Criminals Can Be Victims Too

Criminals Can Be Victims Too

Criminals Can Be Victims Too
Criminals Can Be Victims Too

To further complicate matters, impartiality is called for when the injured party clearly turns out to be an undeniable lawbreaker. To put it bluntly, predators prey upon each other as well as upon innocent members of the general public. Some assaults and slayings surely can be characterized as


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“criminal-on-criminal.” Researchers (see Singer, 1981; and Fattah, 1990) noted long ago that people who routinely engage in illegal activities are more likely to get hurt than their law-abiding counterparts. When an organized crime syndicate “puts out a contract” on a rival faction’s chieftain, the gangster who gets “whacked” in a “mob rub- out” is not an upstanding citizen struck down by an act of randomly directed violence. Similarly, when a turf battle erupts between drug dealers and one vanquishes the other, it must be remembered that the loser aspired to be the victor. When youth gangs feud with each other by carrying out “drive- by” shootings, the young members who get gunned down are casualties of their own brand of retali- atory “street justice.” Hustlers, con men, high- stakes gamblers, pimps, prostitutes, fences, swindlers, smugglers, traffickers, and others living life in the fast lane of the underworld often get hurt because they enter into showdowns with volatile persons known to be armed and dangerous. What could it possibly mean to be pro-victim in these rather com- mon cases in which lawbreakers harm other wrong- doers? The designations “victim” and “offender” are not always at opposite poles but sometimes can be pictured as overlapping categories somewhere near the middle of a continuum bounded by complete innocence and full legal responsibility.

Of course, it is possible for people engaged in illicit activities to be genuine victims qualifying for protection and redress through the courts. For exam- ple, prostitutes who trade sexual favors for money are frequently beaten by sadistic johns, robbed of their earnings by exploitative pimps (see Boyer and James, 1983; and Brents and Hausbeck, 2005), and occa- sionally targeted by serial killers. The harms they suf- fer are more serious than the “offenses” they commit (see Coston, 2004). Similarly, drug addicts who get beaten and robbed merit assistance. Next, consider the possibility of the intergenerational transmission of misusing force—a cycle of violence over time that transforms a victim into a victimizer (see Fagan, Piper, and Cheng, 1987). For example, a child sub- jected to periodic beatings might grow up to parent his sons in the same excessively punitive way he was

raised. A study that tracked the fortunes of boys and girls known to have been physically and sexually abused over a follow-up period of several decades concluded that being harmed at an early age substan- tially increased the odds of future delinquency and violent criminality (Widom and Maxfield, 2001). Another longitudinal study of molested males esti- mated that although most did not become pedo- philes, more than 10 percent grew up to become sexual aggressors and exploiters (Skuse et al., 2003). Similarly, the results of a survey of convicts revealed that they were much more likely to have been abused physically or sexually as children than their law- abiding counterparts (Harlow, 1999).

Even more confusing are the situations of cer- tain groups of people who continuously switch roles as they lead their messy and deeply troubled daily lives. For instance, desperate heroin addicts are repeatedly subjected to consumer fraud (dealers constantly cheat them by selling heavily adulterated packets of this forbidden powder). Nevertheless, after being swindled over and over again by their suppliers, they routinely go out and steal other peo- ple’s property to raise the cash that pays for their habits (see Kelly, 1983). Similarly, teenage girls who engage in prostitution are arrested by the police and sent to juvenile court as delinquents, in accordance with the law. But reformers picture them as sexu- ally abused by their pimps and by johns who actu- ally commit statutory rape upon these underage sex workers. Are they victims who need help rather than offenders who deserve punishment (see Kristof, 2011)? To further complicate matters, offenders can morph into victims right under the noses of the authorities. For example, when delin- quents are thrown in with older and tougher inmates in adult jails, these teenagers face grave risks of being physically and sexually assaulted (“New study,” 2008). In penal institutions, convicts become victims entitled to press charges and to pro- tection when they are assaulted, gang raped, or robbed by other more vicious inmates (who seek to stifle any complaining and reporting as “snitching”). About half of all inmates in state pris- ons told interviewers that they had been shot at in


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their past lives on the street, and more than a fifth had been wounded by gunfire (Harlow, 2001).

Violence begets violence, to the extent that those who suffer today may be inclined to inflict pain on others tomorrow, For example, a group of picked-upon students might band together to ambush their bullying tormentors; or a battered wife might launch a vengeful surprise attack against her brutal husband.

Victims Can Find Themselves at Odds with the “Good Guys”

Striving for objectivity is important for yet an- other reason. Crime victims can and do become embroiled in conflicts with persons and groups besides the perpetrators who have directly inflicted physical wounds and economic losses. Injured par- ties might nurse grievances against journalists reporting about their cases; police officers and detectives investigating their complaints; prosecu- tors ostensibly representing them in court; defense attorneys working on behalf of the accused; juries and judges deciding how to resolve their cases; pro- bation, parole, and corrections officers supervising convicts who harmed them; lawyers handling their lawsuits in civil court; governmental agencies and legislative bodies shaping their legal rights; social movements either speaking on their behalf or opposing their wishes; and businesses viewing them as eager customers for security products and services. Impartiality helps social scientists to under- stand why friction can develop in these situations and how to find solutions if these relationships become antagonistic.

