The concept of a victim can be traced back to ancient societies. It was connected to the notion of sacrifice. In the original connotation of the term, a victim was a person or an animal put to death during a religious ceremony in order to appease some supernatural power or deity. Over the centuries, the word has picked up additional meanings. Now it commonly refers to individuals who suffer injuries, losses, or hardships for any reason. People can become victims of accidents, natural disasters, diseases, or social problems such as warfare, discrimination, political witch hunts, and other injustices. Crime victims are harmed by illegal acts.

Victimization is an asymmetrical interpersonal relationship that is abusive, painful, destructive, par- asitical, and unfair. While a crime is in progress, offenders temporarily force their victims to play roles (almost as if following a script) that mimic the dynamics between predator and prey, winner and loser, victor and vanquished, and even master and slave. Many types of victimization have been out- lawed over the centuries—specific oppressive and exploitative acts, like raping, robbing, and swindling. But not all types of hurtful relationships and deceitful practices are forbidden by law. It is permissible to overcharge a customer for an item that can be pur- chased for less elsewhere, or to underpay a worker who could receive higher wages for the same tasks at another place of employment, or impose exorbitant interest rates and hidden fees on borrowers who use credit cards and take out mortgages, or to deny food and shelter to the hungry and the homeless who cannot pay the required amount.

Victimology is the scientific study of the physical, emotional, and financial harm people endure because of illegal activities. Victimologists first and foremost investigate the victims’ plight: the impact of the injuries and losses inflicted by offenders on the people they target. In addition, they carry out research into the public’s political, social, and economic reactions to the suffering of victims. They also study how victims are handled

by officials and agencies within the criminal justice system, especially interactions with police officers, detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation officers, and members of parole boards.

Victimologists want to know whether and to what degree crime victims experience physical wounds, economic hardships, or emotional turmoil. One aim, of course, is to devise ways to help them recover. In the aftermath of the incident, are they sad- dened, depressed, frightened, terrorized, traumatized, infuriated, or embittered? Also, victimologists want to find out how effectively the injured parties are being assisted, supported, served, accommodated, rehabili- tated, and educated to avoid further trouble.Victimol- ogists are equally curious to determine the extent to which their suffering is being totally ignored, largely neglected, belittled, manipulated, and commercially or politically exploited. Some individuals who sustain terrible injuries and devastating losses might be memorialized, honored, and even idolized, while others might be mocked, discredited, defamed, deme- aned, socially stigmatized, and even condemned for bringing about their own misfortunes. Why is this so?

Victimologists also want to examine why some injured parties find their ordeals life transforming. Some become deeply alienated and withdraw from social relationships. They may become burdened by bouts of depression, sleep disorders, panic attacks, and stress-related illnesses. Their healing process may require overcoming feelings of helplessness, frustration, and self-blame. Others might react to their fear and fury by seeking out fellow sufferers, building alliances, and discovering ways to exercise their “agency”—to assess their options and make wise decisions, take advantage of opportunities, regain control of their lives, rebuild their self- confidence, and restore a sense of trust and security. Why do people experience such a wide range of responses, and do personality or social factors pri- marily determine how a person initially reacts and then recovers?

Direct or primary victims experience the criminal act and its consequences firsthand. Indirect or secondary victims (such as family members and loved ones) are not immediately involved or physically


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injured in confrontations. But they might be burdened, even devastated, as the following examples illustrate.

A teenager who shot and killed a high school athlete is about to be sentenced to prison. The distraught father of the murdered boy tells the judge, “We always hope our little guy will come through the door, and it will never be. We don’t have lives. We stay in every day. We can’t function.” (MacGowan, 2007)

As an argument with a stranger escalates and he pulls out a gun, a wife is wounded when she puts out her hand to try to shield her husband from the bullet that causes his death. She tells an interviewer, “I was just so excited and looking forward to spending the day with the love of my life.… And just to think that in the blink of an eye, my whole world just got shattered into a million pieces. And now I’m left trying to pick them all up and putting them back together.” (Gutman, 2014)

First responders and rescue workers who race to crime scenes (such as police officers, forensic evi- dence technicians, paramedics, and firefighters) are exposed to emergencies and trauma on such a rou- tine basis that they also can be considered secondary or indirect victims who periodically might need emotional support themselves to prevent burnout (see Regehr and Bober, 2005; and Abel, 2013).

Note that victimologists are social scientists and researchers, as opposed to practitioners who directly assist injured parties to recover from their ordeals or who advocate on their behalf. Doctors, nurses, psy- chiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, caseworkers, lawyers, clergy, and dedi- cated volunteers provide hands-on services, emo- tional support, and practical advice to their clients (see Williams, 2002). Victimologists step back and evaluate the effectiveness of these well-intentioned efforts by members of the healing and helping pro- fessions. Conversely, people who minister to those in distress can gain valuable insights and useful sug- gestions from the findings of studies carried out by victimologists.

The term victimology can mean different things to different people, and detectives can consider themselves “victimologists” too. In police work, the term victimology is applied to a type of back- ground investigation. To homicide detectives, vic- timology is the process of reconstructing events and learning as much as possible about a person who was murdered in order to help figure out who the killer is (see Box 1.1).

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