The nature and extent of victimization is not adequately understood across the world. Millions of people throughout the world suffer harm as a result of crime, the abuse of power, terrorism and other stark misfortunes. Their rights and needs as victims of this harm have not been adequately recognized. The UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power in 1985. This provides a universal benchmark by which progress can be assessed in meeting the needs of victims of crime and abuse of power.
Much progress has been made since 1985 primarily by governments in Western Europe, North America and elsewhere. They have implemented programmes and laws to give effect to those basic principles but even in affluent countries much work remains. Additional resources are needed everywhere especially for countries that are developing and in transition.
The convention on transnational organized crime includes a specific section to protect the rights of victims as does the optional protocol on trafficking.
By June, 2005, 99 nations had already ratified the Statute of Rome that establishes a permanent International Criminal Court which gives effect to the principles in the Declaration. The rights of the victims of crime and abuse of power are still not adequately recognized in any part of the world. Their families, witnesses and others, who aid them, are still unjustly subjected to loss, damage or injury. They too often suffer hardship when assisting in the prosecution of offenders.
The recent UN Congress in Bangkok also drew attention to the victims of terrorism.
Victims of stark misfortunes such as natural disasters, accidents and diseases share similar trauma, loss and suffering. Services to meet the needs of victims have much in common between victims of crime, abuse of power and stark misfortunes. Action must be taken to advance research, services and awareness for victims across the world. This requires persons committed to these ideals, better services, more research, innovative education and training and continued advocacy and rights. It requires a process of assessing progress and acting to make the necessary improvements.
The word “victim” has its roots in many ancient languages that covered a great distance from northwestern Europe to the southern tip of Asia and yet had a similar linguistic pattern: victima in Latin; víh, wéoh, wíg in Old European; wíh, wíhi in Old High German; vé in Old Norse; weihs in Gothic; and, vinak ti in Sanskrit (Webster’s 1971).
Victimology as an academic term contains two elements:
Although writings about the victim appeared in many early works by such criminologists as Beccaria (1764), Lombroso (1876), Ferri (1892), Garófalo (1885), Sutherland (1924), Hentig (1948), Nagel (1949), Ellenberger (1955), Wolfgang (1958) and Schafer (1968), the concept of a science to study victims and the word “victimology” had its origin with the early writings of Beniamin Mendelsohn (1937; 1940), these leading to his seminal work where he actually proposed the term “victimology” in his article “A New Branch of Bio-Psycho-Social Science, Victimology” (1956).
It was in this article that he suggested the establishment of an international society of victimology which has come to fruition with the creation of the World Society of Victimology, the establishment of a number of victimological institutes (including the creation in Japan of the Tokiwa International Victimology Institute); and, the establishment of international journals which are now also a part of this institute. Mendelsohn provided us with his victimology vision and blueprint; and, as his disciples we have followed his guidance. We now refer to Mendelsohn as “The Father of Victimology”.
Since the mid 1970s victim assistance programmes in America had to cope with the realization that this new field did not have a professional corps of people with special training in dealing with crime victims. Those who were working in the programmes were a mixture of medical doctors, ministers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, on-the-job trained counsellors, persons outside the helping professions and volunteers with all levels of training. There were no international or national professional standards. There was no certificate or degree to prepare someone to do the work of helping victims recover. However, before formal victim assistance programmes evolved, there were some people trained to work with victim problems, especially people who had been helping child abuse and family violence victims. These were social workers.
Today, the victim services scene has changed. There are a wide array of professionals and non-professionals working with victims. These would include: social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, medical doctors, non-specific professionals (who received their formal degrees in other fields but were trained to help victims in the numerous training schools which are both part and independent of academic settings); and, volunteers (who also received their training in the numerous training schools which are both part and independent of academic settings, many of which are 40 hour training modules offered by the victim service agencies where they work).
Today the field of victim assistance is the major career field in victimology for persons wanting to help victims of crime directly. The single largest and oldest university offering a bachelor’s degree in victimology and a victim services certificate is the California State University, Fresno. Worldwide, it can be estimated that there are about 20,000 victim service programmes now operating: reducing suffering and facilitating recovery.
