The Office of National Statistics stated than in England and Wales, in the year ending June 2019, there was 11.1 million criminal offences. Does this mean that there are 11.1 million victims? Are all these victims the same and do they go through the same experiences? Victimology is essentially the study of everything to do victims of crime and how they are affected. In this essay I will aim to provide a deeper understanding of Victimology as a branch of Criminology, the history of this field of study and how it has developed immensely over time. I will explain how and why this development has happened, along with how it is continuing to develop simultaneously with modern day crime. Furthermore, I will try outline the victims’ right movement and what effect this has had on how victims are treated in the criminal justice system. In more recent times, the way the victim has been treated has changed, as the victim is more involved in the criminal justice process, this is due to the development of Victimology and how it has become more prominent and recognised in modern day Criminology.
It is important to understand what a ‘victim’ is before you begin to understand Victimology. A victim is ‘someone or something that has been hurt, damaged, or killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else’ (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019). This includes anyone who has been victimised whether that is someone who has been physically assaulted, someone who is involved in a car crash where a crime is committed, or a victim of fraud. However, victims are not always directly involved, for example when a homicide occurs, there’s a whole range of victims; the family of the deceased, the family of the attacker and the witnesses of the incident. Also, you must look at the professionals and the possible effect the crime may have on them; for example, it is the job of family liaison officers to inform the family after a homicide, which may have serious emotional effects on them, does this make them a victim of crime? It also needs to be considered how long someone remains a victim of crime, for example someone who has experienced child abuse or a sexual assault may experience emotional trauma from those incidents for years to come where as someone who is a victim of fraud may not experience the same psychological effects (UK Essays, 2019).
Victimology is the study of ‘the people who incur harms because of illegal activities. This field of study includes the handling of victims, the physical and mental conditions of victims, as well as their economic hardships’ (Karmen, 2010). This extension of Criminology looks at people who are affected, both emotionally and physically, by the actions of the offenders. Karmen (2010) goes on from this and states that Victimology is a ‘subject approach to the plight of victims’ because the issues that Victimology studies are from the standpoint of ‘morality, ethics, philosophy, personalised reactions, and intense emotions.’. What I think Karmen means by this is that Victimology is a sensitive subject as Victimologists study personal perspectives and emotions and in some cases, these feelings are very extreme- especially when it comes to victims of sexual assault and murder victims’ families for example. So, what do Victimologists do? Victimologists don’t just try to understand the interactions between the perpetrator and the victim, it looks at the experiences that the victim goes through within the criminal justice system and the wider society (Karmen, 2010). The ‘victim’, in any case, has many interactions with different individuals and organisations and what Karmen highlights is that Victimology isn’t as simple as the Victim and the offender; it looks at the complex issues that arise. One example is Victimology may observe and study at the way a victim is treated by the criminal justice system and the police and the support they get from these organisations after the incident, during the trial, and after any convictions. To clarify, within victimology, ‘the victim’s experience, events leading to victimisations, victimisations themselves and the response of society and organisations to victimisations are all studied’ (Dussich, 2006).
The word “Victimology” itself first appeared in a book published by forensic psychiatrist Fredric Wertham in 1949; it was used to describe the study of individuals harmed by criminals (Karmen 2007). Since then Victimology has developed, grown and advanced and had a huge impact on the way Sociologists’ and Criminologists’ alike look at crime. Karmen (2007) stated that in the 1950s there was a “re-emergence of the victim” and this was due to Criminologists’ realising that the victims, who are the most affected by the criminal acts, were rarely involved in the criminal justic process. It soon became acknowledged by various parties such as the media, sociologists’ and the criminal justice system itself that ‘victims were forgotten figures in the criminal justice process whose needs and wants had been systematically overlooked but merited attention’ (Karmen 2007). However, although Victimology was first being studied in the 40s and 50s, it has only been in the last 40 years that victims of criminal acts have began to play a more active role in the criminal process (Manikis 2019). In the 1970s, following the Victim rights movement in the U.S, courts in the UK began to allow the victims to become a more of a central focus in the courts, which got the ball rolling for the Victim Rights movement within England and Wales (Maguire, 1991). Manikis (2019) explains the reason for the emergence of the victim’s right movement throughout the late 20th century was due to the socioeconomic needs of victims; this led to a change in policies and procedures to provide more support for victims. For example, England was one of the leading countries to enforce the Victims Compensation Act 1964 which saw victims of crime (usually violent crimes) receive a state compensation (Mankis 2019).
