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The Development Of Victimology Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4206 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper will explain and evaluate the development of victimology as a field of study, focusing on victimology within England and Wales. Firstly, it will define the concept of victimology, and the ‘victim’ before explaining the origins of the study. The development of victimology will then be evaluated, focusing firstly on the concept of the ‘victim’ and then upon more general issues. This paper will discuss the impact of these issues on the success of victimology’s development, but will conclude by acknowledging the potential strength of the continual development of victimology as a field of study.

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As a concept, victimology is difficult to universally define, due to the fact that different people define victimology in varying ways. At best, one can only forward a broad definition of victimology and acknowledge that other definitions do exist. As a “recently developed sub-discipline of criminology” victimology focuses equally on victims as it does on crime (Dignan, 2005:31). 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, 2006:116). To clarify, victimology studies events where persons, institutions or communities are significantly injured or damaged (Dussich, 2006:116). In an academic sense, the term ‘victimology’ is translated as ‘a system of knowledge’ of victims (Dussich, 2006 : 116). To add, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (2001), a victim is defined as “a person who has complained of the commission of an offence against themselves or their property”; this can include bereaved relatives, alongside parents or careers and small businesses.

Kearon & Godfrey (2007) explain that in the past, victims have been central to the processes of justice. There would have been little recorded crime before the end of the 19th century if it wasn’t for the activity of victims. To illustrate, in Anglo-Saxon times, courts dealt with complaints brought directly by victims against the perpetrator which often resulted in financial compensation paid from the perpetrator to the victim (Kearon&Godrey,2007:6-7).

The concept of the victim will be discussed in more detail later in this paper. Preceding this will be the overview of the origins of victimology, exploring in particular three criminological categories that underline victimology.

It is often said that the origin of victimology lies in the hands of Mendelsohn and Von Hendig (Walklate:2007b:15). Von Hendig describes victims as having “crime provocative” functions, in other words, having proneness to crime (Hendig,1967:450), but Mendelsohn describes victims in terms of their culpability or responsibility for their victimisation (Marsh,2004:105). Mendelsohn and Von Hendig together explore criminological and philosophical aspects in relation to crime and victims, and despite their differences, both theorists have influenced victimology and are linked specifically to positivist victimology (Marsh, 2004:104). The positivist position links with the theories that underline victimology.

Goodey (2005) claims that embedded in victimology are three categories of victimology that are based in criminology, in which she attributes to Walklate and Mawby. Firstly, there is the positivist position of which proposes the scientific nature of victimology; it defines victimisation according to the criminal law and is twinned with the idea of blaming the victim, or victim culpability (Goodey, 2005:93). Secondly, there exists the radical position which concentrates more on human rights (particularly the rights of victims) than on the scientific nature of victimology (Goodey, 2005 :93). This category emphasises all aspects of victimisation, even that which is outside the law, whilst examining “the role of the state alongside the law in producing victimisation” (Walklate,2007b:117). This position can be considered as having influenced the ‘victims movement’. Thirdly, there is the critical position which combines the two positions above which looks at the experiences of individual victims and how the state and society’s powers influence them (Goodey, 2005: 93). The critical position is concerned with the invisible victims and acts as well as the visible, and holds that policy should be influenced by both (Walklate, 2007b:119). The main focus of the critical position is on rights, citizenship and the state; these are three important “policy oriented concepts” which are linked to other versions of victimology (Walklate, 2007b :120). The underlying theories discussed are important as a base to victimology. This next section will go further and provide a explanation of the development of victimology as a field of study.

Dignan (2005) describes the significance of the visibility of victims and argues that this is what led to the development of victimology. To explain, this ‘visibility’ could be considered as a focus on victims rather than offenders. Dignan (2005) claims that in the 1950s the interest of victims was supported by penal reformers, and it was the first time in which penal reformers considered crime as not just a violation of legal obligations but as a “violation of the rights of individual victims”. Penal reformers had a deep impact in policy and in the development of victimology, for example, Margery Fry was key in promoting the improvement of services for victims (Dignan, 2005:14). Also, the mass media was thought to increase the visibility of victims, focusing strongly on victims and the families of victims; a main illustration being the emphasis that was put on the impact of the ‘Moors Murders’ on the families of those victims. In addition, the publications of incidents and extensive media coverage focused on the impact of the crime upon the victim (Dignan, 2005: 14). A further increase to victim visibility stemmed from the late 60s in that a recognition had been growing of particular vulnerable groups, specifically domestically abused women, sexually abused women and abused children (Dignan, 2005 :15). With the growth of the feminist movement came an emphasis on women and children as “victims of interpersonal crime” (Goodey, 2005:102). This brought on broader concerns in regards to the handling of victims (Dignan, 2005: 15).

