in 1948, he published the criminology book titled The Criminal and His Victim, where an entire chapter was related to the victim of a crime. Von Hentig perceived the victim as a participant in a crime and classified the victims according to the nature of their participation in a crime. He also emphasized that the study of the victim’s role in a crime might lead to better crime prevention. [1]

    Benjamin Meldelsohn propounded a three model theory of victimology. Later Cohen and Felson in 1979 came out with their ‘Routine Activities Theory’, which presupposes that the crime occurs when three conditions come together, namely (i) suitable target (ii) motive offender (iii) absence of security or parental care or guardianship. [2]

    A number of theories have been advanced to explain in regards to victimization, which are illustrated in subsequent paragraphs in detail.

    First Generation: Early Victimologists

    First-generation scholarly work in victimology proposed victim typologies based on the offender-victim dyad in a criminal act. Common to the ideas of these early victimologists was that each classified victims in regard to the degree to which they had caused their own victimization. These early theoretical reflections pushed the budding field of victimology in a direction that eventually led to a reformulation of the definition of victimization.

    A. Hans Von Hentig

    German criminologist Hans Von Hentig developed a typology of victims based on the degree to which victims contributed to causing the criminal act. Examining the psychological, social, and biological dynamics of the situation, he classified victims into thirteen categories depending on their propensity or risk for victimization. His typology included the young, female, old, immigrants, depressed, wanton, tormentor, blocked, exempted, or fighting. His notion that victims contributed to their victimization thought their actions and behaviors led to the development of the concept of “victim-blaming” and is seen by many victim advocates as an attempt to assign equal culpability to the victim.

    B. Benjamin Mendeisohn

    Benjamin Mendelsohn, an attorney, has often been referred to as the “father’ of victimology. Intrigued by the dynamics that take place between victims and offenders, he surveyed both parties during the course of preparing a case for trial. Using these data, he developed a six, category typology of victims based on legal considerations of the degree of a victim’s culpability. This classification ranged from the completely innocent victim (e.g., a child or a completely unconscious person) to the imaginary victim (e.g., persons suffering from mental disorders who believe they are victims).

    C. Marvin E. Wolfgang

    The first empirical evidence to support the notion that victims are to some degree responsible for their own victimization was presented by Marvin E. Wolfgang, who analyzed Philadelphia’s police homicide records from 1948 thought 1952. He reported that 26% of homicides resulted from victim precipitation. Wolfgang identified three factors common to victim-precipitated homicides; (i) the victim and offender had some prior interpersonal relationship, (ii) there was a series of escalating disagreements between the parties, and (iii) the victim had consumed alcohol.

    D. Stephen Schafer

    Moving from classifying victims on the basis of propensity of risk and yet still focused on the victim offender relationship, Stephen Schafer’s typology classifies victims on the basis of their “functional responsibility.” Victims’ dual role was to function so that they did not provoke others to harm them while also preventing such acts. Schafer’s seven-category functional responsibility typology ranged from no victim responsibility (e.g., unrelated victims, those who are biologically weak), to some degree of victim responsibility (e.g., precipitate victims), to total victim responsibility (e.g., self-victimizing).

    E. Manachem Amir

    Several years later, Menachem Amir in 1971 undertook one of the first studies of rape. On the basis of the details in the Philadelphia police rape records, Amir reported that 19% of all forcible rapes were victim precipitated by such factors as the use of alcohol by both parties; seductive actions by the victim; and the victim’s wearing of revealing clothing, which could tantalize the offender to the point of misreading the victim’s behavior. His work was criticized by the victim’s movement and the feminist movement as blaming the victim.

    Second Generation: Theories of Victimization

    The second generation of theorists shifted attention from the role of the victim toward an emphasis on a situational approach that focuses on explaining and testing how lifestyles and routine activities of everyday life create opportunities for victimization. The emergence of these two theoretical perspectives is one of the most significant developments in the field of victimology.

    A. Lifestyle Exposure Theory

    Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo in 1978 noticed that certain groups of people, namely, young people and males, were more likely to be criminally victimized. They theorized that an individual’s demographics (e.g., age, sex) tended to influence one’s lifestyle, which is turn increased his or her exposure to risk of personal and property victimization. Using the principle of homogeny, Hindelang et al. in 1978 also argued that lifestyles that expose people to a large share of would be offenders increase one’s risk of being victimized. Homogamy would explain why young persons are more likely to be victimized than older people, because the young are more likely to hang out with other youth, who commit a disproportionate amount of violent and property crimes. According to this explanation, the probability of crime depends partially on the activities of the victim. Crime is more likely when victims place themselves in jeopardy.

