Victimology, or the biopsychosociological study of crimes and their impacts on victims, was introduced almost 65 years ago, in 1947, by Beniamin Mendelsohn during a presentation given in Romania (Jaishankar, 2008; Kirchhoff, 2006). Then, in the following two years, Frederick Wertham (1948; as cited in Kirchhoff, 2006) and Hans von Hentig (1949; as cited in Kirchhoff, 2006) both wrote comprehensive books on the subject, based on work of the last 10 years (see footnotes 1 & 2). However, it seems that even many contemporary social scientists and criminologists still regard the science of victimology with less than full credit (Jaishankar, 2008). To understand the validity of a particular science, one should consider the impact of the scientific theories on its subjects. According to Jaishanker (2008), proponents of victimology have struggled to develop theories particular to victimology; the theories being based in sociology and criminology. Victimology, according to Elias (as cited in Jaishanker, 2008) and Fattah (as cited in Jaishanker, 2008), being steeped in application, “has lost its scientific rigour” (p. 2).
Kirchhoff (2006) disagrees with Jaishanker and posits that victimology is a truly interdisciplinary science made up of a number of differing perspectives (e.g. law, sociology, social work, psychology, philosophy and ethics, medicine, nursing, political science, and community organization). Victimology is the professional and scientific consideration of a crime from the perspective of the victim, instead of the criminal or society in general, and though this view is not new, the focus within our criminal justice system is.
What is a victim? Many philosophers, religious and agnostic alike, agree that as individual members of a society, we have rights. Whether these rights originate from a higher power or by virtue of a social contract, these rights have primacy and must be protected by the individuals themselves and by society: the criminal justice system (Kirchhoff, 2006). One way of protecting these rights is retroactive in the form of indemnification, or restitution. Aside from the consideration of the victim during sentencing of the offender, indemnification became the primary means of making reparations to victims “for the damage caused by crimes which [the state] has not been able to prevent” (Kirchhoff, 2006, p. 17). This has been the normative practice throughout much of the world over the last century or so.
In the last 50 years, since Mendelsohn, Hentig, and Wertham provided a renewed focus of victimology, the role of victim has changed significantly, specifically over the last 20 years. The criminal justice system now seeks to include the victim in an active role in the system, offering compassion and dignity in the process (Voogd, 2010). This process, including the provision of victim services, increases the likelihood of positive outcomes, greater benefit, and satisfaction of the victim, as well as maximizing the potential of interfering in the cycle of violence (Hotaling & Buzawa, 2003a, 2003b; Zweig, Burt, & Van Ness, 2003). Referred commonly as restorative justice, a new paradigm of criminal justice is now being offered in areas of Canada and the United Kingdom (Voogd, 2010; Walsh, 2010). According to Walsh (2010), Norfolk Constabulary in the United Kingdom is hoping to be the first fully restorative justice county by 2015. Restorative justice is a means of settling disputes between victims and offenders by bringing them together to discuss ways of dissuading the offender from reoffending, providing adequate reparations to the victim, and reintegrating the offender as a contributing member of the community, all outside of the court system. Walsh describes the benefits, effectiveness, and almost universal acceptance of the system within the county. Restorative justice relies on special training of police officers to handle minor incidents and infractions of the law (both, civil and criminal) as well as managing people exhibiting antisocial behavior. Restorative justice allows police officers to act as intermediaries to the victim(s) and offenders when deciding on a proper course of action.
Restorative justice is nothing new. In the United States, many juvenile delinquents were merely transported home to their parents and handed over with some advice, including suggestions on how to have the child make restitution to the victim. Times have changed, though, and we do not see this type of policing anymore. If this new paradigm promotes the virtues of community, we might see more implementation in the years to come. Victimology, again, may provide a target for resentment by some, but by focusing on the victim over the last few years, the application of victimology on society has produced some very promising results that cannot be argued against.
Hotaling, G. T. & Buzawa, E. S. (2003a). Forgoing criminal justice assistance: The non-reporting of new incidents of abuse in a court sample of domestic violence victims (NCJ# 195667). Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/
Hotaling, G. T. & Buzawa, E. S. (2003b). Victim satisfaction with criminal justice case processing in a model court setting (NCJ# 195668). Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/
Jaishankar, K. (2008). What ails victimology? [Editorial]. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 3(1), 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.sascv.org/ijcjs/editorial5ijcjsjai.html
Kirchhoff, G. F. (2006). Perspectives on victimology: the science, the historical context, the present. Journal of the Tokiwa University Mito, College of International Studies, 1, 2-18. Retrieved from http://www.gerdkirchhoff.de/upload/dokumente/Internet Version History of Victimology.doc
Voogd, H. (2010, April 23). A justice system that focuses on the victim, as well as the offender. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from http://www.restorativejustice.org/RJOB/focusonvictims
Walsh, P. (2011, October 19). Pioneer justice scheme is working in Norfolk. Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved from http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/crime/pioneer_justice_scheme_is_working_in_norfolk_1_1099367
Zweig, J., Burt, M. R., & Van Ness, A. (2003). Effects on victims of victim service programs funded by the STOP Formula Grants program (NCJ# 202903). Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/
1 von Hentig, H. (1948). The criminal and his victim: Studies in the sociology of crime. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
2 Wertham, F. (1949). The show of violence. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.