In spite of the legal sanctions which exist throughout the world to prevent the abuse of power (AOP), it continues to occur with growing frequency and relative impunity. There are essentially five considerations to abuse of power: the type of abuser; the specific abuser; the method used; the victims; and the extent of injury and damage. In each of these five considerations there are numerous examples ranging from the Government of South Africa’s use of apartheid on Black South Africans causing extensive death and suffering, to the criminal organization known as the MAFIA which uses racketeering, coercion, intimidation, graft and corruption on innocent citizens causing extensive death, suffering and property loss.
The most recent example of AOP is the government of Yugoslavia (now dominated by ethnic Serbs) using extreme forms of aggression, against Croats, Bosnia Muslims, and most recently ethnic Kosovans with: mass killings; mass rapes; extensive destruction of property; buildings, and sacred cultural symbols, for the most part ignoring the protocols found in the Geneva Conventions for the conduct of warfare. This macro criminological/victimological phenomenon has been extensively reported on by the media and by scholars, but predominantly in narrative form. Thus far, very few attempts have been made to isolate the key variables, explain the dynamics of these events and measure their occurrences.
Like all phenomena, these abuse of power events lend themselves to definitions, theoretical organization and measurement. The magnitude of these occurrences dramatically turn our heads away from the dispassionate evaluation of the facts. The drama of these events is so compelling, even trained theorists put aside their research tools and yield to the subjective descriptions which overwhelm those chronicling these massive abuses. In spite of the strong emotions, the magnitude of the problem calls for careful measurement, analysis and synthesis so that a degree of understanding can emerge. This proposal will consider using the social behavioural and conflict theories familiar to most criminologist who study macro criminological phenomena.
Descriptive research is primarily concerned with generally characterizing a phenomenon to determine basic information about amount, frequencies and categories of a particular theme. Thus, one of the basic types of data in descriptive research is nominal level data or the counting of “apples and oranges”. The most important type of victimological descriptive research are victimization surveys. These surveys have thus far become the backbone of victimology information.
Not only do these surveys give us the number and types of victims, they also give us trend information so that we can compare victims from one jurisdiction to another, from one type of victim to another, and we can measure the rate of victimization for a given population in a given time period. Another important measurement using survey research is the measurement of behaviours that exist as continua. These types of research give us information about the feelings, opinions and responses the victims have. Thus, they are very important in understanding the impact of victimization and the progress of recovery.
Another important type of research is the evaluative research used to measure the official government or organizational responses to victimization and the programmes used to help victims cope. These types of research are aimed at measuring the systemic aspects of the victim experience. This is usually focused on the “Twin Criteria of Success”: effectiveness, which evaluates the achievement of programme objectives; and, efficiency which evaluates the consumption of resources over the time needed to achieve objectives.
Another aspect of evaluative research is accountability, both economic and political. Economic accountability focuses on whether the existence of a particular programme in a given community is justified given the funds available and the value-system currently in existence. Political accountability focuses on whether the existence of a victim programme and its costs are supported by those in power. A large part of accountability has to do with community values, outcome expectations and official responsibilities. The measurement of these variables helps to socially contextualize a victim programme or response within the larger society or culture.
Perhaps the most challenging and difficult form of victimological research is causal research. This research attempts to explain why and how some variables are effected by other variables in those phenomena dealing with victims. For example, it might try to understand why some victims are severely traumatized by an event, while other victims are not seriously impacted by the same event. The usual method of this form of research is to first create hypotheses about the relationships between cause variables and effect variables. Then, to measure these variables and see if the data can support the hypotheses.
Ultimately, this process can lead to understanding not just one casual link, but many connected causal links, or a causal chain. A victimologist can then develop a theoretical statement with the new facts uncovered using causal research. These theoretical statements help to understand complex social and psychological victim phenomenon. Consequently persons working to prevent victimization could have empirically derived facts so as to reduce the vulnerability of potential victims. Crisis interveners could effectively reduce the suffering of victims immediately after the victimization and prevent the escalation of trauma. Advocates and therapists, basing their response on protocol analysis, could better know what works to facilitate victim recovery and reduce or eliminate long-term suffering and promote the return to stable and functional lives for those victimized.
As new programmes and new laws evolve some prove effective and others not. In the search for programmes and laws that fulfil the fundamental aims of the United National Declaration, “to be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity, to be provided with access to the mechanisms of justice and to prompt redress to be informed of their rights, to be informed of their role and the scope, timing and progress of the proceedings and of the disposition of their case, to be provided with proper assistance throughout the legal process, to have their privacy protected and insure their safety, to be considered for receipt of restitution, to be informed about receiving compensation.”