    B. Routine Activities Theory

    Cohen and Felson in 1979 formulated routine activities theory to explain changes in aggregate direct-contact predatory (e.g., murder, forcible rape, burglary) crime rates in the United States from 1947 through 1974. Routine activities theory posits that the convergence in time and space of a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian provide an opportunity for crimes to occur. The absence of any one of these conditions is sufficient to drastically reduce the risk of criminal opportunity, if not prevent it altogether.

    Routine activities theory does not attempt to explain participation in crime but instead focuses on how opportunities for crimes are related to the nature of patterns of routine social interaction, including one’s work, family, and leisure activities. So, for example, if someone spends time in public places such as bars or hanging out on the streets, he or she increases the likelihood of coming into contact with a motivated offender in the absence of a capable guardian.

    It argues that victimization is dependent on the routine activities of people’s daily lives. The volume and distribution of predatory crimes depends on (i) the availability of suitable targets; (ii) the absence of capable guardians; and (iii) the presence of motivated offenders. In other words, as people move about, there must be opportunities (suitable targets), and it must appear that no one will be present, or that no one will intervene if they do observe the crime, “Capable guardians” refers to citizens who are watchful and who would take effective action if the saw criminal activity. Of course, even if there were opportunities and no one to observe activity, crime would not occur if they were not motivated to commit a crime.

    Routine activities theory accounts for the increase in crime since the 1960s as a function of changes in activities. For example, the traditional neighborhood in the city has declined as many people have left for the suburbs, leaving fewer capable guardians. There are less people at home. Party this is because more women have entered the workforce rather than staying home, but perhaps more importantly more people have automobiles and more places available for them to go, and simply stay home less. The volume of wealth that can be easily transported has increased. Such changes have meant that there are more opportunities for crime as a function of people’s daily routines. Most of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States have all experienced increases in crime in the latter part of the 20th century, and many of these changes have occurred in these countries.

    C. Empirical Support

    Different researchers commonly have used lifestyle exposure and routine activity theories to test hypotheses about how individuals’ daily routines expose them to victimization risk. These theories have been applied principally to examine opportunities for different types of personal and property victimizations using diverse samples that range from school-age children, to college students, to adults in the general population across the United States and abroad. The data are generally supportive of the theories, although not all studies fully support the theories.

    Third Generation: Refinement and Empirical Tests of Opportunity Theories of Victimization

    Miethe and Meier developed an integrated theory of victimization in 1994, called structural choice theory, which attempts to explain both offender motivation and the opportunities for victimization. This further refinement of opportunity theories of victimization was an important contribution to the victimology literature.

    One of the first studies of opportunity theories for predatory crimes was conducted by Sampson and Wooldredge, who used data form teh 1982 British Crime Survey. Their findings showed that individual and household characteristics were significant predictors of victimization, as were neighborhood-level characteristics. For example, although age of the head of the household was an important indicator of burglary, the percentage of unemployed persons in the area also predicted burglary.

    Victimization theories have been expanded to examine non predatory crimes and “victimless” crimes, such as gambling and prostitution and deviant behavior such as heavy alcohol use and dangerous drinking in young adults. The theories have also been applied to a wide range of crimes in different social contexts, such as school-based victimization in secondary schools, stalking among college students and even explanations of the link between victimization and offending. Other scholars have examined how opportunity for victimization is linked to social contexts and different types of locations, such as the workplace, neighborhoods and college campuses.

    Fourth Generation: Moving Beyond Opportunity Theories

    Work by SChreck and his colleagues suggests that antecedents to opportunity, such as low self-control, social bonds, and peer influences, have also been found to be important predictors of violent and property victimization, Schreck, Wright, and Miller examined the effects of individual factors (e.g., low self-control, weak social ties to family and school), and situational risk factors (e.g., having delinquent peers, having a lot of unstructured social time) on the risk of victimization.

    The most recent attempt to create a unified comprehensive theory of victimization within the scope of general victimology was created by John Dussich in 1985 with the presentation of his Social Copy Theory. This has recently (2004) been revised to the Psycho Social Coping Theory.

    The essential ingredients of this model are to consider the existence of personal resources in the victim’s environment that exist at the time of the victimizaiton. Persons who have an adequate number or type of resources are able to thwart their victimization; it the victimization is not thwarted, the injury can be diminished, and the victim is able to recover sooner. Those with fewer personal resources in their environment will be more vulnerable to victimization, greater injury, and less recovery. The unique aspect of this theory is that it serves to both explain victimizations for ll sources and it is useful to assist victims in their recovery process.

    [1] Miomira Kostic, “Victimology: A Contemporary Theoretical Approach to Crime and Its Victim”, Facta Universitatis, accessed November 7, 2016, http://facta.junis.ni.ac.rs/lap/lap/2010/lap2010-04.pdf. [2] Ahuja, Criminology, 664.

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