Victimology is the study of victims of crime, including their characteristics and their relationships with offenders and the criminal justice system. Traditionally, victimology is considered to be a subarea within criminology. Victimology, which involves the study of crime victims, is different from criminology, which involves the study of crime and criminal behavior.
Victimology may take many different forms, including penal victimology, theoretical victimology, general victimology, and critical victimology. However, mainstream victimology continues to focus solely on the study of crime victims. This emphasis has resulted in an increased awareness and understanding of not only victims of crime, but also has impacted the way crime is measured and the role victims play within the criminal justice system.
Development of Victimology
The development of victimology as a field of study began in the 1940s and 1950s with the work of von Hentig and Mendelsohn. Interested in understanding crime, von Hentig and Mendelsohn examined the relationship between victims and offenders. Their early work was especially focused around victim actions and weaknesses.
In its infancy, work produced by victimologists was scant and overshadowed by the coming out of criminology. As such, little recognition was given to either the field of victimology or the scholars who studied crime victims. It was not until the 1970s that victimology was formally recognized as a subfield within criminology.
Over the past 3 decades, the growth within victi-mology has been substantial. This expansion is largely the result of a heightened attention to victims of crime. This attention has resulted in increased interest in data collection, theorization, and legislation development directed toward the victim rather than the vic-timizer. In addition, the victims’ rights movement has been influential in drawing attention to crime victims and to the field of victimology.
Penal victimology focuses on the role of the victim in relation to the social forces that lead up to and follow from criminal acts that are defined by criminal law. The first victimologists, such as von Hentig and Mendelsohn, were considered penal victimologists. Research emerging from this paradigm generally focuses on the victim’s role in both crime causation and criminal proceedings.
Largely concerned with causal explanations of victimization, theoretical victimology focuses on data collection, analysis, and theory formulation. In doing so, several theoretical models have been advanced to explain variation in victimization risk, correlates of victimization, and repeat victimization. These theoretical models focus primarily on victim demographics as well as on victim-offender interactions and relationships.
There are two general types of theoretical models. The first focuses on opportunity. This type of criminal victimization theories focuses on opportunities for crime rather than on criminal motivation in their explanation of crime and criminal events. The second type of theoretical model focuses on the interaction between victim and offender. Victim-offender interaction theories concentrate on the interplay between victim and offender in their attempt to explain personal crimes.
General victimology involves a broader focus on the study of all victims, not just victims of crime. Some scholars refer to general victimology as victimity. General victimology includes the study of five specific types of victimization: criminal victimization, self-victimization, social environmental victimization, technological victimization, and natural disaster victimization.
The newest type of victimology to have emerged is called critical victimology. Critical victimology is concerned with the larger social environment in which crime occurs—especially, the impact social structure and context have on criminal victimization. Accordingly, critical victimologists are interested in how crimes are defined as well as in why some victims are overlooked or ignored by both the criminal justice system and society as a whole.
An important task for victimologists is the gathering of empirical data. Data on victims of crime are collected through victimization surveys. Victimization surveys, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey, allow for the analysis of patterns and trends related to victimization. Although victimization surveys have been criticized for methodological problems, these types of surveys have produced important data on crime victims—information that is generally lacking from other sources of data on crime.