These criteria determine the value of programmes and laws so that they can be evaluated and ultimately recommended as worthy of duplication. In each of the sub-categories of victim programmes, laws, practices and rights, specific examples have become known. Some of these are listed below (from the New Directions from the Field: Victims’ Rights and Services for the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Justice, 1998).
Although a wide variety of new programmes have been tried and dubbed as “promising” most of these have not been subjected to any form of empirical evaluation. Before these programme can be accepted as worthy of duplication, they must be carefully scrutinized over a sufficient time period.
The risk of becoming a crime victim varies as a function of demographic variables such as:
With the exception of sexual assault and domestic violence, men have higher risk of assault than women (Gelles & Straus, 1988; Hanson et al., 1993; Norris, 1992). Lifetime risk of homicide is three to four times higher for men than women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992).
Adolescents have substantially higher rates of assault than young adults or older Americans (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992; Hanson et al., 1993; Kilpatrick, Edmunds & Seymour, 1992; Kilpatrick et al., in press; Reiss & Roth, 1993; Whitaker & Bastian, 1991). Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey indicate that 12-to-19 year olds are two to three times as likely as those over 20 to become victims of personal crime each year (Whitaker & Bastian, 1991). Data from The National Women’s Study indicate that 62% of all forcible rape cases occurred when the victim was under 18 years of age (Kilpatrick et al., 1992).
Racial and ethnic minorities have higher rates of assault than other Americans (FBI Uniform Crime Report, 1992; Hanson et al., 1993; Kilpatrick et al., 1991; Reiss & Roth, 1993). In 1990, African-Americans were six times more likely than white Americans to be homicide victims (FBI Uniform Crime Report, 1992). Rates of violent assault are approximately twice as high for African- and Hispanic-Americans compared to White Americans (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Kilpatrick et al. (1991) found that African-Americans (28%) and Hispanic-Americans (30%) were significantly more likely than White Americans (19%) to have ever been violent victims of crime.
Violence disproportionately affects those from lower socioeconomic classes (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1991). Family income is related to rates of violence and victimization, with lower income families at a higher risk than those from higher income brackets (Reiss & Roth, 1993). For example, in 1988, the risk of victimization was 2.5 times greater for families with the lowest incomes (under $7,500) compared to those with the highest ($50,000 and over) (Reiss & Roth, 1993).
Using longitudinal data from The National Women’s Study, Kilpatrick et al., (in press) found that women with household incomes less than $10,000 had odds 1.8 times greater than those with incomes of $10,000 or more of becoming a rape or aggravated assault victim in the two year follow-up period. Poverty increased the risk of assault even after controlling for the effects of prior victimization and sensation seeking. However, some other studies report that family income is a less important predictor of victimization than gender, age, or ethnicity (Reiss & Roth, 1993).
Some of the conflicting findings about demographic characteristics as risk factors for violent crime are attributable to methodological variations across studies. Another reason for conflicting findings is that many demographic variables are confounded. That is, they are so interrelated as to cause some difficulty in separating out their relative contributions. Demographic variables of age, gender, and racial status all tend to be confounded with income: young people tend to be poorer than older people; women tend to have less income than men; and African-Americans tend to have less income than white Americans.
Until recently, there was little appreciation of the extent to which many people are victims of crime not just once, but several times during their lifetime. There was sufficient understanding of how repeated victimization increases the risk for and complexity of crime-related psychological trauma. Nor did we understand the extent to which victimization increases the risk of further victimization and/or of violent behavior by the victim. Several studies show that a substantial proportion of crime victims has been victimized more than once and that a history of victimization increases the risk of subsequent violent assault (e.g. Kilpatrick et al., in press; Koss & Dinero, 1989; Resnick, Kilpatrick, Dansky, Saunders & Best, 1993; Kilpatrick et al., 1992; Reiss & Roth, 1993; Wyatt, Guthrie & Notgrass, 1992; Zawitz, 1983).
