The United Nations defines victims as those who have suffered harm through acts that violate the laws of the state.
Nils Christie takes a different approach, highlighting the notion that victims is socially constructed. The stereotype of a victim is favoured by the media and the criminal justice system as a weak and blameless individual who is the target of a strangers attack - e.g Old woman, young child.
MIERS defines positivist victimology as having 3 features:
- it aims to identify the factors that produce patterns in victimisation
- it focuses on interpersonal crimes of violence
- it aims to identify victims who have contributed to their own victimisation
The earliest positivist studies focused on the idea of 'victim proneness'. They sought to identify the social and psychological characteristics of victims that make them more vulnerable.
E.G VON HENTIG identified 13 characteristics of victims, such as that they are likely to be female, elderly or 'mentally subnormal'. Victims in some sense 'invite' victimisation by being the kind of person that they are.
An example of positivist victimology is MARVIN WOLFGANGS study of 588 homocides in Philadelphia. He found that 26% involved 'victim precipitation' - the victim triggered the events leading to the homocide, e.g being the first to use violence.
Evaluation of positivist victimology
As FIONA BROOKMAN notes, Wolfgang shows the importance of the victim-offender relationship and the fact that in many homocides, it is a matter of chance which party becomes the victim.
This approach identifies certain patterns of interpersonal victimisation, but ignores wider structural factors influencing victimisation, such as poverty and patriarchy.
It ignores situations where victims are unaware of their victimisation, as with some crimes against the environment, and where harm is done but no law broken.
It can easily tip over into victim blaming. E.g AMIR'S claim that one in five rapes are victim precipitated is not very different from saying that the victims 'asked for it'.
is based on conflict theories such as Marxism and Feminism. It focuses on 2 elements-
- Structural Factors - such as patriarchy and poverty, which place powerless groups at greater risk of victimisation. MAWBY & WALKLATE argue victimisation is a form of structural powerlessness.
- The states power to apply or deny the label of victim - victim is a social construct. Through the criminal justice system, the state applies the label of victim to some, but witholds it from others. E.G not pressing charges against a man for assaulting his wife, withdrawing the woman's opportunity to be classed as a victim.
Similarly, TOMBS & WHYTE show that 'safety crimes', where employers violations of the law lead to death or injury of workers, are often explained away as the fault of 'accident prone' workers.
TOMBS & WHYTE note the ideological function of this 'failure to label'. By concealing the true extent of victimisation and it's real causes, it hides the crimes of the powerful and denies the powerless any redress. In the 'hierarchy of victimisation', therefore, the powerless are most likely to be victimised, yet least likely to have this acknowledged by the state.
Evaluation of critical victimology
- Critical victimology disregards the role victims may play in bringing victimisation on themselves through their own choices, e.g not making their home secure.
- It is valuable in showing how 'victim' status is constructed by power and how this benefits the powerful at the expense of the powerless.