Social Movements: Taking Up the Victims Cause

Social Movements: Taking Up the Victims Cause

Social Movements: Taking Up the Victims Cause
Social Movements: Taking Up the Victims Cause

Aside from suffering harm at the hands of criminals, victims as a group may have very little else in com- mon. They differ in terms of age, sex, race/ethnic- ity, religion, social class, political orientation, and many other important characteristics. Therefore, it has been difficult to organize them into self-help groups and to harness their energies into a political force for change. Despite these obstacles, a crime victims’ movement emerged during the 1970s. It has developed into a broad alliance of activists, support groups, and advocacy organizations that lobbies for increased rights and expanded services, demonstrates at trials, maintains a variety of web- sites, educates the public, trains criminal justice professionals and caregivers, sets up research insti- tutes and information clearinghouses, designs and evaluates experimental policies, and holds confer- ences to share experiences and develop innovative programs.

The guiding principle holding this diverse coa- lition together is the belief that victims who other- wise would feel powerless and enraged can attain a sense of empowerment and regain control over their lives through practical assistance, mutual sup- port, and involvement in the criminal justice pro- cess (see Friedman, 1985; Smith, 1985; Smith, Sloan, and Ward, 1990; and Weed, 1995).

The victims’ movement has greatly benefited from the work of advocates, who, by definition,


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

speak in behalf of someone else, especially in legal matters. Originally, advocates were referred to as “ombudsmen.” Rape crisis centers and shelters for battered women were the first to empower their clients in the early 1970s by furnishing them with the services of dedicated and knowledgeable people to consult with who understood how the criminal justice process worked and how to make the system more responsive to their clients’ needs. These pio- neers in advocacy usually were former victims who knew firsthand what the injured parties were going through. A Florida police department and a Chicago legal services organization were the first components of the justice system to routinely pro- vide advocates in the mid-1970s. Shortly afterward, prosecutors’ victim–witness assistance programs (VWAPs) and family courts (responsible for assign- ing guardians ad litem to represent the best interests of abused children) followed suit. In addition to survivors and volunteers, professionals in the help- ing fields (such as social workers, nurses, psycholo- gists, psychiatrists, counselors, and lawyers) began to offer their specialized skills. Agencies provided short-term training in crisis intervention techniques and practical assistance with financial claims, court proceedings, and referrals to medical, mental health, and legal services. Courses and career preparation became available on college campuses. Two forms of advocacy developed: Case advocacy involves a one-on-one relationship with a client who needs specific assistance and focused guidance for a short period of time. System advocacy involves repre- senting an entire group as part of an organized lob- bying campaign to bring about procedural reforms that will ease their plight (Dussich, 2009a).

Major Sources of Inspiration, Guidance, and Support Several older and broader social move- ments have greatly influenced the growth and orienta- tion of the victims’ movement. The most important contributions have been made by the law-and-order movement, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement.

The law-and-order movement of the 1960s raised concerns about the plight of victims of street crimes of violence and theft. Alarmed by surging

crime rates, conservatives adopted the “crime con- trol” perspective and campaigned for hard-line, get- tough policies. They insisted that the criminal jus- tice system was society’s first line of defense against internal enemies who threatened chaos and destruc- tion. The “thin blue line” of law enforcement needed to be strengthened. A willingness to tolerate too much misbehavior was viewed as the problem, and a crackdown on social and political deviants who disobeyed society’s rules and disrupted the lives of conventional people was offered as the solution. To win over people who might have been reluctant to grant more power to gov- ernment agencies—police, prosecutors, and prison authorities—they argued that the average American should be more worried about becoming a victim than about being falsely accused, mistakenly con- victed, and unjustly punished (Hook, 1972). Con- servative crime control advocates pictured the scales of justice as being unfairly tilted in favor of the “bad guys” at the expense of the “good guys”—the innocent, law-abiding citizens and their allies on the police force and in the prosecutor’s office. In a smooth-running justice system that they envi- sioned, punishment would be swift and sure. Attor- neys for defendants would no longer be able to take advantage of practices that were dismissed as “loop- holes” and “technicalities” that undermined the government’s efforts to arrest, detain, convict, imprison, deter, incapacitate, and impose retribu- tion on wrongdoers.