The Victims movement within the UK was largely run by the ‘National Association of Victim Support Schemes’, which rather than arguing for the rights of victims, it simply provided services to people who had been effected by criminal activity (Maguire, 1991). In 1974, the first victim support scheme was set up in Bristol, and by 1978, 30 similar schemes existed throughout England and Wales (Victim Support, 2019). Every county in England and Wales had at least one Victim support scheme by 1986- these schemes provided and continue to provide “information, advice and support” to all victims of crime (Victim Support, 2019). In 2003, the support to victims was expanded to those who were considered ‘secondary victims’ of crime, and in every court in England and Wales- witness schemes were set up. Still to this day the advice and support that Victim Support gives to victims of crime remains vital to many people that need their services; last year they were in contact to 849,326 victims of criminal activities (Victim support 2019).
The experience for victims within the criminal justice system has improved massively within the last twenty years due to the work of Victimology and they now receive more support than ever. However, this was not always the case, in the early 20th century, Criminology was largely based around ‘who the criminal is, who violated the law and why they engaged in illegal activities’ (Karmen, 2010). It wasn’t until the 40s and 50s, Karmen says, until Criminologist realised the important role that Victims play in the ‘criminal problem’ (2010). Despite this, the important role that victims now play in the criminal justice system is not entirely revolutionary; Kearon & Godfrey (2007) explained in their journal that prior to the end of the end of the 19th century, only crimes that were bought forward by the victim would have been dealt with. In Anglo-Saxon England, the courts would only deal with crimes that were bought to them by the victim of the crime themselves, therefore if it wasn’t for the ‘activity’ of the victim, there would have been little to no crime reported.
Throughout the history of Victimology there has been many pioneers that have allowed it to become one of the most recognised branches of Criminology. Benjamin Mendelsohn (1900- 1998) was a French lawyer who studied victims while working on a rape defence case (1947) (Karmen 2005). He was one of the first to suggest the idea that there was often a strong interpersonal relationship between the rapist and their victim. Dr Stephen Schafer was also significant to the advancement of Victimology because he completed what some regard as the first textbook on Victimology (1968) as a subject, and it looked at the relationship between the victim and the offender. Schafers’ text involved interviews with criminals in which he tried to focus on victim culpability (Fergurson et al, 2009). Another Criminologist, called Dr Marvin Wolfgang, was the first Criminologist to present empirical data to support his claims within Victimology. Wolfgangs findings, Patterns of Criminal Homicide (1958), presented the results of homicide records, which conclude that ‘the homicides in the city of Philadelphia between 1948 and 1952 involved some element of victim contribution and participation’ (Doerner and Lab 2005). The field of Victimology was born due to Criminologists aim to ‘study victims for the purpose of answering social and legal questions’ (Ferguson, C. and Turvey, B, 2009).
Positivist Victimology is a specific type of Victimology that focuses on two aspects of victimisation: Why a victim may be more susceptible to becoming a victim of crime, and the relationships between victims and offenders that may lead to a crime being committed. (Miers, 1989). Positivist Victimology aims to identify the ‘environmental, cultural and personal circumstances that may make them at a higher risk of victimisation (Miers, 1989). However, this subsection of Victimology often comes under scrutiny as it is often seen as ‘victim blaming’; essentially implying that it’s the victims fault for being victimised (Tutor2U, 2019). Furthermore Tutor2U (2019) go on to say that Positivist Victimology takes some of blame away from the criminal; for example people shouldn’t leave there windows open, as this may increase the likelihood of you being burgled however an open shouldn’t be an invitation to enter a home and steal. Positivist Victimology ‘appears to blame victims for putting temptation in the way of criminals (Tutor2u, 2019).
In conclusion, Victimology is an ever-growing field of study, and if crime keeps growing and evolving at the rate it is- it will continue to develop. As technology advances more and more people are becoming victims of new crimes throughout. In 2019 there was 3.8 million fraud offences in the UK, which is a 15% increase from 2018 (Office of National Statistics 2019). Every day there is new crimes being committed due to the growth of technology and Victimology grows with it. The early development of victimology was largely based on Criminologist realising that victims had very little involvement in the criminal justice system despite being the person that is most affected by it (Karmen 2007).