Criminologists generally study people who are labeled as “predators” and “convicts” because of the most antisocial and harmful acts they are known to have committed. Those who are sympa- thetic to offenders as troubled souls argue that people should not be judged solely by the worst things they have done. Victimologists generally study individuals at the most vulnerable and miserable points in their lives. But examining the range in reactions of persons under attack sometimes provides an oppor- tunity to see people at their very best, not just at


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their low points. Consider how these individuals who were targeted by offenders responded in ways that are worthy of respect, even admiration:

A mother visiting a friend’s house logs in to her sophisticated home-surveillance system to see if a snowstorm has started yet, and using her infrared camera trained on her backyard is startled to spot an intruder climbing into her house. As he begins to ransack her home, she watches in real time video, and then hurriedly calls 911. When the burglar spies the flashlight beams of the responding officers, he panics and bolts outside. She directs the police to his hiding spot, and after a brief chase, he is captured. (Yan, 2014)

A 15-year-old girl opens the door to what appears to be a deliveryman in uniform. She recognizes him as her former uncle who is furiously looking for his ex- wife, and tries to slam the door shut, but he kicks it in. He pulls out a gun and ties her up, along with her four sisters and brothers. When her parents return home, the man ties them up too and orders all seven members of the family to lie face-down on the floor and to tell him where he can find his ex-wife. When his former in-laws and their children insist they don’t know where she is, he methodically shoots each one in the head. The girl is wounded but plays dead until he runs out. Then she quickly calls 911, tells the police that her parents and siblings have been murdered, and warns them that the killer is on his way to his ex-wife’s parents’ home. He is intercepted and apprehended before he can shoot anyone else. (Fredericks, 2014)

A 27-year-old woman who stands four feet, five inches and weighs 90 pounds is behind the counter of her family’s suburban convenience store when a six- foot-tall man wearing a mask pulls a gun and brandishes it in her face. The angry gunman screams, “Hurry up! Give me the money!,” but she stalls and makes believe she can’t open the cash register. When the robber turns to see if anyone is looking, she grabs a three-foot ax hidden behind the counter and starts

swinging it wildly, yelling, “Get out of here!” He flees empty-handed. She confides to detectives and a reporter that “I was scared, I was shaking. I didn’t want to hit him, I just wanted him to get out.” (Crowley, 2007)

A 31-year-old social worker is about to go to dinner after a long day on a cold night when he is suddenly confronted by a teenager wielding a knife. He hands over his wallet to the young robber and then offers him his coat too, surmising, “If you are willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money.” Then he takes the emotionally confused adolescent to a restaurant. When it is time to pay for the meal, the teenager gives back his wallet, and even hands over his knife. The social worker sums up their encounter to an interviewer: “If you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. That’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.” (NPR, 2008)

A “gentleman” holds a lobby door open for a 101- year-old woman who is on her way to church. But then he hits her so hard that blood spurts out her mouth and nose. A surveillance camera in the hall- way shows the robber striking her over and over until she finally relinquishes her grip on her handbag con- taining $23. Her face bleeds for two weeks and her right arm never heals properly. But nearly a year later, she hobbles into a courtroom to identify the 45- year-old defendant as the man who mugged her. Her testimony at this special evidentiary hearing is pre- served on videotape just in case she is unable to appear as a witness for the prosecution at the trial. (Farmer, 2008)

A 35-year-old woman is beaten, robbed, and repeatedly raped for two hours in a dingy garage. In court, the courageous single mother testifies that while the gunman kept sexually assaulting her, “I had to keep myself from going crazy. I just hummed to myself.” Realizing that the humming also calmed the rapist, she begins to give him a massage and to talk

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soothingly to him. As they converse, the 45-year-old assailant apologizes, and then discloses his name and even his date of birth, which later enables detectives to track him down. (Shifrel, 2007a)