Furthermore, the introduction and growth of victimisation surveys could be considered paramount to the increase of visibility of victims and so the development of victimology. These surveys increased knowledge about the nature and extent of criminal victimisation (Dignan, 2005:16). The surveys arose in the late 1960’s and were initially designed to discover more about the “dark figure of crime”. The surveys were based on individual interviews, with figures about the extent of victims’ injuries and financial loss, alongside the emotional impact of crime (Maguire 1988:7 & 8). The Crime Survey for England and Wales, which was formerly known as the ‘British Crime Survey’, is an institution which is part of the official crime date (Green, 2007:105). In 1982, the first Crime Survey for England and Wales was conducted, with two following in1984 and 1988 (Maung 1995:1). It is important to point out that previous research in surveys focused on delinquency rather than on victimisation (Maung, 1995:2). Evidently, the focus of the victim over the offender had increased influencing the development of victimology. One can argue that the introduction of victimisation surveys had an indirect impact on criminological theory, policy, and society’s view on crime (Maguire&Pointing,1988:8). In addition, other forms centred on the victims were emerging alongside victimisation surveys.

Following the Victim Movement in the U.S, in the 1970s, the UK courts began to offer retribution for the victims, making them a more central focus in the courts (Maguire, 1988:3). The UK “victims’ movement”, largely run by the ‘National Association of Victim Support Schemes’, focused on the services to the victims rather than on the rights of victims (Maguire, 1988:3). These services were seen as positive for many people as the objective of the services was to achieve better links between local communities (Maguire, 1988:4), and also they grew fast, with a significant increase in the amount in just five years (Maguire, 1988:21). One of the reasons for the emergence of the Victim Support schemes arguably was the rising crime rate, and with it was the rejection of the rehabilitative criminal justice model in regards to dealing with the offender (Goodey 2005:102).

In relation to this rejection, the criminal justice system in England and Wales has introduced the restorative justice model in recent years (Dignan, 2005:108). With restorative justice, victims are central in the justice process, which operates from a belief one can get justice through problem solving and reparation rather than from punitive solutions (Conflicts Solution Centre, 2009). To illustrate, the compensation order of 1972 and the community service order of 1988 were both set in place to provide reparations to the community, but more specifically to the victim (Dignan, 2005:108). The restorative justice model therefore demonstrates the centrality of the victim within the criminal justice system, and through the emphasis of the victim and their compensation, the model links favourably with the study of victimology.

Despite the seemingly unstoppable nature of victimology, there are several weaknesses deeply rooted in the study itself. In particular, the concept of the victim can appear to have a significant effect on the development of victimology.

Firstly, the differing definitions of the ‘victim’ can be considered to affect the development of victimology, for example, through reducing the applicability of results derived through research methods . To demonstrate, a survey designed to gain a greater understanding of victimisation which fails to clarify what constitutes being a victim, will have inutile findings as the results would not reflect a collective, consistent understanding. As an illustration of varying definitions, the police’s understanding of the concept ‘victim’ is narrow and in fitting with crime-recording practices, but for others in which these practices do not directly affect, the meaning of the concept may vary indefinitely(Walklate, 2007:38).

In contrast, perhaps it is not realistic to attempt to achieve a universal definition of the ‘victim’, due to the fact that it is a concept and therefore cannot escape subjectivity. One might say that in terms of this issue, the most desirable option would be to modify research methods in a way that somehow circumvents the problem regarding varying definitions. However, if this occurred, victimology would still be founded on a problematic concept and the possibility of this may be perceived as implausible.

Although, it could be argued that the lack of universality may be resolved with the idea of the ‘ideal’ victim, as the concept seems to provide universal criteria in regards to the ‘victim’ and the perception of the ‘victim’. However, this is not the case as this term deals with a desired definition of who a victim is deemed to be, not what a victim actually is. Generally, the ‘ideal victim’ is a victim who is weak, of an interpersonal crime, and can’t be blamed for being in the place in which the offence occurred; the offender is physically dominant and unknown to the victim (Whyte, 2007a:447). Christine describes an ideal victim as being:-

“a person or category of individuals who-when hit by crime-most readily are given the complete and legitimate status of being a victim” (Christine cited in Walklate, 2005:99)

It is said that those people who meet the ‘ideal’ victim criteria are typically the victims that attract media attention which influences public attention and their sympathy (Whyte, 2007a:447). Therefore, ‘ideal victims’ are more likely to receive a response and support from the public which may have an influence in regards to the reparation of the offender (Walklate,2007a:114). One may argue, however, that it is fundamental that all victims are recognised first and foremost as have being victimised.

