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See also Sociology
See also Wikibooks:Social Deviance

Victimology is the scientific study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, the interactions between victims and the criminal justice system — that is, the police and courts, and corrections officials — and the connections between victims and other social groups and institutions, such as the media, businesses, and social movements.[1] Victimology is however not restricted to the study of victims of crime alone but may cater to other forms of human rights violations that are not necessarily crime.

Victim of a crime

In criminology and criminal law, a victim of a crime is an identifiable person who has been harmed individually and directly by the perpetrator, rather than merely the society as a whole. However, this may not always be the case, as with victims of white collar crime, who may not be clearly identifiable or directly linked to the crime. Victims of white collar crime are often denied their status as victims by the social construction of the concept (Croall, 2001). Not all criminologists accept the concept of victimization or victimology.[How to reference and link to summary or text] It also remains a controversial topic within women's studies.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The Supreme Court of the United States first recognized the rights of crime victims to make a victim impact statement in the sentencing phase of a criminal trial in the case of Payne v. Tennessee 501 U.S. 808 (1991) .

A victim impact panel is a form of community-based or restorative justice in which the crime victims (or relatives and friends of deceased crime victims) meet with the defendant after conviction to tell the convict about how the criminal activity affected them, in the hope of rehabilitation or deterrence.

Consequences of crimes

Emotional distress as the result of crime is a recurring theme for all victims of crime. The most common problem, affecting three quarters of victims, were psychological problems, including: fear, anxiety, nervousness, self-blame, anger, shame, and difficulty sleeping.[2] These problems often result in the development of chronic PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Post crime distress is also linked to pre-existing emotional problems and sociodemographic variables. This has known to become a leading case of the elderly to be more adversely affected. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Victims may experience the following psychological reactions:

  • Increase in the belief of personal vulnerability.
  • The perception of the world as meaningless and incomprehensible.
  • The view of themselves in a negative light.[2]

The experience of victimization may result in an increasing fear of the victim of the crime, and the spread of fear in the community.


One of the most controversial sub-topics within the broader topic is victimization. [3] The concept of "victim-proneness" is a "highly moralistic way of assigning guilt" to the victim of a crime, also known as victim blaming. [4] One theory, the environmental theory, posits that the location and context of the crime gets the victim of the crime and the perpetrator of that crime together. [5] That may just be an academic way of stating that the victim and the perpetrator were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There have been some studies recently to quantify the real existence of victim-proneness.[6] Contrary to the urban legend that more women are repeat victims, and thus more victim-prone than men, actually men in their prime (24 to 34 year old males) are more likely to be victims of repeated crimes. [7] While each study used different methodology, their results must be taken seriously and further studies are warranted. [8]

The study of victimology may also include the "culture of victimhood," wherein the victim of a crime revels in his status, proclaiming that self-created victimhood throughout a community by winning the sympathy of professionals and peers. [9]

In the case of juvenile offenders, the study results also show that people are more likely to be victimized as a result of a serious offense by someone they know; the most frequent crimes committed by adolescents towards someone they know were sexual assault, common assault, and homicide. Adolescents victimizing people they did not know generally committed common assault, forcible confinement, armed robbery, and robbery [10]


One particularly well known example of a class at increased risk to varying forms of attacks is the prostitute. These people have been known anecdotally to have an abnormally high incidence of violent crime, and such crimes go frequently unresolved. Victimological studies of the matter might investigate current societal mores (expectations, roles, social status), legal status of prostitutes, typical working/living conditions, statistical analysis of the actual increased risk and secondary risk factors, and the economic activity of a prostitute. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Another example of increased risk is in a situation that the victim actively precipitates or initiates the crime scene, for example, by starting a fight or baiting another individual. [11]

Victim Facilitation

Victim facilitation, another controversial sub-topic, but a more accepted theory than victim blaming, finds its roots in the writings of criminologists Marvin Wolfgang. The choice to use victim facilitation as opposed to “victim blaming” or some other term is that victim facilitation is not blaming the victim, but rather the interactions of the victim that make he/she vulnerable to a crime.

While victim facilitation relates to “victim blaming” the idea behind victim facilitation is to study the elements that make a victim more accessible or vulnerable to an attack [12]. In an article that summarizes the major movements in victimology internationally, Schneider expresses victim facilitation as a model that ultimately describes only the misinterpretation of victim behavior of the offender [13]. It is based upon the theory of a symbolic interaction and does not alleviate the offender of his/her exclusive responsibility [14].

In Eric Hickey’s Serial Murderers and their Vicitms, a major analysis of 329 serial killers in America is conducted. As part of Hickey’s analysis, he categorized victims as high, low, or mixed regarding the victim’s facilitation of the murder. Categorization was based upon lifestyle risk (example, amount of time spent interacting with strangers), type of employment, and their location at the time of the killing (example, bar, home or place of business). Hickey found that 13-15% of victims had high facilitation, 60-64% of victims had low facilitation and 23-25% of victims had a combination of high and low facilitation [15]. Hickey also noted that among serial killer victims after 1975, one in five victims placed themselves at risk either by hitchhiking, working as a prostitute or involving themselves in situations in which they often came into contact with strangers [16].

There is importance in studying and understanding victim facilitation as well as continuing to research it as a sub-topic of victimization. For instance, a study of victim facilitation increases public awareness, leads to more research on victim-offender relationship, and advances theoretical etiologies of violent crime [17]. One of the ultimate purposes of this type of knowledge is to inform the public and increase awareness so less people become victims. Another goal of studying victim facilitation, as stated by Godwin, is to aid in investigations. Godwin discusses the theory of victim social networks as a concept in which one looks at the areas of highest risk for victimization from a serial killer [18]. This can be connected to victim facilitation because the victim social networks are the locations in which the victim is most vulnerable to the serial killer. Using this process, investigators can create a profile of places where the serial killer and victim both frequent.