A 45-year-old teacher is kidnapped in a shopping mall parking lot by a gun-toting teenage carjacker. She secretly turns on a micro-cassette recorder to gather evidence just in case she can’t convince the youth to let her go. During her final 46 minutes, she persuades the carjacker to discuss his childhood and his experiences in the military, descriptions which later provide detectives with valuable clues. She also reads passages to him from a psychology textbook; urges him to live a meaningful life and to find God; promises to help him land a job; and sobs as she describes how she treasures being a mother to her young son. But it is all to no avail. He doesn’t shoot her, but smothers her with her own coat, which con- tains the tape recorder in a pocket that leads to his capture. (Jones, 2007)

Victimology is not the cold or dismal discipline it might appear to be at first glance. Victimologists are not morbidly curious about or preoccupied with misfortune, loss, tragedy, pain, grief, death, and mourning. Of course, because of its inherently negative subject matter, the discipline is problem- oriented by nature. However, victimologists also take part in furthering positive developments and constructive activities when they seek to discover effective ways of coping with hardships, transcend- ing adversity, reimbursing financial losses, speeding up the healing process, promoting reconciliation between parties enmeshed in conflicts, and restor- ing harmony to a strife-torn community.

What insights that could advance an under- standing of resilience in the struggle to fully recover from a shattering, life-threatening experience might be gleaned from these cases?

A mentally deranged 60-year-old woman shoots a member of a sheriff’s department SWAT team in the neck. Formerly known as “the most in shape” dep- uty by his fellow officers, he wakes up as a quadri- plegic, confined to a wheel chair. But with great

determination he remains focused on his goal of returning to work at a desk job in the narcotics squad, observing “Your future is kind of bleak when you’ve got tubes coming out of you and everyone is saying you’ll never walk again.… But if you stay mad about it all the time, you’re not doing anything good for yourself.” Supported by his family and colleagues, he optimistically reports signs of progress. “There have been a lot of little instances, like being able to pick up a … potato chip and eat it with my hands.” (Young, 2008)

As part of a gang initiation ritual, a thirteen-year-old boy is given a gun and told to use it. He confronts a young mother, yells, “Give it up!” and shoots her in a panic when she screams. The bullet rips through her jaw and teeth, requiring her to undergo ten years of agonizing reconstruction surgery. When he is caught, he is prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. And yet, when he telephones her from prison after several years, she accepts the collect charges, even though she still is in terrible pain and can’t eat. He apologizes for his “mistake” and for decades afterwards, they write letters to each other. She becomes friends with her assailant’s mother and brother, and despite con- cerns by her husband and friends, urges the judge (unsuccessfully) to release him from prison (Kristof, 2014).

A member of congress is shaking hands with consti- tuents at a supermarket, when a deranged college student emerges from the crowd and opens fire. Six people are killed, and thirteen are wounded, includ- ing the congresswoman, who is shot in the forehead. Doctors estimate she has a one in ten chance to live, but she pulls through. At her lowest ebb, she is not even able to smile, and experts doubt that she will ever speak or walk again. But with the help of her astronaut husband, her family, and dedicated mem- bers of the hospital staff, she summons up astonishing tenacity and one breath and one hard fought word at a time, recovers from her catastrophic head wound better than expected. When asked in a television


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interview if she was ever angry about what happened to her, she replies haltingly, “No. No. No. Life. Life.” A few years later, she tells a crowd “I am working hard, lots of therapy: speech therapy, phys- ical therapy, and yoga too.” She insists, “My spirit is strong as ever”… and “I am still fighting to make the world a better place and you can too.” (Curry, 2011; Freking, 2011; and Walshe, 2014)

Evidently, studying how injured parties respond to their plight can yield some unanticipated benefits. Victimologists can gain a more complete understanding and appreciation of the full range of possible reactions to attacks. Some individuals cope with their misfortunes in ways that are clever, bold, even courageous, and demonstrate a determination to behave with dignity and to pursue an unwaver- ing commitment to justice. These persons can serve as positive role models for other wounded people who are seeking to recover from setbacks and over- come hardships.

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