Forensic Victimology : Examining Violent Crime Victims in Investigative and Legal Contexts
This new textbook provides students with the basic principles and practice standards of forensic victimology-the scientific study of victims for the purposes of addressing investigative and forensic issues. It provides case-based coverage with original insights into the role that victimology plays in the justice system, moving beyond the traditional theoretical approaches already available. The purpose of this textbook is to distinguish the investigative and forensic aspects of victim study as a necessary adjunct to the field of victimology. It identifies forensic victimologists in the investigative and forensic communities and provides them with methods and standards of practice needed to be of service.
This book is intended to educate students on the means and rationale for performing victimological assessments with a scientific mindset. Forensic Victimology is designed specifically for teaching the practical aspects of this topic, with "hands on" real-life case examples and an extensive online Instructor's manual featuring summaries, key terms, and test questions for every chapter.
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October 08, 2008
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Excerpt from Forensic Victimology by Brent E. Turvey
Criminal investigation: the process of gathering facts to be used as
evidence and proof in a court of law.
The Dark Age: in victimology, the era after the emergence of written
laws and structured governments, where all offenses were viewed as
perpetrated against the king or state, not against the victims or their
Forensic victimology: the study of violent crime victims for the purposes of
addressing investigative and forensic questions. It involves the accurate,
critical, and objective outlining of a victim's lifestyles and circumstances,
the events leading up to an injury, and the precise nature of any harm or
General victimology- the study of victimity in the broadest sense,
including those that have been harmed by accidents, natural disasters,
war, and so on.
The golden age: in victimology, the era thought to have occurred before
written law, where victims played a direct role in determining the
punishment for actions of another committed against them or their
Interactionist/penal victimology: an approach to victimology from a
criminological or legal perspective, where the scope of study is defined by
Reemergence of the victim: the era in the middle of the twentieth century,
when a small number of people began to recognize that those who
were most affected by criminal acts were rarely involved in the criminal
justice process. This led to the realization that victims were also being
overlooked as a source of information about crime and criminals.
Sanctity of victimhood: the belief that victims are inherently good, honest,
and pure, making those who defend them righteous and morally justified.
Victim Study: Past to
Investigative Use of
CHAPTER 1 Victimology: A Brief History with an Introduction to Forensic Victimology
Historically, the Latin term victima was used to describe individuals or animals
whose lives were destined to be sacrificed to please a deity. It did not necessarily
imply pain or suffering, only a sacrificial role. In the nineteenth century,
the word victim became connected with the notion of harm or loss in general
( Spalek 2006 ). In the modern criminal justice system, the word victim has come
to describe any person who has experienced injury, loss, or hardship due to the
illegal action of another individual, group, or organization (Karmen 2004 ).
The term victimology first appeared in 1949, in a book about murderers written
by forensic psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. It was used to describe the study of
individuals harmed by criminals (Karmen 2007 ). Today, as explained in our
Preface, victimology refers generally to the scientific study of victims and victimization,
including the relationships between victims and offenders, investigators,
courts, corrections, media, and social movements ( Karmen 1990 ).
According to Ezzat Fattah, PhD, an Egyptian prosecutor turned criminologist,
as well as a leading author on the subject of victimology ( Fattah 2000 , 24):
the study of victims and victimization has the potential of reshaping the
entire discipline of criminology. It might very well be the long awaited
paradigm shift that criminology desperately needs given the dismal
failure of its traditional paradigms: search for causes of crime, deterrence,
rehabilitation, treatment, just desserts, etc.
The authors and contributors of this text concur.
Scientific method: a way to investigate how or why something works or
how something happened through the development of hypotheses and
subsequent attempts at falsification through testing and other accepted
Victim: used in the modern criminal justice system to describe any person
who has experienced loss, injury, or hardship due to the illegal action of
another individual, group, or organization.
Victima: a Latin word used to refer to those who were sacrificed to please
Victimology: the scientific study of victims and victimization, including
the relationships between victims and offender, investigators, courts,
corrections, media, and social movements.
Victim precipitation: when a crime is caused or partially facilitated by the
Victim prone: individuals who share a capacity for being victimized.
Jan Van Dijk, a professor of victimology at Tilburg University, has proposed
that there are currently two major types of victimology (1999): general victimology
and penal victimology, with major differences stemming from the
definitions used to identify victims. General victimology studies victimity in
the broadest sense, including those that have been harmed by accidents, natural
disasters, war, and so on ( Van Dijk 1999 ). The focus of this type of victimology
is the treatment, prevention, and alleviation of the consequences of being victimized,
regardless of the cause.