Not only is the concept of the ‘ideal victim’ arguably unfair, but the victimisation it focuses on is disproportionate. To illustrate, the chance of being a victim is :-

“unevenly distributed…with poor people from ethnic minorities, especially males, being most likely to be victimised by a stranger and women most likely to be victimised by someone they know” (Walklate, 2007a:113).

Contestably, the existence of the ‘ideal victim’ takes away valuable resources, namely general support, which could be used to target and reduce victimisation of those who are victimised more frequently and on a larger scale.

This brings the paper onto the concept of victim visibility. What needs to be considered here is the less visible crimes which create the less visible victims (Walklate, 2007a:112). A major example of a less visible crime is corporate crime. It is believed that in the U.K, corporate activity causes over 900 deaths a year, which exceeds the number of people murdered due to interpersonal violence (Whyte,2007a:449). These deaths are as a result of injuries caused by work, poisoning caused by the environment, and food related illnesses (Whyte, 2010:141-143). From this, one can see that corporate crime is a significant social problem, but in practice these incidents are rarely processed or recorded as equivalent to ‘real’ crimes (Whyte,2010:149). Moreover, if corporate crimes are thought to be largely unreported, a significant number of people who have suffered as a result of these crimes will not be considered as valuable individuals in terms of research, and furthermore they will not get the reparations they deserve.

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It seems evident that there is an obvious distinction in terms of public and media perception between the victims who carry certain ‘ideal’ characteristics and the significantly less visible victims. On the whole, the development of victimology as a field of study cannot be considered entirely successful if there exists such major issues with the concept of the ‘victim’. Less visible crimes need to become a main focus for victimologists in order to gain more information about the impact of crime on victims of all types of victimisations and, ultimately influence the provision of support for a variety of victims. One could even argue, that verifying the concept of the ‘victim’ may in itself contribute to solving the issues surrounding the less visible victims and the eradication of the ‘ideal victim’.

In addition to the problems that arise from the concept of the ‘victim’ there are several criticisms of the methods used in the development of the study itself.

Even without considering the well-known issues of under-reporting and the ‘dark figure of crime’, there are problems with methods that are used to gain data, which therefore limit research (Green,2007a:104). To explain, it seems necessary to understand research about victimisations “within wider historical, social, ideological and economic conditions”, but as victimisation surveys tend to neglect context, there arises a limit to the meaning which can be derived from the surveys (Green, 2007a:104). For example, within a survey a person located on one side of town may reply that they have been the victim of crime in the last six months, and another person may reply the same but on the opposite side of town. It should be essential that these answers are received individually, as being in opposite locations there are bound to be differing contexts of which have influenced the individuals’ victimisation or the impact they have felt from the victimisation. One could believe that the context is more important that the figures derived from the surveys, as the context may be what deeply affects the victim or increases their chances of victimisation. Therefore, it could appear that victimology has only developed so far, due to the difficult nature of research in this area.

Unsurprisingly, there are problems with the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which was formerly the ‘British Crime Survey’. Green (2007a) describes several problems with the survey. Firstly, he argues that the survey does not actually tell us about victims and the impact they feel, but the findings from quantifiable, closed questions about victimisation. Secondly, the survey does not attempt to explain trends or attempts to interpret the findings, to explain, as mentioned above it does not appreciate the wider conditions of which victimisations are based. Thirdly, not only are there methodological issues with the survey, due to the entirely positivist nature, there seems to lack are an acknowledgment of its limitations. For example, the survey cannot tell us why some victims are more vulnerable than others but there has been little attempt to rectify this issue. Without acknowledging methodological limitations, one cannot find out what other factors influence the victimisation of different groups and who is immune from victimisation (Green, 2007:105).

Another issue to consider is the Crime Survey for England and Wales being limited in its application to under sixteen year olds. As previously stated, children are perceived to be vulnerable and prone to victimisation, but yet this survey seems to disregard children.

In contrast, one could argue that children have actually been included in the survey. For instance, in 1992 children aged 12-14 were provided with a self-completion survey about their experiences of crime (Maung, 1995:1). Also, in 2009 children were also included as interviewees (British Crime Survey:2010). One should also highlight that the Crime Survey for England and Wales has data for children which “are currently deemed experimental” (Economic and Social Data Service: 2010) and so should be considered as a developing source. Arguably, it is not necessarily the Crime Survey for England and Wales that is the problem but how it the survey used (Green, 2007a :106) . To demonstrate, the survey ought to be less about description and more about the impact on the victim.