The study of victims is multidisciplinary. It does not just cover victims of crime, but also victims of (traffic) accidents, natural disasters, war crimes and abuse of power. The professionals involved in victimology may be scientists, practitioners and policy makers. Studying victims can be done from the perspective of the individual victim but also from an epidemiological point of view.

Victimization rate in United States

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a tool to measure the existence of actual, rather than reported crimes -- the victimization rate.[19] The National Crime Victimization Survey is the United States': "primary source of information on crime victimization. Each year, data are obtained from a nationally represented sample of 77,200 households comprising nearly 134,000 persons on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States. This survey enables the (government) to estimate the likelihood of victimization by rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, theft, household burglary, and motor vehicle theft for the population as a whole as well as for segments of the population such as women, the elderly, members of various racial groups, city dwellers, or other groups."[19] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the NCVS reveals that, from 1994 to 2005, violent crime rates have declined, reaching the lowest levels ever recorded.[19] Property crimes continue to decline.[19]

International Crime Victims Survey

Many countries have such victimization surveys. They give a much better account for the volume crimes but are less accurate for crimes that occur with a (relative) low frequency such as homicide, or victimless 'crimes' such as drug (ab)use. Attempts to use the data from these national surveys for international comparison have failed. Differences in definitions of crime and other methodological differences are too big for proper comparison.

A dedicated survey for international comparison: A group of European criminologists started an international victimization study with the sole purpose to generate international comparative crime and victimization data. The project is now known as the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS). After the first round in 1989, the surveys were repeated in 1992, 1996, and 2000 and 2004/2005.

Society as crime victim

There is one strain of thought that society itself is the victim of many crimes, especially such homicide felonies as murder and manslaughter. This sentiment has been espoused by many lawyers, judges, and academics. [How to reference and link to summary or text] Some district attorneys feel they represent all of society, while some feel they are the lawyer for the crime victim. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Penal couple

The penal couple is defined as the relationship between perpetrator and victim of a crime.[20] A sociologist invented the term in 1963.[21] The term is now accepted by many sociologists.[21][22][23] The concept is, essentially, that "when a crime takes place, it has two partners, one the offender and second the victim, who is providing opportunity to the criminal in committing the crime."[22] The victim, in this view, is "a participant in the penal couple and should bear some 'functional responsibility' for the crime."[24] The very idea is strongly rejected by some other victimologists as blaming the victim.[23]

Rights of Victims

In 1985, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.[25] Also, the International Victimology Institute (INTERVICT) and the World Society of Victimology developed a UN Convention for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.[26]

See also


  1. Andrew Karmen, 2003, Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology, Wadsworth Publishing ,ISBN 9780534616328.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sebba, L., (1996). Third Parties, Victims and the Criminal Justice System. Ohio State University Press, Columbus.
  3. Or victim-proneness. For an overview of victimization, see Lucia Zedner's article at [1]
  4. Id., see [2]
  5. Harrison on the environmental theory, at Theory
  6. David Thissen (The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas) and Howard Wainer (Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey), Toward the Measurement and Prediction of Victim Proneness, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 20, No. 2, 243-261 (1983), abstract retrieved at [3]
  7. Johannes Kingma, Repeat Victimization of Victims of Violence: A Retrospective Study From a Hospital Emergency Department for the Period 1971-1995 Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 14, No. 1, 79-90 (1999), abstract retrieved at [4]
  8. See, e.g., [5]
  9. See [6], [7], [8].
  10. Richard Lusignan, "Risk Assessment and Offender-Victim relationship in Juvenile Offenders" International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Vol 51, No. 4, 433-443 (2007)
  11. One quarter or 25 % of all homicides have been historically victim-precipitated. Id., see [9]
  12. Hickey, Eric W. (2006). The Male serial murderer. In Serial murderers and their victims (4th ed., pp. 152-159). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group
  13. Schneider, H. J. (2001). Victimological developments in the world during the past three decades (I): A Study of comparative victimology. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 45, 449-468
  14. Schneider, H. J. (2001). Victimological developments in the world during the past three decades (I): A Study of comparative victimology. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 45, 449-468
  15. Hickey, Eric W. (2006). Victims. In Serial murderers and their victims (4th ed., pp. 260-262). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group
  16. Hickey, Eric W. (2006). Victims. In Serial murderers and their victims (4th ed., pp. 260-262). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group
  17. Miethe, Terance D. (1985). The Myth or reality of victim involvement in crime: A Review and comment on victim-precipitation research. Sociological focus, 18(3), 209- 220
  18. Godwin, Maurice (1998). Victim target networks as solvability factors in serial murder. Social behavioral and personality, 26(1), 75-84
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 National Crime Victimization Survey Official web site
  20. "Criminology Today" (4th ed. Prentice Hall), found atCriminal Justice Glossary at the Prentice Hall website. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Robert Harris, Crime, criminal justice, and the probation service, (Routledge, 1992) ISBN 9780415050340, at 56 (citing Mendelsohn 1963), found at Google Books. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Pawanjit, "Hiring Domestic Help Without Verification," Premier Shield Newsletter, found at Premier Shield Newsletter (pdf). Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Daniel W. Van Ness, Crime and its victims: what we can do, (InterVarsity Press, 1986) ISBN 9780877845126 at 29, found at Google Books. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  24. M. C. Sengstock & J. Liang, "Elderly Victims of Crime - A Refinement of Theory in Victimology," (AARP study 1979), found at Natioonal Criminal Justice Reference service (NCJRS) Abstracts - a United States government website. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  25. [10]
  26. draft

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