Some people who have been seriously harmed by criminals prefer to be called survivors rather than victims because of the term’s positive connotations— that they are rebounding are exercising “agency” to take charge of their lives and demonstrating their resiliency to adversity. They see the term “victim” as carrying a lot of unwanted baggage, such as being “bested,” “vanquished,” and a “loser.” Already, the expressions “survivors of incest, rape, intimate partner violence, and child abuse” are widely used (but not of robberies or shootings—at least not yet).

Similarly, some people initially attracted to the discipline of victimology may begin to fear that it is mired in negativity and preoccupied with pain, loss, sorrow, hostility, and recriminations. Learning bitter lessons from mistakes and feeling empathy toward those who are suffering may not be sufficient incen- tives to study victimology. What advocates, members of the helping professions, and injured parties

themselves need to find out more about is how cer- tain seriously wounded persons are able to go beyond “just coping.” As it is put glibly in everyday language, some seem able to “get over it,” “get past it,” “put it behind them,” and “get on with their lives.” How do they do it? What is the secret of their success? What personality traits, coping skills, inner resources, and belief systems enable individuals who have endured shattering experiences to emerge from a period of bereavement, depression, and anger, reconsider their priorities, and return to their previous lives or perhaps reorient themselves to new lifestyles (see Ai and Park, 2005; and Underwood, 2009).

This potentially upbeat tendency within vic- timology could be termed survivorology. Just as gravely ill persons, refugees from war-torn coun- tries, captives who were cruelly tortured, or severely wounded soldiers can demonstrate great resolve to make the most out of their remaining time on earth and make impressive strides to piece back together their disrupted lives, so too might individuals who sustained vicious attacks want to make the transition from victim to survivor. Researchers—and the general public—can find the outlooks and actions of certain exemplary indi- viduals who have suffered through shocking ordeals to be admirable, uplifting, and even inspiring. Within victimology, survivorology could focus on these success stories, in which individuals whose lives looked so bleak in the immediate aftermath of a terrible crime made great progress, surmounted obstacles, overcame severe limitations, and trans- formed a crisis into an opportunity.

The overarching theme of survivorology could be to “discover the common threads that underlie the secrets of their success” and determine how they did it: Was their recovery and new trajectory built upon faith and spirituality, inner strengths and outstanding character traits, the crucial support provided by others (family members, close friends, volunteers and men- tors, or perhaps fellow sufferers in self-help groups), government-funded social programs, immersion in activism, or some other source of courage and perseverance? And what special opportunities would other individuals in similar dire straits need to make a successful reentry back into society? To spur the

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development of survivorology as an area of concentra- tion within victimology that accentuates the positive, two key concepts need to be operationalized: resiliency (roughly speaking, the ability to rebound after a serious setback) and recovery (basically, regaining control over one’s life, recuperating, restoring, returning to the con- dition the person was in before the crime took place). Once these two concepts of resiliency and recovery are

operationalized as variables whose magnitude can be estimated numerically and not designated simply as a dichotomous all or nothing situation, then different degrees of resilience and rates of recovery need to be investigated for various groups of victims.

The more survivorology is developed, the less victimology will be preoccupied solely with suffer- ing, loss, and negativity (see Box 1.6).


Victimization is an asymmetrical relationship that is abusive, parasitical, destructive, unfair, and illegal. Offenders harm their victims physically, financially, and emotionally. Until recently, the plight of crime victims was largely overlooked, even by most crim- inologists. When some researchers began to study victims, their initial interest betrayed an antivictim bias: They sought evidence that the victims’ behav- ior before and during the incidents contributed to their own downfall. Since the 1960s, the majority of the social scientists attracted to this new discipline have labored to find ways to ease the suffering of victims and to prevent future incidents. But a com- mitment to strive for objectivity rather than to be

reflexively pro-victim is the best stance to adopt when carrying out research or evaluating the effec- tiveness of policies.

Victimology is best viewed as an area of spe- cialization within criminology. Both criminologists and victimologists seek to be impartial in their roles as social scientists when investigating lawbreaking, its social consequences, and the official responses by the justice system. But much of criminology in the past can be characterized as “offenderology,” so the new focus on those who are on the receiving end of interpersonal violence and theft provides some balance and rounds out any analysis of problems arising from lawbreaking behavior.

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