First consider the situation in which some vic- tims are pitted against others. This can arise in the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme collapse, when it comes to parceling out whatever funds remain to the many investors who were defrauded. Those investors who bought in and cashed out earlier made money at the expense of those who jumped in right before the pyramid scheme was uncovered (see Henriques, 2010). Which victims are truly the “good guys,” and which are more deserving of inaccurate depictions than others? Objectivity

is needed to resolve this victim versus victim infighting.

Next, consider how victims of highly publicized crimes could be outraged by the way the news media portrays them. Rather than side with the injured parties or with the journalists covering their cases, shouldn’t a victimologist adopt the stance of a detached and disinterested observer who investigates these charges of insensitivity and inaccuracy perhaps by carrying out a fine-grained content analysis of press coverage in those high-profile cases?

Third, consider those situations where well- intentioned officials and groups put forward compet- ing criminal justice policies, both of which claim to be pro-victim. For instance, prosecutors’ offices have adopted one or the other of two alternative ways of responding to violence between intimate partners. One policy enables a battered woman to remain in control of “her” case and ultimately decide if she wants to press charges against her husband or lover whom she had arrested for assaulting her. Advocates of letting her choose whether to prosecute or not emphasize that this approach empowers her to weigh her alternatives and take her personal safety into account. The other policy mandates that the prosecution of the arrestee should go forward on the basis of the available evidence (police officer tes- timony, photos of bruises, eyewitness accounts, hos- pital records, and 911 recordings), even if the injured party wants to drop the charges (either because she fears reprisals or seeks rapprochement). Supporters of this policy believe that when batterers know they will be held responsible and punished, domestic violence will subside as a societal problem. In other words, her ability to determine what she wants to do about her individual situation must be sacrificed for the “greater good,” which is to use cases like hers to gen- erally deter would-be batterers from assaulting their partners. Only an impartial analysis of scientifically gathered evidence can determine which of these two ostensibly pro-victim approaches best serves the long-term interests of most domestic violence victims (see O’Sullivan, Davis, Farole, and Rempel, 2007; and Nichols, 2014).

The Pentagon has tried for several decades to reduce the number of sexual assaults inflicted by

10 CH APT ER 1

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members of the marines, army, navy, air force, and even the coast guard upon their comrades in arms in service academies, barracks, military bases, and even foreign battlefields. After the U.S. Senate debated alternative ways to bring the problem under control, two competing bills, both claiming to be pro-victim, came up for a vote. Supporters of one proposal argued that soldiers, sailors, and mar- ines who are sexually assaulted fear that if they dare to file a complaint, their superiors may not act in their behalf. So they urged legislation that would have stripped commanding officers of their ability to decide which cases reported to them should lead to a court martial and would have empowered mil- itary prosecutors to make that decision about press- ing charges or not. But the majority voted against this proposal, and instead the Senate passed the Vic- tims Protection Act of 2014 that provides complai- nants with special counsels to advise them about the pros and cons of pursuing their cases in the military as opposed to the civilian criminal justice system (Jordan, 2014). Which of these two competing approaches would have been better for victims of sexual assaults? Will the new reform bring about substantial improvements? Objectivity, not parti- sanship, is needed to answer these questions.

The above examples underscore how impor- tant it is for researchers to remain neutral at the outset of a study. Now consider the dilemmas many everyday people face because of their com- peting loyalties: their desire to back crime victims in their struggle for justice versus remaining true to their other commitments. The following examples illustrate how objectivity and impartiality are sorely needed whenever pro-victim impulses must be bal- anced against other priorities and allegiances—for instance, enthusiastic support for the police or for the pro-life movement.

The mission of police departments is to protect and serve the public, and most people respect and admire the courage of officers who risk their lives to rescue hostages taken by kidnappers. But who would a person who is pro-victim as well as pro-police side withwhen these well-intentioned officers accidentally kill by “friendly fire” a captive they are seeking to free from the clutches of a captor? Would they agree

with the distraught relatives who launch civil lawsuits for damages that criticize the department for inade- quate training and an overreliance on military-style SWAT tactics rather than hostage negotiation techni- ques, or would they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the police fraternal organizations that predictably insist that the courageous officer did nothing wrong? Clearly, objectivity is called for when examining the effectiveness of existing law enforcement strategies and departmental policies in these tragedies that peri- odically seize the attention of the news media and the public (for example, see Dewan, 2005; Rubin, 2008; Murphy, 2014; and Haake, 2014).

People who are pro-choice would agree that a girl or woman who has been compelled to submit to incestuous relations or a forced penetration that results in a pregnancy should not have to bear the rapist’s child. But those who want to minimize the suffering of these females and yet are also passionately pro-life might find themselves torn between their conflicting loyalties. This dilemma is fought out in public whenever candidates running for office declare their support for strict antiabortion bills that would permit no exceptions, not even for terminating preg- nancies resulting from incest or rape (see Redden, 2013). Evaluating the impact of these controversial policies and proposals about terminating desperately unwanted pregnancies requires an open-minded and even-handed approach to the arguments advanced by both sides about how many pregnancies each year arise from incest or rape, and what are the conse- quences for the mother who is compelled to bear the rapist’s child and for that baby as it grows up. In many states, the man, unless he is convicted of rape, can sue for visitation and custody rights, like any other estranged father (see Chapter 10).

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