What is victimology?
While crime frequently dominates the news cycle, media outlets often sensationalize the lives of perpetrators while the needs of victims are all too often overlooked. Those most deeply affected tend to have their stories buried and their voices silenced, even as criminals sometimes rise to the status of pseudo-celebrities. Shifting the focus back to victims of crime ensures that these individuals are considered in studies of criminal justice and by policymakers, preventing a one-sided story. This is called victimology: the scientific study of the physical, emotional and financial harm people suffer because of criminal activities.
Victimology vs. Criminology
Criminology is, broadly speaking, the study of crime. It developed as an academic field in the 19th century, and for much of its history, it has examined how and why people engage in criminal activity. The field of criminology proposes multiple theories for why people commit crimes and how they can be prevented or discouraged from doing so, and these ideas continue to evolve as our understanding of psychology and human nature deepens.
But those who commit crime are only half of the equation. While not all criminal incidents have a tangible victim, many—especially violent crimes—do. Victimology is a subset of criminology that examines criminal activity from another perspective, focusing on the impact of crime on victims. Victimology measures crime by studying victimization, patterns of victim-offender relationships and the role of the victim within the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Victimology focuses not only on victims of individual crimes, but also on victims of human rights abuses on an international level.
By focusing on the victim, rather than on the crime, and supporting the victim, victimology is a key element of restorative justice—the idea that healing, rather than punishment, is the better approach to addressing crime.
Why is victimology so important?
Criminology is not merely an academic pursuit; it has direct real-world relevance and consequences. Criminologists often engage with local communities affected by crime, making communication an essential skill for anyone wishing to succeed in the field of criminology. Victimology provides a perspective that allows professionals to better communicate with victims and earn trust from their communities.
Foregrounding the victim of the crime is a compassionate choice that respects the humanity of the people affected.1 Especially in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, two forms of crime with a long history of law enforcement distrusting or even disrespecting victims, it is imperative that those working with these crimes acknowledge and listen to victims. Taking special care to consider the needs of victims of these crimes can lead to better outcomes for victims, greater trust within communities and solid support networks between law enforcement, shelters and other resources.
The study of victimology also seeks to understand why criminals target specific victims. Victimology can be regarded as a more holistic approach than criminology, acknowledging the systemic injustices that may lead former victims to become perpetrators themselves. It also helps reduce the likelihood that perpetrators will commit additional offenses, because it can help them reframe how they think about the individuals they might otherwise victimize.
How can you get involved?
The field of victimology has been growing over the past several decades, but the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime stresses the necessity of continued innovation in this area. There seems to be a significant gap in knowledge when it comes to understanding the wide-ranging and far-reaching effects of violence and crime, both direct and indirect, for those who have been victimized.
While it is vitally important to prosecute and convict criminals for wrongdoing, the growing attention to victims’ health and wellbeing has fueled a need for educational programs focused on victimology to support those working in advocacy and other victim services. Advocates are empowered to guide victims through legal processes, inform them of their rights and support their healing.
The Kent State University online Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice offers a Victimology concentration designed for criminal justice professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree and have a passion for victim rights. Specialized courses such as Restorative Justice and Victim Assistance and Legal Perspectives and Rights in Victimization help prepare students to advocate for victims, collaborate with communities to support victims, create initiatives that protect victims of crime, and, ultimately, to reduce the likelihood of criminal incidents.
1. Retrieved on June 25, 2018, from unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/PDF_rms/no56/56-07.pdf