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Victims - Distinguishing Victims And Offenders

victimization crime study offenses

An obvious but important difference between offenders and victims is that the former have done something against the law. In an effort to understand the roots of their behavior we can look at offenders' upbringing, values, school performance, and associates. We can have them undergo psychological tests to seek to determine how they might differ from nonoffenders and how those who committed one type of offense might be distinguished from those who engaged in another kind of lawbreaking.

Victims of crime, on the other hand, typically do not engage in particular behavior that might result in their victimization. Some, however, may have been involved in actions correlated with criminal outcomes: drunkenness and aggressive verbal behavior in a bar is one of innumerable examples. But a large percentage of crime victims show no qualities or behavior that might allow them to anticipate their fate. They might be passengers on an airplane that is hijacked, or customers in a grocery store who are shot during a holdup because the perpetrator wants to avoid being identified. Or they may be window-shopping pedestrians who are run over by a drunk driver who loses control of his vehicle. Anyone might readily be a crime victim, but most people will never engage in the heinous criminal offenses that occupy the study of criminal behavior.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that a considerable percentage of victims are virtually random recipients of injury and loss, there exists a coterie of chronic victims, persons who suffer multiple victimizations, well beyond the number that would be presumed to be their lot if victimization were a chance occurrence. A review of the four British Crime Surveys—those of 1982, 1984, 1988, and 1992–found that between 1.1 and 2.2 percent of victims of property crimes had been afflicted at least five times in the course of slightly more than one year. For crimes of violence the figure ran from 0.7 to l.0 percent of the victim totals. In addition, between 24 and 38 percent of personal and property offenses were inflicted on people who experienced five or more such offenses during the same time period.

The British survey found that 63 percent of all property crime victims had suffered at least one other such victimization during the fifteen-month study period. For personal crimes the figure rose to 77 percent. The researchers noted that massive crime reductions are available simply by the reduction of repeat victimization (Ellingsworth, Farrell, and Pease). The precise explanation for the multiple victimization phenomenon is still largely unclear. The first victimization is said to become an important factor in predicting future victimization and that multiple victimizations are related in a complex way to both household and area characteristics (Osborn, Ellingsworth, Hope, and Tickett).

When there are crimes almost invariably there will be criminals, even if they sometimes are anthropomorphized institutions, such as corporations, that commit offenses such as antitrust violations. But there are many crimes in which there are hordes of unknowing victims or no victims at all. What theater patrons who have several dollars in change in the coat that they check in the cloakroom will be aware that the attendant has helped himself or herself to a few quarters? Who counts the number of rubber bands in a package that says, incorrectly, that it has one hundred, or who knows whether a gas station tank reading has been altered illegally?

Drunken driving offers an example of an offense in which there is a criminal offense but not necessarily a victim. For some offenses, the state, under the presumption that its interests have been harmed or that it must protect its citizens from hypothetical outcomes, adopts the role of victim for some so-called victimless offenses, such as the sale of proscribed drugs or prostitution.

Distinctions between actions that produce criminals and those that produce crime victims have contributed significantly to the standing and the tactics that make up the study of victims—or victimology, to use the rather awkward term coined by Beniamin Mendelsohn in the early 1940s. Unable to "explain" victimization, those who specialize in its study tend to focus on its dimensions, its consequences, and the way that the social and political system deals with it.

There is some sparse theoretical work bearing on the process of victimization. In a 1958 study, sociologist Marvin Wolfgang noted that for about a quarter of homicides "the victim may be one of the major precipitating causes of his own demise" (p. 245). Wolfgang coined the phrase victim-precipitation to identify such situations: "The victim-precipitated cases are those in which the victim was the first to show and use a deadly weapon, to strike a blow in an altercation—in short, the first to commence the interplay of recourse to physical violence" (p. 252).

Almost forty years later, Kenneth Polk in a study of homicides in Melbourne, Australia, found essentially the same pattern and percentage of victim-precipitation that Wolfgang had documented in Philadelphia. William E. Foote, after a comprehensive review of studies using the concept, suggests that in the future attempts ought to be made to divide victim-precipitation into relevant types. Among the more interesting separate forms are incidents that Foote calls intentional victim-precipitated deaths, instances in which persons deliberately engage in episodes that they desire to have lethal consequences. Shooting at a police car would be an example of what Foote calls suicide by cop.

But when Israeli criminologist Menachem Amir sought to apply the concept of victim-precipitation to rape victims, scholars insisted, correctly, that it did not necessarily travel well from one kind of offense to another, that factors such as wearing "provocative" clothing differ significantly from starting a barroom brawl. William Ryan's classic Blaming the Victim satirizes the tendency to denigrate victims with a story of a U.S. senator fulminating in front of colleagues who are debating the origins of the Second World War. "What was Pearl Harbor doing there?" he asks, apropos the 1941 Japanese bombing of the Hawaiian naval base (pp. 153–154).

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3 months ago

As a woman who has repeatedly been a victim all of my life, I found this article very fascinating. Although victimization is unjust, I do, as many other victims, look back and know that my own actions played a part in the crimes. For instance, I stayed for years in a volatile relationship that I knew was toxic for me and my children. I played a part in provoking numerous arguments that in the back of my mind, knew would result in getting physically assaulted, rather than simply leaving the situation. I do not fully blame either of us. I think part of me craved the attention of "being the victim." I later continued to get into destructible relationships again and again. The last victimization, however, I did not see coming. I was lured into the car of a famous hip-hop artist around 930 at night at a crowded and well lit gas station with surveillance cameras. The man then drove me into a dark and abandoned alley way where I was repeatedly assaulted for almost two hours before I was able to throw my dog out of the window and then jumped out with my pants around my ankles and one shoe running for my life. This man did this 5 weeks after getting married, and also has custody of his young daughter. Had I taken victimization more seriously all of my life, this crime and it's severity would have been dealt with in a much more serious matter. I lost relationships with my parents, my children, and most of all myself. This man never got caught and still is in the eye of the public every day, even with a criminal history.