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Social Dimensions of Crime and Justice

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									Social Dimensions of Crime and Justice




Victims, once on the margins of criminological research, are now a central focus of

academic research. Victim surveys, both national and local, and qualitative studies of

the impact of crime and of victim needs have permanently altered the criminological

agenda. Victims complicate the old triumvirate of crimes, criminals, and their control.

And criminologists have been obliged to recognize that crime has consequences more

painful than once acknowledged. Academic research on victims has been mirrored

and encouraged by the growth of influential interest groups, cross-party political

concern, and international recognition. As a result, the victim has moved from being a

‘forgotten actor’ to become a key player in the criminal justice process. The

promotion of victims’ interests at both national and international level has prompted

debate about victims’ rights and the setting of standards of service. For victims are

now the subject of political as much as criminological attention.

    This chapter traces the genesis of ‘victimology’ and the development of victim

surveys. It examines fear of crime, constraints on lifestyle, and the impact of crime on

its victims. It surveys the harms suffered by victims; their consequent needs, together

with the victim’s movement’s responses and the provision of services. It examines the

place of the victim in the criminal justice process and attempts made specifically to

 In preparing this edition, I would like to thank Carolyn Hoyle, Mike Maguire, Declan Roche and
Richard Young for their valuable comments.
limit their ‘secondary victimization’ by that process. Finally, it explores the rise of

‘restorative justice’, its philosophical bases and its implications for the place of

victims within criminal justice. Reorientation of criminal justice toward the victim

connotes a shift in penological thinking that challenges the prevailing paradigm of

retributive punishment. The chapter will conclude by examining the prospects for

restorative justice and its limitations.


Interest in victims has a long history. The term ‘victimology’ appears to have been

coined first in 1949 by the American psychiatrist, Frederick Wertham, who called for

‘a science of victimology’ (Wertham, 1949). It is, however, Von Hentig, The Criminal

and his victim (Hentig, 1948), which is now widely regarded as the seminal text in

developing victim studies. Highly critical of the traditional offender-orientated nature

of criminology, Von Hentig proposed a dynamic, interactionist approach that

challenged conceptions of the victim as passive actor. This focused both on those

characteristics of victims which precipitated their suffering and on the relationship

between victim and offender. He argued ‘The law . . . makes a clear-cut distinction

between the one who does and the one who suffers. Looking into the genesis of the

situation, in a considerable number of cases, we meet a victim who consents tacitly,

co-operates, conspires or provokes’ (Von Hentig, 1948 quoted in Fattah, 1989: 44) By

classifying victims into typologies based on psychological and social variables he

suggested that certain individuals were ‘victim-prone’.

  Others took up these notions of victim-precipitation and victim-proneness.

Mendelsohn drew on explanations of accident causation in attempting to quantify the

victim’s ‘guilty contribution to the crime’ (Mendelsohn 1956). His approach went
beyond merely designating victim typologies to assign degrees of culpability. His

classification is highly moralistic, with categories ranging from the ‘completely

innocent’ to the ‘most guilty victim’. This form of ‘victim blaming’ later attracted

considerable criticism, but Mendelsohn’s intent was less to exculpate the offender

than to devise an explanatory model on which preventive programmes might be

devised to reduce the extent and severity of victimization.

  Not until Wolfgang’s classic study Patterns in Criminal Homicide (1958) were Von

Hentig’s ideas systematically empirically tested. Wolfgang defined victim-

precipitated offences as those ‘in which the victim is a direct, positive precipitator in

the crime’ (Wolfgang, 1958). Examining police records of 588 homicides in

Philadelphia (from 1948 to 52), he calculated that 26 per cent of known homicides

resulted from victim-initiated resort to violence. His conclusion that some crime was

victim-precipitated inspired many subsequent studies replicating his approach (for

example, by Amir, Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garafalo). Whilst these studies were

as concerned to develop victim typologies as to assess victim precipitation, it is this

latter aim, with its emotive connotations of victim blaming, that continues to attract

criminological attention.

  Perhaps the most controversial application of Wolfgang’s model of victim

precipitation is Amir’s Patterns of Forcible Rape (1971). Amir analysed 646 forcible

rapes recorded by the police in Philadelphia and concluded that 19 per cent were

victim-precipitated. Amir’s study provoked considerable disquiet and has been

criticized both on methodological and ideological grounds. His definition of

precipitation is broad and vague, encompassing all those instances in which ‘the

victim actually—or so it was interpreted by the offender—agreed to sexual relations

but retracted . . . or did not resist strongly enough when the suggestion was made by
the offender. The term also applies to cases in which the victim enters vulnerable

situations charged sexually’ (Amir, 1971: 262). This shift, from recognizing victim–

offender interaction as a precipitating factor to re-ascribing blame to the victim in rape

cases, was heavily criticized by the newly emergent feminist movement. Since only a

small proportion of rapes is reported (Temkin, 1987: 9), Amir’s reliance on police

records necessarily presents a very partial picture. Moreover, reports in police files are

problematic accounts: arguably they reveal as much about police attitudes to rape

victims as they do about the etiology of the crime. The chief difficulty with Amir’s

study (and others, which followed its model) is that it conflates analysis of the

dynamics of crime with the attribution of responsibility to the victim. In so doing, it

moves from examining the correlates of victimization to victim blaming. In short, it

seems to suggest ‘that victims of assault have no one except themselves to blame if

they deliberately walk in dark alleys after dark’ (Anttila, 1974: 7).

Fattah has defended the idea of victim-precipitation, arguing that in a rigorously

pursued, value-free social science there is no reason why it should entail victim

blaming. Although it has been used carelessly in the past, he argues it is a sound

explanatory tool (Fattah, 1991). Understood not as victim-precipitation but as the

recognition that crime is a transaction in which both offender and victim play a role,

this approach might lead to a fuller understanding of crime. Unfortunately, however,

the tendency for victim-precipitation studies to lead to victim blaming has undermined

its potential explanatory power and attracted only criticism (Morris, 1987: 173–4;

Walklate, 1989: 4–5). The concentration of early victim studies on reassigning

responsibility for crime offered few new, coherent theoretical insights (Rock, 1986:

72–3) and produced little by way of empirical findings other than that some victims

bear some responsibility for some crimes (Miers, 1989: 15; though see Edgar and
O’Donnell, 1998). As such, it is perhaps not surprising that, throughout the 1960s and

much of the 1970s, mainstream criminology remained firmly wedded to offender-

orientated studies. More recently, ‘radical’ and ‘critical’ victimologists challenged

these strictures by engaging in analysis of the wider political, economic, and social

context of victimization, in political analysis of the rights of victims, and in cross-

cultural analysis of the development of victims’ movements (Mawby and Walklate,

1994; Walklate, 2000).

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