“Permissiveness” (unwarranted leniency) and any “coddling of criminals” would end: More offenders would be locked up for longer periods of time, and fewer would be granted bail, proba- tion, or parole. Liberals and civil libertarians who opposed these policies as being too repressive and overly punitive were branded as “pro-criminal” and “antivictim” (see Miller, 1973; and Carrington, 1975).

In contrast, liberal activists in the women’s movement have focused their energies since the late 1960s on aiding one group of victims in partic- ular: females who were harmed by males and then failed to receive the support they deserved from the male-dominated criminal justice system. Feminists

42 CH APT ER 2

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

launched both an antirape and an antibattering movement. The antirape movement set up the first rape crisis centers in Berkeley, California, and Washington, D.C., in 1972. These centers were not just places of aid and comfort in a time of pain and confusion. They also were rallying sites for outreach efforts to those who were suffering in isolation, meeting places for consciousness-raising groups exploring the patriarchal cultural traditions that encouraged males to subjugate females, and hubs for political organizing to change laws and policies (see Rose, 1977; Largen, 1981; and Schechter, 1982). Some antirape activists went on to protest the widespread problem of sexual harassment on the street, uniting behind the slogan “Take back the night” (see Lederer, 1980).

Other feminists helped organize battered women’s shelters. They established the first “safe house” in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1974. Campaigns to end battering paralleled activities to combat rape in a number of ways. Both projects were initiated for the most part by former victims who viewed their plight as an outgrowth of larger societal pro- blems and institutional arrangements, rather than as personal troubles stemming from their own indi- vidual shortcomings. Both sought to empower women by confronting established male authority, challenging existing procedures, providing peer support and advocacy, and devising alternative places to turn to in a time of need. The overall analysis that originally guided these pro-victim efforts was that male versus female offenses (such as rape, wife beating, sexual harassment in the streets and at work, and incest at home) pose a threat to all women and slows progress toward equality between the sexes. The gravest dangers are faced by women who are socially disadvantaged because of racial discrimination and economic inse- curity. According to this philosophy, girls and women victimized by boys and men cannot count on the privileged males at the helm of criminal jus- tice agencies to lead the struggle to effectively pro- tect or assist them—instead, women must empower each other (see Brownmiller, 1975).

Similarly, liberal activists in the civil rights movement focused their energies on opposing

entrenched racist beliefs and discriminatory prac- tices that encouraged members of the white major- ity to intimidate, harass, and attack people of color. Over the decades since the 1950s, this movement has brought together organizations representing the interests of a wide range of minority groups, in order to direct attention to the special threats posed by racist violence, from lynch mobs to Ku Klux Klan terrorism in the form of bombings and assassinations.

In recent years, one of the movement’s major concerns has been convincing the government to provide enhanced protection to individuals who are the targets of bias crimes, which are motivated by the perpetrators’ hatred of the “kind of person” the victim represents. Bias crimes can range from harassment and vandalism to arson, beatings, and slayings. Civil rights groups have been instrumental in lobbying state legislatures to impose stiffer penal- ties on attackers whose behavior is fueled by bigotry and in establishing specialized police squads to more effectively deter or solve these inflammatory viola- tions of the law. Otherwise, these divisive crimes could polarize communities along racial and ethnic lines and thereby undermine the ongoing American experiment of fostering multicultural tolerance and the celebration of diversity (see Levin and McDevitt, 2003).

Civil rights organizations also try to mobilize public support to demand evenhandedness in the administration of justice. A double standard, although more subtle today than in the past, may still infect the operations of the criminal justice sys- tem. Crimes by black perpetrators against white victims always have been taken very seriously— thoroughly investigated, quickly solved, vigorously prosecuted, and severely punished. However, crimes by white offenders against black victims, as well as by blacks against other blacks (see Ebony, 1979) have rarely evoked the same governmental response and public outrage. The more frequent imposition of the death penalty on murderers who kill whites, especially blacks who slay whites, is the clearest example of a discriminatory double standard (see Baldus, 2003). Civil rights activists also point out that members of minority groups


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

continue to face graver risks of becoming victims of official misconduct in the form of racial profiling and police brutality—or even worse, the unjustified use of deadly force—as well as false accusations, frame-ups, wrongful convictions, and other miscar- riages of justice.

