The person who is affected by the crimes in the society is called a ‘victim’. The study of such victims and the crimes committed on them, its effects, purpose of such crimes is called ‘victimology’. The article has discussed about the purpose of victimology in detail to explain as to why crimes happen. Further the author has talked about the psychological consequences of crimes towards victims and how to tackle them. Various theories of victimology like environmental theory, fundamental attribution error and others have been discussed. The aids which are available to the victims of crimes are discussed by the author. Various aids are counseling, therapy, domestic violence shelters and crisis hotlines. Moreover, the rare topic of victimless crimes is discussed. Victimless crimes are the crimes where usually there is no victim to the crime committed. For example, usage of illegal drugs on oneself is a crime but the only victim in this crime is the criminal himself. Another example can be violation of traffic rules. Violation of traffic rules may not affect other people in the society but if any accident occurs, it may harm the people on the road. In the end the author has concluded the discussion by putting out his opinion about how victimology can be applied to change the present laws such as the Nirbhaya Act, POCSO Act, and many more.
In general terms, the person affected or harmed by a criminal act of others is called a victim of crime. A victim may be affected directly or indirectly. The process of becoming a victim is called victimization. The study of the effects, rates, causes of victimization is called ‘Victimology’. Victimization has three stages; first stage is the factor for victimization. Under this stage there may be various factors for targeting the victim. The second stage is the phase where the crime happens and the final stage is the aftermath of the crime. The victim usually faces the difficulties in the society when he is victimized. Majority of the criminal acts are reported to the police but there are an equal number of cases which are not reported due to fear of victimization by the society and family members or due to hectic process of getting justice. Victimology will help to understand the psychology of such victims.
Purpose of Victimology
- Research in victimology will help in identifying the criminal as well as the criminal behaviour. People can become aware of victim facilitation and can avoid interactions with the criminals in order to prevent the crime.
- Dr. Maurice Godwin, a renowned forensic consultant in the U.S states that victimology is important in aiding the investigation process and making it simple for the investigators to solve cases. Moreover, it can prevent any future crimes through awareness among the victims.1
- Victimology helps the criminal-justice professionals not only to aid the victims with mental and financial help but also to rehabilitate the criminals and improve their lifestyle. It is important to rehabilitate the criminals who are not habitual offenders as they can be changed and if they realize their mistake then they can lead a better and meaningful life.
It is also important in order to understand why that particular victim was targeted and, in the future, measures can be taken to prevent such crimes towards such victims.
Causes of Victimization
- In childhood, it may be due to the aggressive behaviour of other children. It may be at the school, neighbourhood, or any other place where the criminal can have easy access to the victim.
- Secondary victimization takes place when the justice system fails to support the victimized party. It may cause emotional trauma resulting in depression, anxiety and stress.2 Justice system of a country fails on two grounds; one, when there are corrupt personnel in the system and second, when the law makers lack the ability of proper decision making.
- It is seen that around 90% of the victims report negative social reaction which can also be called as a ‘second assault’. Negative social reaction means the taunts and mental stress which the society gives to the victims. It is commonly seen in countries where there is widespread unemployment and poverty. Some examples of the countries where the second assault is likely to happen are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
- Unsafe environment, easy accessibility of weapons to criminals, lack of security are the main reasons for criminal activities which later result in victimization.
Psychological consequences of crimes towards victims
- Emotional distress is the main aftermath of victimization. The victim may be emotionally distressed due to the scenes of horror which he has witnessed or experienced. The people who have never seen bloodshed or cruelty are the easy targets of emotional distress. For example, as in a movie, the horrific scenes of crime play in the mind of the victim which may take years or a lifetime to forget about.
- Anxiety, fear, nervousness, self-blame and shame are the common emotional disorders which affect the victim following the crime. Anxiety and fear come to the victim’s mind when he or she starts to self-blame themselves for the crime committed on him or her. The victim continuously thinks about the possibilities of avoiding the crime if he or she had done something else instead of what had been done previously. This is also called as self-guilt.
- The victim may think that the world is against him or her. As he or she had been wronged once, the victim thinks that the whole world is against him or her. This is the time when he or she needs the most support as he has lost trust on humankind. The victim will not trust people thinking they might do the same as the criminal has done to them.
- He or she might realize their vulnerability to the crime. The victim(s) become vulnerable to the possibilities of another attack on themselves. This will result in fear of coming out of the closet and facing the world. They think that they are an easy target for the criminals and submit to the daily life struggles.
- They may think that life is meaningless after the crime has happened. They lose hope on the process of recovery from the mental trauma. This will diminish one’s self respect among other consequences.
Theories of Victimology
- Environmental theory:3 The theory says that the crime in an area is negatively proportionate to the number of trees. More the number of trees in an area, lesser the crime rate. The explanation given by United States Forest Service and United States Department of Agriculture supporting this theory is that a greater number of trees indicate that the area is cared for and shows that the area has a tight security. This will discourage the criminals to commit any crimes in the area with a greater number of trees. “It was also seen that this theory works better with the trees larger in size than smaller trees. 10% increase in tree canopy was seen to be associated with a roughly 12% decrease in crime.”4
- Quantification of victim proneness: It is a common misconception that women are more prone to become victims of crime repeatedly. On the contrary, several studies show that it is men who are repeated victims (aged between 24-35)5. In cases of Juvenile offenders, it is seen that mostly it is the known person who commits the crime. Juvenile offenders usually commit theft, robbery, criminal assault. Among women, prostitutes are the worst victims of crime because they neither have any security nor any social support. Hence, they become easy targets for criminals.
- Fundamental attribution error: It is a theory where the third party blames the victim for the crime but when the same crime happens to them, they give explanations based on the situation. Hence the theory is also called as correspondence bias theory. This theory can be seen in people with a hypocritical ideology. This is seen most commonly in rape cases and natural disasters. “Victims are blamed for rape based on their clothing style, friendly nature of women, living independently, etc. People usually criticise the victim to get the positive feeling that they are secure. This is called as the ‘Just word phenomenon’. This phenomenon was first introduced by Melvin Lerner in 1977. People tend to think that the world is always a good place and people get what they deserve because it gives them a sense of security and a feeling that they have control over their lives.”6
- Victim facilitation: Under this theory, it is said that rather than blaming the victim, blame the facilitation instead. Facilitation means victims’ interactions with the criminals and their availability and exposure to the criminals. In an experiment by Eric Hickey7, famous criminal psychologist, an analysis of 329 serial killers in America was done. The experiment was based on the time and duration of the interaction of victims with the serial killers, lifestyle of the victims, their location and type of employment. It was found that people working with strangers had a greater chance of becoming the victim of crime. Further it was found that in every 5 victims were prostitutes and people who had daily interactions with the strangers. Around 15% of victims had high facilitation, 65% of victims had low facilitation and 25% of the victims had a mixture of both high and low facilitation.8
Aids for the victims
- Counselling should be given to the victim about what he should do after the crime has been committed, how to get legal help and justice. Counselling about the legal procedures and justice system in the country can be given.
- Therapy should be given by psychologists to help the victim deal with the rest of his life after the crime. Therapies help in bringing back the psychological balance in life of the victim. It may help in bringing back the victim from the trauma of the criminal act committed on him. It will lessen the chances of victim becoming the criminal for vengeance.
- Domestic violence shelters are set up by the Government for the victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is an issue where people are usually hesitant to complain about to the police due to fear of shame in the society. Domestic violence shelters provide such victims with shelter and security till the matter is either settled by the parties or it is legally solved through the court of law.
- In cases of emergency, crisis hotlines are provided in case to send help for the repeated victims. Repeated victims are easy targets of the criminals and so they need an emergency care centre to report such crimes and to prevent repeated crimes.
