victimology


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victimology

the study of the victims of crime. This area has traditionally been marginal to the concerns of the vast majority of criminologists. The topic had been raised occasionally in arguments about the reliability of CRIMINAL STATISTICS, but was not treated systematically until the 1960s. The US President's Commission on Law Enforcement in 1965 sponsored the first major survey of crime victims, and found that the figure for unreported crime – the ‘dark figure’ – was much larger than had been assumed. It was also found that victimization and fear of crime were unequally distributed between different classes, different ethnic groups and between men and women. In addition, inner-city residents reported very high incidence of crime and great fear of crime which heavy police presence was not mitigating. The first official British victim survey (M. Hough and P. Mayhew, The British Crime Survey, 1983) replicated the US findings on the ‘dark figure’ of crime and the distribution of crime.

Theoretical approaches to victimology include a focus on the nature of the relation between victim and offender, e.g. the concept of‘victim precipitation’. At one extreme, e.g. the crime of rape, this psychologistic approach effectively ‘blames’ the victim for inviting the crime. Other accounts, working from statistics, have focused on geographical, demographic or ‘lifestyle’ explanations.

In the UK, the major recent work in this field has taken a more sociological and structural line. It represents both a move away from the previous critical CRIMINOLOGY and an attempt to contribute to an understanding of the victim, especially in working-class areas, and to contribute to policy formation, particularly in relation to policing policy and victim support (e.g. Lea and Young, 1983; Jones, Maclean and Young, 1986).