Additional Contributions by Other Social Movements Social movements that champion the causes of civil liberties, children’s rights, senior citizens’ rights, homosexual rights, and self-help also have made significant contributions to bettering the situation of victims.

The civil liberties movement’s primary focus is to preserve constitutional safeguards and due pro- cess guarantees that protect suspects, arrestees, defendants, and prisoners from abuses of govern- mental power by overzealous criminal justice offi- cials. However, civil liberties organizations have won court victories that have benefited victims of street crime in two ways: by furthering police pro- fessionalism and by extending the doctrine of “equal protection under the law.”

In professionalized police departments, officers must meet higher educational and training require- ments and must abide by more demanding stan- dards. As a result, victims are more likely to receive prompt responses, effective service, and sensitive treatment. If they don’t, channels exist through which they can redress their grievances. Guarantees of equal protection enable minority communities to gain access to the police and pros- ecutorial assistance to which they are entitled and to insist upon their right to improved, more profes- sionally trained law enforcement in contrast to the under-policing they endured until recently. This improves the prospects for careful and respon- sive handling for complainants whose calls for help were given short shrift in the past when offi- cials discriminated against them due to their race, ethnicity, sex, age, social class, disability, or some other disadvantage (Walker, 1982; and Stark and Goldstein, 1985).

Children’s rights groups campaign against sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe corporal punishment, gross neglect, and other forms of

maltreatment of youngsters. Their successes include stricter reporting requirements of cases of suspected abuse; improved procedures for arrest, prosecution, and conviction of offenders; greater sensitivity to the needs of victimized children as complaining witnesses; enhanced protection and prevention services; and more effective parenting instruction programs.

At the other end of the age spectrum, activists in senior citizens’ groups have pressured some police departments to establish special squads to protect older people from younger robbers and swindlers and have brought about greater awareness of the problem of elder abuse—financial, emo- tional, and physical mistreatment by family mem- bers or caretakers (see Smith and Freinkel, 1988).

The gay rights movement originally called attention to the vulnerability of male homosexuals and lesbians to blackmail, exploitation by organized crime syndicates that ran bars and clubs, and police harassment of those who deserved protection (see Maghan and Sagarin, 1983). The movement now focuses on preventing street assaults (“gay-bashing”) against suspected homosexuals and lesbians—hate crimes that are motivated by the offenders’ disdain for the victims’ presumed sexual orientation.

Groups that are part of the self-help move- ment have set up dependable support systems for injured parties by combining the participatory spirit of the grassroots protest movements of the 1960s with the self-improvement ideals of the human potential movement of the 1970s. The ideology of self-help is based upon a fundamental organizing principle: that people who have directly experi- enced the pain and suffering of being harmed and are still struggling to overcome these hardships themselves can foster a sense of solidarity and mutual support that is more comforting and effec- tive than the services offered by impersonal bureau- cracies and emotionally detached professional caregivers (Gartner and Riessman, 1980).

Even the prisoners’ rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s may have inspired victim activism. Inmates rebelled at a number of cor- rectional institutions, often in vicious and counter- productive ways. They protested overcrowded

44 CH APT ER 2

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

conditions; demanded decent living standards; insisted on greater ways of communicating with the outside world (via uncensored mail, access to the mass media, more family visits, and meetings with lawyers); asked for freedom of religion; called for more opportunities for rehabilitation, education, and job training; and complained about mistreat- ment and brutality by guards (see ACLU, 2008). Many people harmed by these incarcerated offen- ders surely wondered, “if convicts deserve better treatment from the authorities, don’t we, too?”

The task for victimologists is to assess the impact that all these other social movements have had on shaping the course of the victims’ move- ment over the decades, as well as on alleviating the suffering of persons harmed by criminals these days. How effective and influential have the victo- ries of these campaigns really been?

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *