• March 29th, 2016

Commentary – What About the Victim?

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Commentary – What About the Victim?
What About the Victim?
an adult female huddled in the corner of a room
We turn now from considerations of what causes crime to what we do about it. What we do about it involves considerations of justice and theories about how it is to be accomplished.

Nearly all criminological theories use the offender as a starting point of their analysis. The study of victimology provides a unique perspective in the field of criminology. This unique perspective considers how the victim’s behaviors can provide insight to understanding criminal behavior. Victimology is just that: it is the study of crime victims. As with traditional criminology, victimology can have a different emphasis or focus point; emphases might range from a focus on victim’s rights (in contrast to offender rights) to the intriguing and, at times, controversial notion of whether a victim bears any responsibility for their own victimization (known as shared responsibility)!

In our contemporary criminal justice system, one can find evidence of an emerging victim-centered approach. Consider the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a mechanism which tracks victimization rates, in contrast to the NIBRS/UCR, which tracks official reported crime statistics in the US. The victim impact statement, often considered a basic staple of modern criminal sentencing, is a recent phenomenon, though now considered a crucial apparatus to help ensure the voice of the victim is heard.

Other contemporary emphases of victimology examine the relationship between the offender and victim in an attempt to understand why some individuals become crime victims and others do not.

Consider the flowing scenarios from Andrew Karmen’s Crime Victims (2004),

“A man pulls into his driveway, turns off his car’s engine, and enters his home. A teenager walks by and spots the car’s keys dangling in the ignition switch. He hops behind the wheel and drives off. Was the motorist partly responsible for the crime because he made the thief’s task easier? Is victim facilitation a major reason for the high rate of auto theft (Karmen, 2004, p. 100)?”

“A husband periodically beats his wife over the course of more than 20 years. After each episode he is contrite and vows to change his evil ways. But one day he threatens to kill their daughter. When he falls asleep that night, his wife shoots him. She is arrested and tried for first degree murder. The jury rejects her contention that she was temporarily insane from terror and that she acted in self-defense to save herself and her daughter. Did the husband instigate his own murder? Is victim provocation a leading factor in the slayings of abusive spouses (Karmen, 2004, p 100)?”

Thus, this aspect of victimology could be characterized as a search for risk factors that asks what might distinguish victims from non-victims, as well as whether a victim had any role or responsibility in his or her own victimization. Why is this examination of victim responsibility, if any, important? Because, “whether or not a victim facilitated, precipitated, or provoked an offender…is an issue at many stages in the criminal justice process…and in the development of crime prevention programs and criminological theories” (Karmen, 2004, 140). Indeed, a more holistic understanding of crime victims and victimization can ultimately aid in victim prevention and, by extension, crime prevention.

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