According to B. T. Hughes, a victimless crime is an act which is indistinctive of a distinct pattern of behaviour, and its effects impact only the perpetrator and no other party or only the consensual parties and no third party.9 Victimless crimes can be done against oneself or against the society at large. Violation of general rules like right to privacy, drinking in public places, not obeying traffic guidelines, etc. may not harm anyone in the actual sense but there are possibilities that it may result in accidents or indirect injuries to others. Other victimless crimes based on morality of the society are prostitution, pornography, suicide, gambling, blasphemy laws, usage of illegal drugs. Such acts are crimes only because they are immoral in nature and the sense of immorality may disturb the integrity of the people if they are influenced by such acts. Prostitution and pornography do not harm any third party, but these acts may affect the reputation of the people related to the parties involved in the acts. Moreover, these acts are considered to reduce the dignity of life of a person and hence it is considered immoral and laws are made to criminalize such acts. In many parts of the world, homosexuality and pornography are crimes punishable by death. Victimless crimes differ from country to country depending on the moral standards of the country. For example, Islamic blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan and many other Islamic countries. Whereas more liberal states like the U.S and England give complete freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. In the Indian context, blasphemy is a crime but not punishable by death. It was always a debatable issue in India whether consensual sexual intercourse between two adults of the same gender is a crime. In a recent landmark judgment of Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. v. Union of India thr. Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice10, the constitutional validity of Section 37711 of IPC was challenged and it was held that consensual sexual intercourse between two adults regardless of their gender shall not be a crime. Hence since this judgment, consensual sexual intercourse between two persons of the same gender will not be crime against the society which means that there will not be any victims of such crime.
Research in victimology is an important aspect in an era where modern weapons are easily available to the criminals. Victimology helps the society as a whole to read the criminal mind and also the minds of the victims and apply the psychological experiments done by the judicial professionals and psychologists. This will help in identification of the reasons behind the crimes and the victims can prevent the crime by taking the required measure provided by the results of the experiments. According to the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) which was conducted collectively by many countries to compare the victimization data and analyze the effects of victimization and study about the consequences of crimes and various ways to prevent it. Survey by the ICVS gave the collective data of all the crimes as a whole but not a specific crime as such. For example, U.S and Canada collectively conducted this survey and could find out the psychology of the victims and criminals which included criminals of both major and minor crimes, simple and heinous offences. But for specific crimes like rape, murder, theft, etc, it was difficult to analyze a specific crime as it differed from place to place and time to time. The ICVS surveys were done timely starting from 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004. Surveys like these and researches of victimology can help reduce crimes to an extent and let the people live in a safe and a better society. Hence, we can conclude that victimology is an important part of criminology in order to study and control the crimes in a country. When it comes to Indian aspect, victimology can be very effective as India has a large population and with large population come different ideologies of people according to their environment and surrounding behaviour. By analyzing the behaviour of different criminals and victims, the law makers can amend the present laws for good. We can see such amendments in the form of Nirbhaya Act12, POCSO Act13, and many other laws in favour of victims of crimes.
1 Godwin Maurice, Victim Target Networks as Solvability Factors in Serial Murder, 26 SBAP 75-84 (1998).
2 SEBBA & LESLIE, THIRD PARTIES: VICTIMS AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM (Ohio State University Press 1996).
3 Geoffrey H. Donovan et al Jeffrey P. Prestemon, The Effect of Trees on Crime in Portland, Oregon, 44 EAB 03-30 (2010).
4 Geoffrey H. Donovan, supra note 2.
5 Johannes Kingma, Repeat Victimization of Victims of Violence : A Retrospective Study From a Hospital Emergency Department for the Period 1971- 1995, 14 JIV. 79-90 (1999).
6 Lerner. M. J et al Miller. D. T, Just World Research and the Arbitration Process : Looking Back and Ahead, PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN, 1030-51 (1977).
7 HICKEY ERIC W, SERIAL MURDERERS AND THEIR VICTIMS 152-159 (4th ed. 2006).
8 HICKEY ERIC W, SERIAL MURDERERS AND THEIR VICTIMS 260-262 (4th ed. 2006).
9 B. T. Hughes, Strictly Taboo : Cultural Anthropology’s Insights into Mass Incarceration and Victimless Crime, 41 NEJOCCC 49-84 (2015).
10 Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. v. Union of India thr. Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice, W. P. (Crl.) No. 88 of 2018.
11 Section 377, Indian Penal Code.
12 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, No. 13, Acts of Parliament, 2013 (India).
13 The Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019, No. 25, Acts of Parliament, 2019 (India).