A “victim” is defined through social and legal implications. The consensus for the social use of the term is any living being that faces hardship that was inflicted by any cause. In Canada, the general legal definition for a victim is a person who faces physical or emotional harm, or economic loss, caused by a criminal offense. Vulnerable populations for overall victimization include homeless individuals due to lack of security, minorities (particularly Indigenous populations in Canada), young adult males who also have larger offender rates, those with low socioeconomic status, and disabled individuals. For the purpose of this paper, we will consider the primary victim, meaning the individual directly emotionally or physically harmed as the result of an offense. Overall, “victim” is a broad term that can apply to many people, but occurs more frequently in some populations.
Perreault (2015) noted 2014 Canadian victimization rates. Per 1,000 individuals with a history of homelessness, 358 incidents of violent crime occurred, while the rate for non-homeless Canadians was 71. Thus, socioeconomic status and security relate to victimization of violent crime in Canada. Females were substantially more likely to be a victim of sexual assault, while males were slightly more likely to be a victim of physical assault. The highest rates of violent crime victimization occurred in the age 20 to 24 with surrounding age groups nearly as high. In 35% of cases in which physical abuse occurred before the age of 15, the father was the perpetrator. 93% of child maltreatment cases were never identified to authorities. Altogether, these statistics show systemic issues that confirm the expected trends, and help us better understand Tim’s risk factors.
Tim was a primary victim because he directly faced several forms of abuse that led to physical and psychological harm. As a child, he faced neglect by his birth parents and ended up in foster care, where he was a victim of physical abuse. As a homeless teenager trying to escape the abuse, a man acted as a friend and then made him a victim of sex trafficking. Meanwhile, Tim faced verbal and physical abuse on the streets and used drugs to cope with the pain. One attack was racially motivated. While on the streets, he was approaching an age associated with high criminalization and victimization for males. However, as a teenage male, he was not the stereotypical sexual assault victim. Thus with the vulnerabilities and abuse Tim faced, we can assess his susceptibility and experiences as a victim.
The public’s view towards a victim of a crime relies heavily on preconceived ideas of what a victim should be. The “ideal victim” reflects society’s expectation of a true victim, and is someone who is physically weak, was victimized by a stranger while performing a respectable duty, and has the strength to publicize his or her own victimization. Tim is not an ideal victim because he was a homeless sex worker and a drug user at the time of his victimization, and these traits are generally not considered respectable. Being a male, Tim would likely be perceived as too physically strong to be an ideal victim of a sexual crime. Tim was also uncomfortable with reaching out for treatment as a male victim of sexual abuse due to societal views. These assumptions towards the ideal victim are unfair because he was a minor who was trafficked by an adult and was forced into sexual activities by other older men. Also, being uncomfortable to speak out does not make a person deserving of harm. These systemic expectations of a victim undermine Tim’s suffering and the culpability of his abusers.
Victim precipitation refers to identifying the involvement of the victim in provoking the perpetrator to commit the offense. Since Tim does not fit the profile of an ideal victim, the public is more likely to blame him for his own victimization. This victim blaming would typically target his homelessness, his drug abuse, and his profession as a sex worker. Although these traits are risk factors for victimization, it is unfair to suggest the victim allowed the crime to occur. Tim was homeless because he was taken away from his birth parents and then abused by his foster parents. He took drugs to psychologically escape a lifetime of neglect and abuse. He was a sex worker because he was trafficked by a predator. A key criticism of victim precipitation is the implication that victims fall on a continuum of responsibility, which is an unfair assessment to those who are less privileged. Ultimately, the disadvantages Tim faced do not make him responsible for being a victim.
From the Rational Choice Perspective, an offender has a specific reason for committing a crime against a particular victim (Scott, 2016, p. 66). This approach assumes that the perpetrator has logic and morals that are comparable to the victim. Thus, this perspective ignores power imbalances and the possibility of a non-targeted attack. For example, Tim’s sex trafficker forces him to perform an uncomfortable activity with an aggressive client. Tim as a teenager might feel powerless to decline, but this would still be statutory rape and sexual assault. Additionally, the client did not target Tim personally, but his trafficker perhaps chose him out of convenience. This perspective generally exemplifies victim precipitation in that the victim is automatically perceived as part of the offense, while a trafficked teenager was clearly abused into his position and should not be seen as culpable for being victimized.
The Critical Theory assesses the dynamics of the victim and the offender by determining any power imbalances. This approach is most appropriate to Tim’s case because it eliminates victim precipitation. Although Tim had been taking drugs and illegally worked in the sex industry, the power imbalances he faced led to his overall situation. He did not chose to leave his parents or to be abused by his foster parents. All individuals involved, including Child Protective Services held power over his wellbeing. His sex trafficker was much older than him, and offered him needed money that a social support service should have provided. Assuming that a young homeless teenager with a history of being abused truly had a choice over his life path is unfair. Thus, by addressing and prioritizing the power imbalances, we observe that Tim can be fairly assessed through his role solely as a victim.
Tim was ultimately failed by the criminal justice system. Having birth parents who were addicted to drugs and could not raise him sufficiently, Child Protective Services took him from his home. However, he was verbally and physically abused once he was in foster care, which should have brought him to safety but was ironically the start of his direct victimization. Once he was finally able to receive justice for the victimization by his trafficker, the crown prosecutor asked him to be a witness. Thus, the criminal justice system was more interested in Tim’s role as a witness than as a traumatized victim of several types of abuse. Nevertheless, Tim became a healthy advocate for supporting victimized youth through his career as a counsellor. Despite inadequate treatment by the justice system, Tim resiliently recovered and is able to help others who experience similar victimization.
Cases of victimization in which fostered youth run away should be approached uniquely. Whitbeck, Hoyt, and Yoder (1999) found that young runaway males in particular tended to externalize their suffering by becoming friends with others who perpetuate reckless and antisocial behaviours. These young males also had a significant correlation between depression and early abuse in the home. Tim became a victim of this pattern, as he befriended a man that manipulated him into sex work and initially used illicit drugs to cope. Although Tim was able to recover, many similar victims unfortunately continue the behavioural cycle or fail to cope adequately, and it is important to identify risk factors early on.
Victims often have a poor experience with the criminal justice system that interferes with the needed recovery process. These victims may feel that police do not take them seriously based on their background, or they receive insufficient support following the trial. Fortunately, a police officer identified Tim as a minor who was a victim of sex trafficking, and prompted him towards a social support program. However, even with this help, Tim felt uncomfortable being a male sexual assault victim in a predominantly female therapy group, and felt others would not understand. Feeling isolated after going through a life filled with abuse only adds to the pain of being a victim. This shame and uncertainty of where to get help can perhaps account for the fact that the average male victim of sexual abuse only seeks therapy at about age 45. Being a victim affects individuals far beyond the incident, and the criminal justice system should support these victims in finding the appropriate social services in order to recover.