Interactionist (or penal) victimologists, on the other hand, generally approach
the subject from a criminological or legal perspective, where the scope of
study is defined by criminal law. According to Van Dijk (1999 , 2) "the research
agenda of this victimological stream combines issues concerning the causation
of crimes with those relating to the victim's role in the criminal proceedings,"
Dr. Fredric Wertham (1895-1981) reading the first issue of Shock Illustrated . A psychiatrist for the New
York Department of Hospitals connected with the Court of General Sessions, he is best remembered for
his expert testimony in the trial of serial murderer Albert Fish and for his opposition to comic books. In
1954, he wrote a book titled Seduction of the Innocents , which argued that comic books were the lowest
form of literature and a primary cause of juvenile delinquency, citing their depiction of sex, drugs, and
violence. That same year, this book led to an official Congressional Inquiry that ultimately resulted in the
"voluntary" creation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) by the Comics Magazine Association of America.
The CCA screened all comic books prior to publication, acting essentially as an industry censor.
CHAPTER 1 Victimology: A Brief History with an Introduction to Forensic Victimology
where victims are only those who become such as a result of a crime. Generally
speaking, this type of victimology advocates for victims, for their rights or in
relation to certain types of prosecutions.
There remains a level of ignorance regarding the nature and even existence of
victimology across the professional spectrums that intersect with the subject.
Most notably this occurs within the criminal justice system itself, which tends
to be populated by those without a scientific, behavioral, or research background.
A primer is therefore necessary. The purpose of this chapter is to provide
a brief history of victimology as it has evolved in relation to systems of
justice until modern times, as a precursor to the development of forensic victimology
as a subspecialty. It will then close with discussions on the rationale
for the investigative and forensic use of victimology. If readers have not yet
studied the Preface, now would be a good time to go back and do so.
It is important to acknowledge where the field of victimology originated and
how it has developed. To that end, this section involves a general overview of
the victim's role in various systems of justice throughout history. It will conclude
with a more specific rendering of the contributions of selected victimologists,
subsequent research, and its impact on the discipline. 1
The concept of victim study as it relates to legal conflict is not new. In fact, it
has been around for centuries in various forms. For example, Jerin and Moriarty
(1998 , 6) contend that there are three distinct historical eras defining the victims'
role within justice systems: the golden age , the dark age , and the reemergence
of the victim .
The Golden Age
In the so-called golden age , which Jerin and Moriarty suggest existed prior to
written laws and established governments, tribal law prevailed. In much of
tribal law, victims are said to have played a direct role in determining punishments
for the unlawful actions that others committed against them or their
property. It was reportedly a time when personal retribution was the only
resolution for criminal matters. As such, victims actively sought revenge or
demanded compensation for their losses directly from those who wronged
1 As will become clear, the victimological literature has often been the product of advocates interested in victim rights,
legal reforms, and various liabilities, as opposed to those interested in objective study for the advancement of scientific
knowledge. Therefore, some of the terminology used has been less than scientific and even partial. It is presented here
purely in an effort to maintain the historical record.
them (Karmen 2007; Shichor and Tibbetts 2002 ). Doerner and Lab (2002 , 2)
go so far as to describe this as a victim justice system as opposed to a criminal
justice system, explaining that
it was up to victims or their survivors to decide what action to take
against the offender. Victims who wished to respond to offenses could
not turn to judges for assistance or to jails for punishment. These
institutions did not exist yet. Instead, victims had to take matters into
their own hands.
Clearly, this was not a time of objectivity and critical regard towards victims and
their claims. Victims would define the extent of any loss or harm and then seek
their own retribution rather than either being investigated or assessed by a disinterested
or higher authority. Ostensibly, this could occur without any preestablished
burden of proof, with the victim's word set against that of the accused,
and judged in an ad hoc fashion within a given community, group, or tribe.
In such a system, fault and legal consequence become a matter of character and
Victim-driven approaches to justice became somewhat problematic as populations
grew, and as families and groups expanded. This was partly because,
in many instances, crimes were not suffered or inflicted against just one person.
Depending on the nature of an offense, it might be harmful to an entire
family, tribe, or culture. And if the actual offender were not available to be
punished, his or her kinsman might bear the responsibility for the harm that
had been caused. Worse still, in some instances, successive generations would
inherit any insult and injustice committed against the last--wrongfully victimized
or wrongfully prosecuted alike. So the commission of a single crime
had the potential to draw in many people. Resulting vendettas could lead to
longstanding blood feuds between families or tribes for harms that may or
may not have actually happened.
Eventually, many came to the realization that although it promoted strong
family, clan, and even cultural loyalty, this form of justice did little to resolve
conflict. The notion that a crime against one is a crime against many did not
serve to alleviate the hardship endured by the individual victims. Neither
did holding one kinsman responsible for the crimes of another. Rather, this
scheme of justice expanded the harm of the original crime to people that
weren't directly involved. It also resulted in cycles of revictimization as groups
sought their share of vengeance back and forth ( Shichor and Tibbetts 2002 ).
Rather that serving the victim, victim-driven justice actually made matters
For example, a long-practiced victim-oriented remedy to the problem of crime,
debt, and related blood feuds is marriage: the mixing of blood from both sides.