As explored above, if the survey is developing in terms of children as victims, then one could consider that it may be developing and improving generally. In summary, with the main tool in research methods being victimisation surveys, one has to acknowledge the weaknesses of the surveys, but with recognising the necessity of future improvement, one must take into account the possibility of future improvement.

In a like manner, a further weakness of the development of victimology is in regards to the weaknesses of Victim Support schemes. Due to the voluntary nature of the schemes, it seems that it is difficult to support a “full coverage of crime victims” (Corbett & Maguire, 1988:31). For example, volunteers of ‘Victim Support’ can only cover so many victims in a town and can only provide them with a limited amount of resources. Due to the small supply of funding currently provided for Victim Support schemes, payment for a sufficient amount of workers cannot be possible (Corbett&Maguire, 1988:31).

One could argue that victimology’s effect on policy, and it’s encouragement of a supportive view of victims, has not been fully successful. In order for resources and support for crime victims to improve, one needs the support of the criminal justice system in the focusing of the victim in order to influence the state in providing more compensation for such schemes (Corbett&Maguire, 1988:38).

In contrast, it could appear that victimology’s development has impacted on society enough in that restorative justice is becoming more and more a part of the criminal justice system (Ministry of Justice, 2012). In terms of focus on the victim and their impact from crime, restorative justice implements these considerations significantly. It is true that restorative justice has not been fully implemented in the system as practices thought as ‘most restorative’ are committed to other processes that are not seen true of fully “court-based reparative interventions”, for example, mediation (Dignan, 2005:125). Although this is the case, in development there are action plans in place for the restorative justice model (Ministry of Justice, 2012).

Therefore on this view, if victimology as a field of study can be considered as an influence on highlighting the importance of the victim, then one can say it has been a successful development as it has contributed to changes in the criminal justice system in favour of the victim.

Despite victimology’s apparent success in influencing policy in favour of the victim, there exists weaknesses in the theories of which victimology is based upon. Firstly, positivist victimology can be considered to assume the identity of victims as self-evident, without acknowledging the construction of the ‘ideal victim’ for example (Dignan, 2005:33). Also, positivism concentrates on the scientific nature of victimology, but the perception of what is ‘scientific’ has become debatable, making the foundations of the theory unstable (Walklate, 2007b:115). Similarly, radical victimology can be considered to be based on the same conception of science as positivist victimology and so suffer from the same weakness (Walklate, 2007b:117). Also, it can be argued that it is limited as it concentrates its analysis of the processes of victimisation on the social classes, whilst ignoring other factors, for example, race, age and gender (Dignan, 2005:34). On the other hand, critical victimology can be seen to highlight the importance of “historical and cultural contexts in shaping victimising practices” and our feelings towards them, and due to this, critical victimology acknowledges that “concepts such as ‘victim’ and ‘victimisation’ are contested” and not universal (Dignan,2005:35). As discussed previously, the issues with the concept of the ‘victim’ are almost overwhelming, and so the fact critical victimology at least acknowledges these issues helps bring on a potential process of resolution. Although there are profound issues with positivist and radical victimology, it seems that critical victimology has its strengths which one could argue provides a degree of stability for the field of study of victimology.

To summarise, this paper has explained the development of victimology as a field of study, claiming that the development generally occurred through a focus on victims and their centrality in the criminal justice process. The paper went on to consider several weaknesses of victimology itself, arguing that if there exists such major issues with the concept of the ‘victim’, the development of victimology as a field of study cannot be considered wholly successful. Secondly, the paper discussed problems surrounding research methods. Although one must acknowledge these problems, it is essential to recognise the possibility of future improvements of such methods. In addition, there are obvious issues with positivist and radical victimology which affect the stability of victimology, nevertheless it seems that critical victimology has its strengths which one could consider to overshadow the weaknesses of the other theories., especially in regards to the recognition of issues surrounding the concept of ‘the victim’. However, most importantly it seems that one cannot say that victimology’s development has been completely successful until we see its influence contribute to a fully implemented change in favour of the victim within the criminal justice system. To specify, this would be restorative justice having a more full and firm place in the system, which, for example. could lead to more funds for Victim Support schemes.

In conclusion, this paper has explained and evaluated the development of victimology as a field of study, and has argued that the development has not been fully successful. Despite this, the continual development of the study could potentially lead to improvement, and could therefore result in a more successful development of victimology overall.


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