Other research suggests that the risk of developing PTSD and substance use/abuse problems is higher among repeat victims of violent assault than among those who have experienced only one violent assault (e.g., Kilpatrick et al., in press; Breslau et al., in press; Kilpatrick, Resnick, Saunders, Best & Epstein, 1994). Still other evidence suggests that youth victimization history increases risk of involvement with delinquent peers and of subsequent delinquent behavior (Ageton, 1983; Dembo et al., 1992; Straus, 1984; Widom, 1989, 1992). Some research shows that involvement with delinquent or deviant peers increases the risk of victimization (e.g., Ageton, 1983), and that substance use also increases risk of victimization (e.g., Kilpatrick et al., 1994; Cottler, Compton, Mager, Spitznagel, and Janca, 1992).
Another line of research has found that a history of child abuse and neglect increases risk of delinquent behavior during childhood and adolescence and of being arrested for violent assault as an adult (e.g., Widom, 1989, 1994). This new knowledge about repeat victimization and the cycle of violence has several implications for appropriate mental health counseling for crime victims:
Where an individual lives influences one’s risk of becoming a violent crime victim. Reiss and Roth (1993) report that violent crime rates increased as a function of community size. For example, the violent crime rate was 359 per 100,000 residents in cities of less than 10,000; but 2,243 per 100,000 in cities with populations over a million translates to rates seven times greater. (Reiss & Roth, 1993; p. 79).
Data including non-reported crimes from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) also indicate that violent crime rates are highest in central cities, somewhat lower in suburban areas, and lowest in rural areas (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992). The UCR and the NCVS are better at measuring street crime than at measuring violent crimes perpetrated by acquaintances or partners. Thus, the assumption that the increased risk of violent assault associated with residential location most likely results from stranger attacks, not necessarily from attacks by family members or other intimates, is a function of the limits of the measurement device.
No violent assault can occur unless an assailant has access to a potential victim. Someone could have every previously discussed risk factor for violent assault and be completely safe from assault unless approached by an assailant. A prominent theory attempting to predict risk of criminal victimization is the routine activities theory. As described by Laub (1990), the risk of victimization is related to a person’s lifestyle, behavior, and routine activities. In turn, lifestyles and routine activities are generally related to demographic characteristics (e.g., age and marital status) and other personal characteristics. If a person’s lifestyle or routine activities places him or her in frequent contact with potential assailants, then they are more likely to be assaulted than if their routine activities and lifestyle do not bring them into as frequent contact with predatory individuals. For example, young men have higher rates of assaultive behavior than any other age-gender group (Reiss & Roth, 1993; Rosenberg & Mercy, 1991).
Thus, those whose routine activities or lifestyles involve considerable contact with young men should have higher rates of victimization. Likewise, people who are married, who never leave their houses after dark, and who never take public transportation should have limited contact with young men, and therefore have reduced risk of assault. Although some have argued that routine activities theory has substantial support in the empirical literature (Laub, 1990; Gottfredson, 1981), most of the crime victimization data that are used to evaluate assault risk measure stranger assaults much better than partner or acquaintance assaults. Thus, the theory is probably much more relevant to stranger assaults than to other assaults.
Crime-related psychological trauma impairs the ability and/or willingness of many crime victims to cooperate with the criminal justice system. Many argued that victims must be treated better by the criminal justice system because it cannot accomplish its mission without the cooperation of victims. At every key stage of the criminal justice system process–from contemplating making a report to police, to attending a parole hearing–interactions can be stressful for victims and often exacerbates crime-related psychological trauma. Victims whose crime-related fear makes them reluctant to report crimes to police or who are too terrified to testify, effectively make it impossible for the criminal justice system to accomplish its mission. Thus, it is important to understand:
Effective partnerships among the criminal justice system, victim assistance personnel, and trained mental health professionals can help victims with crime-related psychological trauma and with criminal justice system-related stress.
By helping victims through such partnerships, the criminal justice system also helps itself become more effective in curbing and reducing crime. Several factors in the application of different conditioning principles to victims’ interactions with the criminal justice system helps us understand why the criminal justice system is so stressful for many victims. First, involvement with the criminal justice system requires crime victims to encounter many cognitive and environmental stimuli that remind them of the crime. These range from:
Such avoidance behavior is generated by conditioned fear and anxiety, not by apathy. Avoidance can lead victims to cancel or not show up for appointments with criminal justice system officers, or victim advocates. Aside from conditioning, there are several other reasons that interacting with the criminal justice system can be stressful for victims.
Most victims view the criminal justice system as representative of society as a whole, and whether they are believed and taken seriously by the system indicates to them whether they are believed and taken seriously by society.